Elderberry is incredibly effective for boosting immunity and shortening the duration of colds and flus. Learn more about the history and uses of this ancient herb.
Delicious, medicinal and easy to grow, every part of the elderberry plant — from leaves and root to flowers and bark — can be used to benefit your well-being.
Photo by iStock/Adam88xx
The elder plant is indigenous to broad stretches of the Northern Hemisphere — across North America, Europe and Asia, and into North Africa along the Mediterranean coast. In North America, the native species is Sambucus canadensis, commonly called American elder; its European relative is S. nigra, known as European elder or black elder. Although both have served as a medicine chest for millennia, you’ll find elder’s flavor reason enough to hunt down a shrub for making delicious treats with its berries and blossoms. Don’t want to walk a country mile for your elder? This shrub is easy to grow and lovely in the landscape.
The plant has sustained generations as a source of food and medicine. Archaeologists found elder seeds in a Neolithic dwelling in Switzerland, and European villagers have planted the shrubs close to their homes for many centuries. Throughout North America, native tribes ate the dried berries as a winter staple and used the twigs and fruit in basketry and the branches to make arrows and musical instruments. Native Americans also used elderflowers and berries to treat colds, joint pain, fever, skin problems and more.
All parts of the elder plant — roots, flowers, leaves and bark — have been used medicinally. Modern research supports the use of elder syrup as a treatment for coughs and colds. According to the USDA, elderberries are exceptionally rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, which enhance the immune system. The flowers contain flavonoids and rutin, which also are known to improve immune function, especially in combination with vitamin C. In addition, laboratory studies have shown that elderberries also have significant anti-inflammatory and antiviral abilities. In clinical trials, patients taking elderberry extract recovered from the flu earlier, and had less severe symptoms, than patients in a control group. Take advantage of the immune-boosting properties of this ancient plant with these recipes.
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Eat your way to enhanced immunity with these easy uses for elderberry syrup.
1. Combine 1/2 cup berries such as raspberries and blueberries with 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal, then top with coconut milk, a swirl of elderberry syrup, and hemp seeds or slivered almonds.
2. Pour 1 teaspoon elderberry syrup into a glass. Top with ginger kombucha (for grownups) or sparkling lemonade (for kids).
3. Swirl elderberry syrup into plain, full-fat yogurt, then layer with whole-grain granola and banana slices.
Courtesy of Gaia Herbs
This winter-ready tea combines the antioxidant power of tea, the immune-boosting properties of elderberry and the warming effects of ginger.
• 2 cups water
• 2 tea bags (black or green) or 2 tablespoons loose tea
• 2 tablespoons dried elderberries
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1. In a medium saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil. Remove from heat and steep for at least 5 minutes.
2. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Serve warm. Serves 2.
Courtesy of Letitia L. Star
This spicy sauce can be served hot or cold. Use it as you would applesauce — it’s a delicious topping for poultry, pork, winter squash, ice cream or puddings.
• 1 pound elderberries, cleaned
• 1 pound Damson plums, rinsed, pitted
• 1/2 cup water
• 1-1/3 tablespoons honey
• 1 stick cinnamon
• 2 cloves
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1. Put fruits in a pan with water, honey, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and cook until soft.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan and gently brown over low heat.
3. Put fruit through a food mill to remove most of the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Return puréed fruit to pan, add butter and cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve, or bottle and refrigerate. Makes 3 to 4 cups.
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