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Summer moves along like a river on a warm, lazy day. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of foraging in my area which I really enjoy. Friends and acquaintances have let me come and gather nettles for example, from their farms, yards which I harvest and dry for teas and to add to soups later on. Mullein is plentiful and can be found by most roadsides. Their tall stalks with yellow flowers make them easy to spot. However I do not harvest plants from the side of the road. Many toxins from car emissions and chemical salts from winter’s snows make them undesirable. What else is out now? Elderberries. Their creamy white flowers have blossomed and are ripening into deep purple berries.

Harvesting herbs happens in the plants right and perfect time. When I get too busy, they come and go. My tea stores stay empty. This year I marvel at nature’s bounty each time I get to go out and forage. And jars and my cupboard are filling up too.

Botanical Name: Sambucus nigra
Where Found: bushy deciduous wild shrub with erect or overarching stems and branches. Grows from 10′ to 23′ feet in woodland areas, in fields, and by fences.
Parts Used: bark, flowers, berries, leaves

Elder tree provides so many foods and medicines. The leaves can be used in an ointment for bruises. The flowers can be brewed into a tea and can be helpful in mitigating the symptoms of colds and flu. Because they can help with cold symptoms of the upper respiratory tract, the flowers brewed as a tea may be helpful for hayfever and sinusitis.  I usually check several herbal reference books to find recipes and uses for the plants I gather. David Hoffman’s, Holistic Herbal, is one of my favorites. Why? He’s British and I find the British herbals more encompassing. In the health food industry, elderberry preparations are very popular during the winter season.

University of Maryland’s research states:

“Some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, including the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-influenza, and anticancer properties.
Elderberry also contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and may help prevent damage to the body’s cells. In fact, elderberry outranks blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, and blackberries in terms of total flavonol content. However, few studies have been done in humans, so researchers don’t know how effective elder may be.”

So far this year I have gathered flowers and dried them for tea making. Since the berries are ripening I will be making an elderberry syrup for use in the fall and winter. I find Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health a great collection of easy-to-make recipes. Her recipe for Elderberry syrup is easy and is found on page 190:

“1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries
3 cups water
1 cup honey

  1. Place the berries in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 30 – 45 minutes. 
  2. Smash the berries. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and add 1 cup honey, or adjust to taste.
  3. Bottle the syrup and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 2 or 3 months.”

I will freeze a bit of my syrup so it will hold through the winter months. Haven’t tried this yet so we will see how it works. Also don’t forget elderberry jam and jellies.

Elderberries have a rich history too. The soft pith of the stems pushes out easily. The tubes formed were used to blow up a fire. Aeld means fire in old Anglo-Saxon. Over the years, the name has transformed into elder.

According to Euell Gibbons in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, elderberries themselves are not that palatable fresh. And they do not taste good used fresh in recipes that call for fresh berries. He suggests and has tried drying the berries. When dried they make for a tasty pie or can be added to other fruit dishes.  Sounds good to me.

Enjoy. Judith


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