Tis the season of sniffles and chills! Using the resources around you, you can make your own natural cold and flu preventative using wild elderberries.
Elder tree or Sambucus nigra has abundant medicinal properties, the flowers appear in Spring time and can be harvested to make your own delicious Elderflower cordial or wine. The berries appear in late Summer/early Autumn and can be harvested when very dark red almost black in colour, and can be made in to a syrup as I have done below.
The elder tree can be identified by its 5 ovate leaves coming off the same stem, it has quite skinny withered looking tree trunk - it does seem like an 'elder!' and the berries will hang down in clusters. In North America and Europe it naturally grows wild and I actually discovered two elder trees at the bottom of my street I'd never noticed before until the berries started appearing! As the berries are quite small when picking off the tree, it is easier to snip off a bunch and pop them all in a bowl or carrier bag as you'll need a lot to create a decent amount of syrup as you have to discard all the twigs later on.
Once home, rinse under cold water in a colander and lay out on a clean tea towel to dry off a bit. Then comes the fiddly bit! We want to discard all the twigs and any underripe berries that are green or red in colour although all raw elderberries are poisonous, they are fine to eat once cooked but any underripe berries will taste bitter. I did this straight away using a fork to comb through and just picking them off by hand, an easier method is to put all the berry bunches in a freezer bag and freeze for 24 hours then shake the bag to separate - I found this Youtube video very helpful to explain this a bit better!
Once separated, I gave it a final rinse under cold water then placed all the ripe berries in a pan ready to make a juice for the syrup by covering the berries with cold water and bringing to a boil. I followed the recipe below from ethnobotanist James Wong's second book 'Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong.'
After simmering the elderberries in water for 20 minutes, I strained the juice into a jug through a muslin cloth so I could catch the elderberries and squeeze all the excess juice out as this is what is needed to make the syrup. The recipe calls for 600 ml of elderberry juice but mine yielded only 450 ml so instead of 450 g sugar I only used 300 g of caster sugar, which I popped back into the pan with juice of 3/4 a lemon, a cinnamon stick and about 6 cloves. Which I then brought to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often and then the syrup is complete. Once cooled down I strained into clean glass bottles/jars (can sterilise used jars and bottles by soaking and washing in very hot, soapy water, rinsing it off and drying in a hot oven for 5 minutes) and labelled.
Once opened keep it in the fridge and it should last for a few months. Take a teaspoonful when the first symptoms of a cold start appearing, or it can just be used as a yummy syrup to drizzle over pancakes or as a cordial to make a hot winter drink with all the added immune boosting properties and lots of vitamin C too!
My name is Helen Davison and I'm a NIMH registered practising Medical Herbalist based in Ramsbottom, Lancashire. I've had a keen interest in herbal remedies since my early teens and would experiment creating my own balms and bath bombs using natural ingredients, which prompted me in discovering and pursuing a career in Western Herbal Medicine.