Updated: Jun 20
Natural immune-boosting-harvest season is about here!
More simply put: The elderberries are almost ripe.
Harvesting these “weeds” can be one of the best things you do for building immunity against common winter illnesses, without resorting to flu shots or other not-so-Different medicines.
Tune in to Elderberries
Although he may have gone overboard on the dosage, Elton John had the right idea when he recommended elderberries in his 1972 hit song "Elderberry Wine". These remarkable berries are high in antioxidants that bolster your body’s immune system in a way few other foods do.
Even though they combat winter sickness, summer is the time to grab elderberries.
We’ve been using them for years—especially with this past winter's flu fears—and we didn’t have so much as a cold. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but others will tell you about the healthfulness of elderberries as well.
WebMD, for instance, says this:
The berries and flowers of elderberry are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may boost your immune system. They can help tame inflammation, lessen stress,
and help protect your heart, too.
Some experts recommend elderberry
to help prevent and ease cold and flu symptoms.**
In case you’re not sure why you should want different approaches to staying healthy, check out my previous post “Be Your Own Medicine.”
And to add alternative disease-fighting approaches to your Different life, go pick some elderberries.
Here’s how to choose the right ones: Pick only clusters with purplish-black, filled-out berries. The green ones are not ready yet, and the shriveled ones are too far gone to be useful.
Take scissors and a bucket on your harvesting expedition, and snip the whole bunch where it joins to the bush. But be sure to leave a few berry clusters on the plant so more will grow next year.
The little stems are a pain to remove, but you need to because they contain a substance which turns into cyanide if you eat them (you’d have to eat a whole lot of stems to get sick from them, though, so don't worry if a few slip through).
It's important to cool the berries quickly, or they'll go limp and lose potency. Not only that, the easiest way to separate berries from stems is to pop the whole cluster into a zipper-top bag, throw them into the freezer, and strip them off after they're frozen.
Once the berries freeze, it doesn’t matter if you deal with them sooner or later. Frozen berries keep for months and months, so you can take your time deciding what to do with them next (see recipe suggestions below).
Elderberries can also be dried in a food dehydrator, but you should separate the stems from the berries right away. You'll do well to do the berry stripping over a large tray with edges to catch any runaway berries. Nimble fingers, patience, and sometimes a dinner fork make the job do-able. Then store your dried berries in mason jars in a dark, cool-ish place.
Prescription: Don't Get Sick
Much of what passes for "preventative" medicine these days is actually simply catching problems before they get serious—not keeping the problems from starting. Building your natural immunity, on the other hand, is one real way to prevent illness from ever starting.
With that in mind, the process of freezing the berries actually has an additional medicinal benefit: Freezing bursts cell walls within the berries so all the health benefits are "pre-released" and available when you eat them (whether as whole berries, in syrup, or in a tincture).
When you're ready to use the berries, remove one or two bunches at a time from the freezer. By thawing only what you need, the berries won't get mushy before you prepare them.
The frozen or dried elderberries make an incredibly healthy addition to smoothies or cereal. Kids (and many grown-ups!) like elderberry syrup, which can be used to top pancakes, swirl over ice cream, or mix with seltzer for a refreshing drink.
To make next winter a health success for you and your family, scope out the vacant lots, roadside ditches, and uncultivated land near you now, and get ready for elderberry harvest.
*My co-writer for this post is my brilliant-about-nutrition wife, Nancy Webster.
RECIPE FOR ELDERBERRY SYRUP
You can get a lot of health benefits from a syrup made with just elderberries, raw honey, and water. If you add the other ingredients noted below, though, the syrup will be even healthier (and tastier). Even without the extras, you'll want to make and use the syrup!
(A jar of homemade elderberry syrup can also be a thoughtful, useful gift for family and friends, so make a big batch!)
1 cup elderberries (dried, fresh, or thawed-from-frozen)
2 cups filtered water (use 4 cups water if using dried berries)
4 quarter-inch slices unpeeled, fresh ginger (to taste)
3 whole Chinese star anise (these are used in flu, anti-viral meds)
½ cup dried Echinacea
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1 cup raw honey
NOTES: (1) If you include Echinacea, take a week-long break from using the syrup after every two weeks of use. (2) Raw honey is vital for getting the full health benefits from elderberry syrup. Raw honey has never been heated and contains beneficial bits of beeswax, pollen, propolis, and enzymes which are removed by heat processing and filtering.
Even with raw honey, though, Do NOT give syrup containing honey to children one-year-old or younger!
Add everything except honey to a medium saucepan.
Boil, then lower heat to medium.
Simmer (with lid askew) 30 to 45 minutes to reduce liquid to half.
While still warm, strain through fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
Let cool to 110 degrees or less (measure it!) to preserve enzymes in the honey.
Whisk honey into berry liquid.
Cool, pour in sterile jar, keep in fridge up to two months.
For best results take between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon daily, especially during cold and flu season. If you notice symptoms of sickness coming on, hit them fast with this amount every hour.
If cooking up a batch of syrup seems like a bit much to take on, you can order pre-made ELDERBERRY SYRUP through this affiliate link:
RECIPE FOR ELDERBERRY TINCTURE
Do you travel a lot or have limited refrigerator space? Then make a shelf-stable tincture instead of refrigerator-dependent syrup.
It’s easy and requires no cooking. Elderberries and 100 proof vodka are the only ingredients you have to have, but you can increase health benefits by adding the syrup recipe extras as well (except do NOT use honey or water).
To make the tincture: Use a sterilized (important!) glass jar with a tight lid. Fill the jar about half-way with ingredients. There’s no perfect recipe—just shoot for a vodka/berry ratio similar to the water/berry ratio in the syrup. If using fresh or thawed berries, cover with a little less vodka than if using dried berries.
Tightly cap the jar and stick in an often-used kitchen cabinet (so you don’t forget it). For six weeks, give the jar a good shake every few days. Then strain out the solids and keep the liquid tincture. The tincture stores for several years if kept in a cool place.
Usage amount: Take 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per day. If symptoms of sickness start, take that amount every 2 to 3 hours. Can be taken straight or with water added.
Tincture is NOT recommended for infants and small children.