Fall is an ideal time to prepare for cold and flu season. Colds and flus hit rundown, stressed, and weak immune systems. When we get sick, it’s one way our bodies force us to take the downtime we need. If we go through the entire cycle of becoming ill, resting, and recovering, our immune systems come out much stronger for it.
Oftentimes, when we feel like we’re coming down with something, we try to kill the invading bacteria or virus with a strong antimicrobial herb like Echinacea. Even if you do “beat” the bug at this point, you haven’t dealt with the underlying cause. You’ve put off resting and rebuilding, and your defenses will still be compromised the next time your immune system meets a challenge.
Elderberry is my favorite herb for strengthening the body’s resistance to pathogens before it’s exposed to them. It makes a great tonic for those with chronically weak immune systems, and who get sick often. It has an affinity for the respiratory tract, helping our bodies deal with coughs, croup, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and sinusitis. It’s a strong regulator of viral infections, so it’s helpful in cases of herpes or the flu. Elderberry is a friendly herb that is appropriate for most people in most cases. However, if you have an autoimmune disorder, check with your healthcare professional before indulging. For the not-currently-sick among us, it can be a valuable ally in the effort to stay that way.
Although a native Elder, Sambucus racemosa, grows in the mountains of southwest Colorado, its berries are red and toxic. We can, however, use its flowers for immunostimulation, respiratory complaints, troublesome fevers, and topically for burns and rashes. The black berries of Sambucus nigra are most commonly used in medicine, and can be easily found in herb shops and some health food stores.
Elderberry is one of the sweeter tasting medicinal herbs, and turning it into a syrup is a popular way to ingest it. There are probably as many recipes for elderberry syrup as there are herbalists, but most of them contain honey and a decoction, which is a very strong herbal tea. The honey helps to preserve the mixture, though some choose to add alcohol (at least 20%) for increased shelf life. It is delicious and makes a great medicine for children, but it’s contraindicated for those under one year of age, because it contains honey.
Once you have made the syrup, you can take it by the tablespoon 1-2 times a day for prevention, or up to 5 times a day for acute illness. Kids can take 1-2 teaspoons, depending on their size.
(makes 1 pint. Ounces measured by volume)
6 ounces dried
Place berries and water in a pot on the stove and simmer slowly, until the water volume reduces by half (making 6 ounces). If you pass this point by accident, you can add more water and simmer the mixture some more, until you have the right volume. Now you have made a decoction. Strain the berries through cheesecloth or a metal strainer, squeezing them to get the strong juicy parts.
Mix together the decoction and honey. They should be close to equal parts by volume. Store in the refrigerator. It will keep through the winter season. Shake well before taking.