Elderberry benefits abound during cold and flu season, but you don’t just need elderberries when you feel a cold coming on. Here’s 23 ways to utilize this generous shrub in your kitchen so that you can gain its health benefits.
How to grow elder plants:
Elder plants are a useful addition to your home, farm, or homestead. Zone three is the edge of the elder hardiness. Warmer areas can easily grow thriving elder bushes. It does have the reputation of being a difficult plant to start from seed, so begin with a named cultivar from the nursery or take cuttings from a wild tree. Once your elder cutting is well rooted transplant it to a full sun position.
Elderberries can be started easily with cuttings. Cuttings should be taken during the dormant season. Dip the lower end of the cutting in cinnamon, and push into prepared soil in a 3 inch pot. Cover the cutting with a Mason jar to prevent it from drying out. Vent the Mason jar by tilting up one side with a stone or twig. Keep the soil evenly damp but let don’t let the pot sit in water.
Your cutting should be rooted in 6 to 8 weeks. You’ll know your cutting has taken when green leaves start growing on the tip, and when you give the cutting a gentle tug, it resists lifting. Transplant it to its permanent garden position but protect it from extreme heat for the first season. You’ll get your first flowers and berries when your plant reaches 3 years.
Plants send up many new canes each year, which branch out the second season. Flowers and fruits develop on the tip ends of the current season’s growth, especially on the side branches. Older, 3-4 year old wood that has become weak may be removed in late winter to early spring, while plants are dormant.
Only dark black elderberries with flat umbrella shaped flower clusters and fruit clusters, should be used for herbal medicine. The red elderberries, which have conical shaped flowers and fruiting, are higher in cyanide and should be avoided for herbal medicine. Red elder is often recommended as an ornamental shrub, so be sure to purchase black elderberry plants when choosing nursery stock.
The fruit, flowers, and leaves of the elder plant can be used in herbal medicine. However, leaves should only be used topically and never ingested. Flower and fruit can be used in formulas to be ingested, but elderberry fruit should be heat processed. Whether you are harvesting from your own plants, or in the wild, make sure the plants are pesticide and herbicide free.
When harvesting flowers take no more than 1/5th of the flowers from a given plant, leave the rest to fruit. When harvesting wild fruit, take no more than 1/3rd and leave the remainder for wildlife. Be sure the fruit cluster is fully ripe before harvesting. Only the black, fully ripe berries should be used for food or medicine.
Elderberry Benefits: The flowers
- Elder flowers are used for plugged noses, colds, flu, viruses, bronchitis, diabetes, and constipation. They are also used to increase urine production (as a diuretic), to increase sweating, to reduce fevers,and to stop bleeding. They are rich in antioxidants and used topically in skin care and anti-aging serums, as well.
- The plant flowers in May and June, making it easy to start gathering this herbal abundance, before the pressure of late season herb harvests arrive. Flowers should be visually checked for insects, and shaken off before being brought indoors. Elderberry flowers can either be immediately infused in oil, or dried for making tea and infusions later. It’s important to remove the large stems from the flowers before using them for herbal preparations as the stems contain a higher percentage of cyanide than the flowers or berries.
- Elder flower infused oil is used in skincare, like this anti-aging serum or this elder flower eye cream.
- Elder flower mead preserves the diaphoretic and antiviral qualities of this herb. It is simple to make and a good way to showcase the light flavor of herbs like elder flower while preserving them for the winter season.
There are three, currently circulating, myths about the safety and efficiency of using elderberry for food and medicine. Check out the explanation behind these myths, and the safety protocols for working with elderberry, so you can get all the benefits.
- Elderberries are the most well known part of the elder bush. Many varieties produce a profusion of dark blue or black berries, rich in antioxidants, anthrocyanins, and their health benefits. Elderberries are antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial providing relief for colds and flu. (source) The anthrocyanins in elderberry are responsible for their amazing health benefits that include eye health, heart health, improved circulation. These deep blue or black berries are anti-tumor, anti-cancer, support weight loss, aid healthy blood sugar control, support brain health, memory, and cognition, prevent oxidative stress, reduce blood pressure, and ease allergy symptoms.
- If you have young children, these elderberry gummies are a great way to make consuming elderberry easy, when they don’t feeling well.
- One amazing elderberry benefit is that they are a functional food. Requiring only a little forethought to properly prepare, you can eat them in many ways. These include tasty no-bake granola bars, as just one option to use elderberry as a functional food.
- Another option to include elderberry in your lifestyle as a functional food, and enjoy the elderberry benefits as a treat, is to make elderberry pie. You can combine the elderberries with other high anthrocyanin fruits for an even more colorful boost.
- A more traditional approach is to make elderberry jelly or jams. Jams and jellies are good freshly made, or you can preserve them by canning. Canned elderberry jelly is good for multiple seasons, and is a great way to preserve a seasonal abundance. Even if you’re sensitive to sugar, you can still make a low sugar version. Or simply use less at regular sweetness.
- Elderberry syrup is a go-to in our household for any suspected viral infection. Served in hot water, like tea, or added to cold water bottles while out and about, it shortens the duration and severity of the symptoms. Honey based, the elderberry syrup is also soothing to sore throats.
- If you don’t like the idea of cooking the elderberries, and then adding honey. You can make an infused honey with elderberry, which will have a stronger concentration of the honey benefits.
- If you like a bit more complexity, you can also do a fermented elderberry honey. There will be slight flavor variations, but these two methods of using elderberry are quite similar.
- You do not need to dry elderberry first, before you can use it. Fresh elderberries are also suitable for turning into syrups, juicing for elderberry mead, or other uses. Provided the juice is heated it is safe for consumption. More info here.
- It is the heat process that removes and evaporates the elderberry cyanide content, the cooked juice from fresh elderberries is perfectly safe. And you can can it or freeze it for later use, or use it in one of the many jelly based options for enjoying elderberries.
- There are many ways to use elderberries and get this beneficial medicinal herb working for you. I’ve even seen micro-brewed elderberry kombucha for sale. These elderberry gelatin shots are another interesting option to enjoy elderberry outside of cold syrup tone.
- Another useful way to get the elderberry benefits is to make an oxymel. Elderberry oxymel is simply elderberry, honey, and vinegar, and is as easy as elderberry syrup to make at home.
- For picky, or unhappily ill, children and adults elderberry candy is an acceptable alternative. Elderberry lollipops soothe sore throats and help even young children get their dose of elderberry.
- Depending on your familiarity with herbal medicine, you may have already made tinctures from many plants. You can also make tincture with elderberries, either on their own or with other added herbs. Elderberry tincture with herbs is a good way to bundle elderberry benefits with other antiviral herbs like calendula and echinacea.
- While you are making elderberry tincture set some aside to enjoy as elderberry liquor.
- If you like chewy candy with herbal benefits, try these elderberry caramels. These are guaranteed to be a hit at any age, even with your fussiest family member.
- I mentioned using elderberry syrup with your second ferment kombucha for flavor. However, you can also make elderberry soda using the natural yeast on your elderberries. I find this soda to be an interesting take on some of the other drinkable options, and one that is pleasing for making elderberry more functional in the home.
- Food is one of the best ways to enjoy elderberry, and work the benefits of your herbal abundance into your life. This elderberry chocolate torte is simply another example of the amazing ways you can include elderberry benefits in your life, and on your dinner table.
- One of my preferred ways to enjoy herbs and elderberry is herbal tea. Tea is great in winter, or any season, allowing you to stay hydrated as well as offering herbal benefits based on the herbs you use. This interesting tea uses elderberry as part of an immune boosting tea blend. Enjoy this tissane year round.
When it comes to elderberry, they have more antioxidants than blueberries and bilberries, and are hardier in cooler temperatures. The bush itself is beautiful, whether in flower, leaf, or fruit, and it is highly beneficial to your herbal arsenal. Try any of these 23 ways to enjoy the benefits of elderberry, and stay healthy all year round.
If you have to wait to order elderberry to start getting it’s benefits, you can get started with something a little closer to home if you are feeling under the weather. Grab my FREE ebook, “Using Ginger for Cold and Flu Relief” and get the help you need tonight. Tomorrow gather the five antiviral herbs and get your Anti-viral tincture started. Tonight mix up an easy ginger drink for quick relief of the aches and pains, sore throat, and the general unwell feelings from the common cold.