Friday, November 23, 2012

A Recipe for Elderberry Cold Syrup

During Sukkot we tent camp, and this year we were blessed with rain and cold. A great story in there about an early morning lightning bolt, but that's for another time. The upshot is, we both caught a bit of a head cold toward the end of the festival.

Fortunately, we have friends who had rented a vacation house not far from our camp, and the last couple of nights we stayed with them. The Mom of that family, like many I know, is a full-fledged nutritionist/general physician who knows how to keep her family healthy and out of the doctor's office! And when my DH and I showed up with sniffles, she already had a pot of garlicky chicken soup and a batch of fresh ginger tea going on the stove.

Between the colloidal silver and the grapefruit oil air freshener, she also plied us with elderberry syrup. I had never taken elderberry syrup before, and when I got home I looked into it in more detail. Here's what I found out.

Known as Sambucus negra (berries) and Sambucus canadensis (flowers), elder has a long history of use in traditional European medicine. The berries have also been used for making preserves, wines, winter cordials, and for adding flavor and color to other wines. The flower, berries, and bark of elderberry trees have been used for centuries by Native Americans for treating fever and joint pain.

Flowering elder

But in recent years, Israeli researchers at Hadassah-Hebrew University have developed five formulas based on the elderberry fruit that have been clinically proven to prevent and lessen all kinds of influenza. It apparently works to deactivate an enzyme that at least eight influenza viruses use to penetrate healthy cells in the lining of the nose and throat. Taken before infection, it prevents infection; taken after infection, it prevents the spread of the virus through the respiratory tract. This explains why my DH and I didn't get any worse after we started taking the elderberry syrup, and how the duration of our cold was shortened.

Elderberry cluster in relation to size of adult hand

Keep in mind that the branches and leaves of elderberry are poisonous (they contain a component also found in the unripe and raw fruit, as well as its seeds, and can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea), but that the bit of stem sometimes left on the berry is safe. Dried berries are less bitter than fresh, though you can use fresh ones if you have them properly identified and cooked to inactivate the sambunigrin, which is the poisonous offender. Which I wouldn't recommend unless you have studied with a reputable teacher, but that's the subject of another post ... but in the mean time, if you want to make this syrup, get dried berries from a reputable source. Mountain Rose Herbs carries them (much of what I've learned about the elderberry comes from their website), but they've been out of stock for a while, so I purchased mine here. Unfortunately, they're out of stock now as well, but the old stand-by, Frontier Coop, has them in stock.

There are many ways you can prepare elderberries - teas, tinctures, encapsulations, syrups, wine and cordials - and it is often combined with echinacea. For this recipe, however, I'm going to do a simple elderberry syrup.

Elderberry Cold/Flu Syrup
1/2 c. of dried elderberries
3 c. filtered water
1 c. local raw honey (use brown rice syrup or agave in equal amount if you want to give it to children under 2 years)
1 organic cinnamon stick
3-4 organic cloves
1 T. grated organic ginger

Using a stainless steel pan, bring the dried elderberries, cinnamon stick, and cloves to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about half an hour. After this step to rehydrate the berries, smash them with a potato masher to release all of their components into the mixture. Let the mixture cool off a bit, then strain it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Grate fresh ginger into the strained mixture, stir it in, let it sit 10 minutes or so, then strain that as well. To this mixture, add the sweetener (the liquid should still be warm enough to dissolve the sweetener) and give it a good stir. I store mine in a glass swing-top bottle in the fridge, but you can use any kind of glass bottle. This will keep through the winter, though you shouldn't have any left over if you're taking some every day for preventive.

This syrup should also help you with excessive mucous and sore throat, and because it has anti-inflammatory properties, it should also help with upper respiratory issues due to a cold.

Take one tablespoon daily as preventive, and a teaspoon every 2-3 hours while sick.