This winter, and really this year in general, has been a rough one for illness around here. There’s been so many office plagues that I’ve lost track of where one ends and another begins. There was even a case of mono going around at one point. Right now I’m sick with my second respiratory illness in the last couple months. The first one had a tickling cough that lingered for at least four weeks.
It seems that ever since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and my own bout with it, I’ve been more aware of how pervasive the flu viruses have become. There’s more and more information surfacing that antibiotics actually don’t help many of the afflictions we commonly seek them for, such as sinusitis and bronchitis. In addition, the CDC’s guidance is not to treat the general population with antivirals OR antibiotics for fear of the risk of resistance development, a guidance I fully support. That leaves us with far fewer options for relief.
Modern medicine is a marvelous and amazing thing, but some thing I think we’ve grown too dependent on for the quick fixes. When we casually reach to pharmaceuticals for our relief there is a much larger ripple effect that reaches in to our own whole body health, our communities, and our environment.
As a result of all of this I have been reaching back to natural ways to both boost my health and/or combat illness. One of the perceived benefits of leveraging living compounds for health benefits, is that just like those pesky bacteria and viruses, they evolve over time. Even our amazing modern sciences can’t account or isolate all the ways that these living compounds affect us which may make them intimidating to some people, but also means they may be our best chance for prevention or relief.
Keep in mind that as these are living compounds they are foods, not medicine. There are no strict dosage recommendations and everyone tolerates various foods differently.
Black elderberries, or sambucus nigra, have long been regarded as a natural remedy to combat cold and flu symptoms as well as potentially shorten the duration of illness. It is recommended to be taken regularly as small doses as a preventative and taken frequently at small doses during illness.
Words of caution… here in the Pacific Northwest the most common elderberries are of the red variety. I’ve found information stating that they are similarly edible, but I find very little referring to them as a strong medicinal. As with the black elderberry, the leaves, stems, flower, and unripe berries are largely regarded as toxic and may result in stomach upset or vomiting. Cooking or drying the flowers and berries is considered the preferred way to neutralize the toxicity.
Since black elderberries aren’t local to me for wild crafting, to make elderberry products for cold and flu treatment, I purchase dried black elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs out of my beloved Oregon.
You’ll see frequent references to elderberry elixir, syrup, jelly, and even wine if you start looking for recipes. Generally speaking the syrup is a sweetened, non-alcoholic liquid with a thicker consistency. It’s particularly useful for children. Elixir is more often created by using an alcohol to extract the beneficial ingredients.
My first attempt at elderberry syrup actually went a little too far and turned in to a lovely jelly. It wasn’t what I had intended, but it was rather successful at what it was. I’ve been feeling like a guilty kid eating a big spoonful of jelly straight from the jar each morning. It’s lovely spread on toast. I have found that it will eventually dissolve in a bottle of my homemade kombucha creating a beautiful dark colored, slightly sweet, berry flavor.
- 1 cup dried black elderberries
- ½ cup dried rose hips
- 1 stick cinnamon stick (crumbled)
- 5 pods cardamom (gently cracked)
- 8 cloves cloves, whole
- 8 juniper berries, dried
- ¼ cup fresh ginger root (peeled and chopped)
- 1 quart water
- ½ cup raw honey
- Bring all ingredients, except honey, to a boil for a few minutes. Then reduce to a low boil or simmer for 30-45 minutes. Liquid should be reduced to ⅔
- Gently mash mixture to release as much juice as possible from the rehydrated elderberries and rose hips.
- Strain liquid in to a canning jar (or jars) through a mesh sieve or cheese cloth and let sit covered until warm enough to touch. (less than 100 degrees)
- Add honey and mix or agitate jar to dissolve. This isn't a terribly sweet jelly, but additional honey can be added to increase sweetness.
- Store in fridge to chill.
Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, juniper, and ginger all have their own immune boosting and antimicrobial properties. They can be omitted if a less complex flavor is desired.
The raw honey is added after letting the syrup cool in order to preserve the honey's antimicrobial and health benefits. Heating the honey in the syrup will still result in sweetening the jelly, but reduce the health benefits.
Because this jelly contains honey, it should be used with caution for children under the age of one. Cane sugar can be used instead of honey to create a more infant friendly version. In that case, include the sugar in the syrup while simmering.
The natural pectin in the elderberries was sufficient to gel this jelly with out any additional pectin needed.
The information on this website is for informational and educational purposes only, and in no way is any of the content on this website to be construed as medical advice or instruction. Please do your own research and seek the advise of a medical professional as appropriate.