Elder, Sambucus nigra or S. canadensis, is probably one of the most well known medicinal herbs, even in allopathic medicine. It is a godsend during cold and flu season, and Sambucol, a homeopathic remedy, is highly sought after even by those who know nothing about homeopathy or herbalism. My general area of study deals with herbalism, not homeopathy, but I think it is worth mentioning. Coupled with Oscillococcinum, another homeopathic remedy, flu season is much less stressful if it hits your household.
BUT the actual berries of Elder are just as great, and even more so in the area of prevention. A syrup made of elder berries, taken daily, can help boost the immune system and protect you against serious illness. Because it is so popular, certain times of the year can bring about scarcity, especially during the fall and winter. It is best to stock up on dried berries and homeopathic remedies when you can find them, because when you need them most is when you won’t be able to find them. Hindsight is 20/20.
Not only are the berries wonderful remedies, but the flowers as well, which the berries form from, are also wonderful in treating fever, colds and flu, and hay fever. Elder flower tea can also be brewed and put into a bath to promote sweating and support a fever that is fighting off infection.
Contrary to modern belief, fevers are actually your friend for the most part.
Of course you don’t want them to get too high, which can cause problems including seizures, but up 104 or so can be supported in fighting off disease. Giving fever reducers does not help the overall situation, it just makes a person comfortable for a little while. It is better to be a little uncomfortable and get through an illness faster than suppressing all the symptoms meant to help your body fight. Think of a sick body as a battlefield and remember, war isn’t easy.
To harvest, you will want to pick flowers on a dry sunny day choosing the flowers that smell lemony and fresh. In damp weather or shady areas, the flowers can smell funky, which you don’t want. Pick the entire flower head. If you want to dry for tea, spread flower head out on paper to dry then use a fork to strip the blossoms off of the stems. Elder flower season is relatively short, so pick them while you can find them and dry them for later use. You can also of course make tinctures, syrups, and other remedies with fresh flowers to preserve them rather than drying. If you want tea year-round however, you will want to dry some flowers.
When picking berries, take the entire head rather than trying to take individual berries. You can stick the berries in the freezer and then break or shake the berries off for easy stem removal. It doesn’t have to be as fiddly as you would think it is.
CAUTION: Bark, leaves, and wood are poisonous. Berry clusters need to be flat, not rounded, and the berries and flowers have compounds that can disrupt chemotherapy drugs.
Some say the elderberries are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten raw. This refers to the seeds in the berries, especially that of red-berried elder. Black Elder is usually what people are talking about when they speak of this wonderful lady. Elderberries can cause diarrhea if eaten raw in large quantities, but as food they are usually cooked, making them safe. In a tincture the seeds are strained out prior to ingestion.
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Emma Lee Joy