When I was still in herb school in 1998, I teamed up with a couple of my classmates to start our own herbal remedy company. (I later discovered that all herbal students want to do this.) One of our first and tastiest concoctions was Elderberry Syrup, a magically delicious way to deliver potent healing to picky squeamish people.
Elderberries come from a large bush that’s found in many parts of the world. Tea made from Elderberries has a long history of use as a folk remedy for the flu.
The flu virus makes us sick by behaving like an invading alien. These little creeps use an enzyme to puncture our cells, which allows them a stealthy entry. They then enter the nucleus to hijack our very own personal and private DNA for their own nefarious purposes: to make more of themselves. Disgusting, right?
What follows is utter mayhem. The new spawns break the cell open from the inside to pour out and invade dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of our cells, until we’re coughing, shivering, and aching all over. That is so uncool. The stronger your immune system response is, the faster you’ll get over it, but still.
Fast forward to the 1980’s, where a scientist in Israel began researching the effects of Elderberry against several strains of the flu. She discovered that Elderberry prevents the virus from entering the cell through a complex enzymatic action that’s over my head to explain, but in effect, cutting the viral bandits off at the knees. This study was performed on several different strains of virus, which is great, because viruses mutate. Apparently, Elderberry can keep up.
You can take Elderberry Syrup if you have the flu, but Elderberry has other benefits as well. The berries are such a dark purple that they appear black. The pigment that makes Elderberries dark is one of Nature’s benevolent gifts to humankind.
This pigment is found in dark purple, red, and blue fruits and vegetables (blueberries, dark grapes, black beans, and cranberries, to name a few). This pigment (called Anthocyanin) is a bioflavonoid that provides very important health benefits:
Basically, you want to eat as much of this stuff as you can get. Since this pigment is found in so many foods, you won’t have a hard time finding it.
This syrup is great to have on hand, especially in the colder months when the flu gets passed around. If you need to use this medicinally, adults can take it by the tablespoon several times per day. For children over 6, give them a teaspoon 3 to 4 times daily.
Because it’s tasty, you can pour it on your pancakes, waffles, or French toast. And for purely recreational purposes, you can add it to craft cocktails; use in place of a simple syrup. (And if you’re fascinated with the idea of using herbs in craft cocktails, click here for this fun workshop to learn more)
Enough chatter. It’s time to make the syrup.
You will need:
4 ounces elderberries
1 ounce dried ginger root
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder, or 3 – 4 cinnamon sticks, crushed
1 quart purified water
1 cup raw honey
Place all of the ingredients except for the honey in a stainless steel saucepan. Simmer the mixture over low heat until the liquid is reduced by about half, or until the liquid seems nice and thick.
Strain out the liquid through a fine sieve, pressing out as much liquid from the berries as possible. If you have a potato ricer or home wine press, you can extract even more.
Once the liquid has been separated from the berries, stir in the raw honey. If your raw honey is thick from crystallization, it will soon melt in the warm syrup.
Store the syrup in the refrigerator; it will keep several weeks. If you want to add more preservative power, you can add ¼ cup of brandy to the finished product. Families with young children will probably want to skip this step. However, the addition of the brandy does seem to punch up the effectiveness and the amount of actual alcohol in a serving is minimal.
Stay happy and healthy this holiday season!