by: Sherika Tenaya
I still remember my barely concealed skepticism when I first saw Elderberry syrup, with its viscous, delicious-looking, dark purple syrup pouring forth from a small, glass bottle onto the silver teaspoon we always use for medicines.
With one dubious eyebrow raised in suspicion, I wondered, how can this sweet syrup, more appropriate as a topping on a kid’s waffle, possibly be construed as a medicine? Surely it is nothing more than a glorified alternative to maple syrup or honey! The sugar content of which, I thought derisively, can only antagonize the cold symptoms I was experiencing.
Yes, elderberries have a distinct, sharp sweetness that lends their syrup a candy-like appeal...but it is their other properties that transform this berry from being merely sweet, to being a remarkable health superfood.
Elderberries come from a flowering plant called Elderflower, Elder, or more pompously, by its scientific name, Sambucus Nigra. It is mostly commonly found in the Northern hemisphere, including the U.S. and Europe, although there have been some species grown in Australia. The berries are usually so dark a blue or purple as to be perceived as black.
Elderberries contain not only a thrilling amount of dietary fiber, but also a slew of essential minerals like iron, potassium, phosphorous, and copper as well as vitamins A, B, and C. Other organic compounds include tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, and viburnic acid, whatever that is. They are known to be mildly laxative, a diuretic, and diaphoretic.
It is the unassuming word “flavonoids” in that long list of whatevers that makes these berries pack a serious health punch. Namely, quercetin and anthocyanins, both of which are considered bioflavanoids and do wonders in boosting immune function; providing relief from colds, coughs and bronchitis, acting as an expectorant, protecting cells from infection (both viral and bacterial), and even treating the flu, a purpose to which elderberry extract was famously put in the flu epidemic of Panama in 1995.
There are a couple schools of thought on what exactly renders these bioflavonoids so effective, according to one source, “Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell”, whereas in Germany, researchers conducting studies on elderberry showed that “elderberry anthocyanins enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines. These unique proteins act as messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response, thus helping to defend the body against disease. Further research indicated that anthocyanins found in elderberries possess appreciably more antioxidant capacity than either vitamin E or vitamin C.”
Interestingly enough, elderberries have even been used for diabetes, as the antioxidant properties of the stuff work directly on the pancreas to help regulate insulin and glucose levels, providing stabilizing relief for people who suffer from diabetes and even as a preventative to others who are susceptible to this disease.
So now that you know some of the exciting medicinal uses for this sweet tasting defender of all things healthy, how to incorporate it into your daily life?
Simple enough to buy it from your local health food store or online, however, you can also make this at home and get more bang for your buck.
If you are looking to make your own, check out this wonderful blog, that not only has a recipe but also a Youtube tutorial video for the visual learners out there.
Alternatively, this blog offers another take on a homemade syrup recipe as well as a highly intriguing elderberry “master elixir” concoction that looks amazing, albeit somewhat more involved.
Once you have made or bought your syrup, you can put it on pancakes or waffles, stir it into yogurt, freeze it into ice cubes to use in mixed drinks, stir it into warm tea or add it to a fresh batch of kombucha as flavoring.
Enjoy the many benefits of elderberry’s healing effects on the respiratory system when you feel the onset of the sniffles by sucking on some tasty elderberry lozenges. The localized effect of slowly dissolving the lozenge on the tongue soothes an inflamed throat and adjacent nasal passages. Here you can find a lovely, simple recipe for making homemade lozenges if buying them at the store doesn’t fit into your budget.
If you’re looking for a fun project that will provide you a shareable form of this yummy-yet-medicinal superfood that will last you through the winter and see you through the various viruses and insidious infections of your peers, look no further than elderberry wine. Delicious and fruity, it’s relatively simple to make in the scope of homemade wines.
I really like this blog, which not only provides multiple methods for making this wine, but also provides some great information on wild harvesting your elderberries and tips on identifying them.
Things to Think About
Through all your elderberry endeavors, always remember to cook the berries somewhat before eating as the branches, leaves and stems have trace amounts of cyanide that can be toxic if consumed in crazy large amounts. Cooking the berries is a simple way of countermanding this concern.
Generally, a teaspoon of syrup a day during peak cold and flu season should suffice and be aware that the syrup can last anywhere from two weeks in the fridge to several months if you put it in a mason jar with an airtight lid. It is recommended to freeze whatever syrup you won’t be using for awhile, perhaps in ice cube trays, for easily accessible small doses.
You can buy bulk elderberries online to save some money and make enough medicine to cover you and your family for a year.
Who says medicine can’t be affordable, delicious and wildly effective? Despite my skepticism, elderberry syrup has become a mainstay at my house and I look forward to branching out from syrup and trying some of these other recipes. If I can enjoy a glass of wine while building my immune system’s defenses to invasive infections, it is a happy day indeed.