What Are Elderberries?
Sambucus, as the elderberry plant is formally known, is a variety of plant that comes from the honeysuckle family. The berries on the plant are very tiny and dark purple/black in color. They grow on low bushes in clumps. First, a small white flower emerges followed by the tiny dark purple/black berry. Picking elderberries is a slow process since the berries are so small and closely spaced.
These berries might be small, but they are packed full of essential nutrients and antioxidants that are very beneficial for a person’s immune system. Elderberries actually have more antioxidants in them than other berries like blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, strawberries, and raspberries.
Elderberry bushes are hardy plants that would make a nice ornamental addition to your garden at home, while also providing the wonderful health benefits of its berries when they are in season. Just be sure to plant them where toddlers and young children won’t pick them and eat them by mistake before they can be cooked.
The berry is ready to be harvested in late summer in Northern climates. This is the perfect time to make them into a syrup, tea, or tincture for the coming fall and winter when colds and flues seem to be more prevalent. It is important to cook elderberries in some way before consuming them since they can be poisonous if used raw in large quantities. If you have consumed uncooked elderberries and begin to notice that you have nausea, are vomiting, or have severe diarrhea seek medical help immediately.
Cautions for Elderberries
Some medical professionals caution against the use of elderberries in pregnant and breastfeeding women. This is merely because it would be unethical to study elderberry usage in these women, not because there has been documented evidence of harm.
Also, if you are taking medications to suppress your immune system you should use elderberry with caution since it is known to have immune system enhancing effects. This is also why people with autoimmune diseases should proceed with caution. If you have a condition like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis be on the look-out for flares in your condition if you are trialing the use of elderberries, and stop immediately if your condition worsens.
How To Use Elderberries
Many naturally minded people have likely heard of elderberries being used in syrup form in the fight against common illnesses. But, another easy way to get the benefits of elderberries without all the sugar is to use it in tincture form. Tinctures can be much easier to use than something like a syrup for the prevention of the common cold. Elderberry tinctures have so many benefits! Not only do they have no added sugar, but also they are shelf stable, and the dosage is smaller than with a syrup.
Do you like to DIY? Not sold on the idea of a tincture? You can also make a lovely cough syrup using elderberries and cinnamon, which can be very soothing when you have a cough.
It is important to store any tincture or syrup in a dark colored jar away from light and heat. Syrup should be refrigerated and lasts for a couple months. Tinctures, however, have a very long shelf life making them an excellent option for preserving the health-promoting benefits of elderberries.
If you don’t have time to make a tincture or syrup from your elderberries when they are fresh you could also dehydrate them or freeze them for use later in the year. Freezing berries is very easy! When you are ready to use the berries simply thaw them out and then follow the directions for making your tea, syrup, or tincture as you normally would.
Other Benefits of Elderberries
Elderberries are also excellent if you have heart issues since they have lots of potassium. Potassium is essential for keeping your heart healthy. They are also said to help control insulin which can help to keep diabetes in check. The antioxidants and minerals in elderberries are also great for keeping bones and joints healthy. The antioxidants in them reduce inflammation that affects joints, and the minerals they contain are essential for proper bone formation. (1)
Have Fun with Elderberries!
If you’re looking for a fun experiment, you could even use elderberries as a natural dye. They produce a lovely true royal purple color on natural fiber fabrics. These fabrics can be used to sew beautiful non-toxic clothing for your children or yourself, and you won’t have to worry about all of the toxins that are in industrially dyed clothing. Industrial dyes use harmful chemicals that can be absorbed into our skin and cause chemical build-up in our bodies. This build-up should be removed from your body by detoxifying. Industrial dyes also heavily pollute the environment since they are normally produced in countries, like China, which do not have strict laws about how the chemicals used in the dying process are disposed of. These chemicals are normally dumped into the waterways, making the water not suitable for drinking.
Where Can I Find Elderberries?
There are local producers growing elderberries all over the country! Check in with your local market manager to see whether they know someone in your area who is growing them. You could even get a discount for buying in bulk from a grower, and then you could make tinctures and syrups for everyone in your family! If you cannot find a local grower there are many online sources you could buy them from as well.
Elderberries are a powerful addition to your natural toolkit for keeping you and your family healthy. If you have not already benefitted from this tiny little powerhouse of a berry, try them today!
Do you and your family get stuck at home sick a lot of the time in the winter? What are your favorite ways to use elderberries to keep illnesses in check?
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