Late summer is elderberry season here in the northeast. This time of year herbalists and wild food enthusiasts alike take to the wet meadows and marshes where this wonderful shrub can most commonly be found. We're lucky enough to have quite a healthy patch of elder on our little farm, and I took some time a few mornings ago to harvest before the oppressive heat of this intense heat wave we're having set-in! My harvest was gold. Fresh berries can be made into tincture, syrup, wine, vinegar, shrubs, cordials, teas, and cooked-up into pies, scones, and more. One of my favorite ways to preserve the harvest of elderberry is as a cordial. The recipe is simple and the result is delicious
Fresh or Dried Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis)
Brandy (or liquor of choice)
Local Raw Honey
To Make: This recipe is so easy it's almost ridiculous. Strip your fresh elderberries off the stem and into a glass jar. NOTE: If a few stems get in there (which is basically inevitable), don't worry you'll be fine! Next take brandy, or your alcohol of choice, and cover the berries about 75% with it. I just eye-ball this- no need to be exact. As long as the alcohol you choose has has at least 25% alcohol content you should be fine, so you could also use gin (which would also be nice), rum, vodka, etc- anything really- brandy is just traditional. Then cover the berries the remaining 25% with raw honey, local if possible. Mix well. If your honey doesn't dissolve completely at first, don't worry, it will in a few days. Make sure the berries are completely coated in the mix. Some will be sticking-out on the top and that's fine. As long as they are saturated in the brandy-honey mix it won't go bad. Let it sit for 3-4 weeks and then strain, squeezing and squishing those berries well to get out all those good vitamins, minerals and juices. If you don't get to strain it right away that's fine- those berries could sit in there basically forever and it won't go bad! Store in a glass container (a pretty, antique bottle is especially nice for cordials) in a cool place out of direct sunlight. If you're using dried elderberries follow the recipe above only add fewer elderberries. I tend to work with a 1:4 ratio, by volume, of berries to alcohol/honey mix. Again you can just eyeball this- it doesn't have to be exact!
To use: There are so many great ways to use this! Try adding some to tonic water for a refreshing and medicinal drink. Sip it straight in a tiny old-fashioned cordial glass. Take 3-5 tsp/day straight or in a bit of water at first sign of cold or flu as preventative medicine (and for the duration of the sickness if you still get it, to speed recovery), take 1-2 tsp/day in the winter months for general immune health, add to tincture formulas to make them taste better, use it as the brandy portion of the elderberry syrup you make to make it extra-strength, give as holidays gifts, and so on.
What are the medicinal benefits?
Elderberry is a go-to for colds and flus that manifest with any respiratory inflammation and congestion, in either the upper or lower respiratory system. It is also often used preventatively throughout the winter months to ward off illness. A strong, proven anti-viral, the berries are the basis for the drug sambucal, which was widely used to combat bird flu, and elderberry is still vitally important in flu pandemics. Nutritionally, it is very rich in iron, vitamin c, vitamin a, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, bioflavinoids, antioxidants and more. Because it is so iron-rich, it is helpful for anemia, and can also be used as a part of natural chelation therapy to help remove high levels of lead and other heavy metals from the body (it combines well with cilantro for this particular use). Finally, the berries are a nice alterative (also known as blood-purifiers) and also work to enhance immunity to pathogens by improving our pathways of elimination in the body, so that we’re not such a good host for the little buggers in the first place! Over-all, they are an important and abundant northeast super-food that has a place in every winter medicine cabinet (and the cordial cabinet too!).
Wishing you an abundant late summer and elderberry season, and a fall and winter filled with cordial-sipping!