Around this time in Vermont is when one of our most prized and delicious plants finally fruits; Sambucus canadensis, the Elderberry!
The Elder, with its umbrella-like clusters of creamy, delicately fragrant blossoms flowers in early July, followed in late August by the large drooping bunches of purple juicy berries. The shrub grows on our farmlands near damp places, along roadsides and on the edges of woods and always brings with it the uncertain feeling that fall is arriving soon and the bounty and harvest of our growing season is at full peak. Elderberries are quite edible and have been an important staple of food for many centuries. The ripe purple berries can be harvested and made into elderberry wine, jam, syrup, and other yummy treats. It also aids as a powerful medicine that is widely known and loved because of its sweet and potent affinity to our immune system.
As the cooler months approach and back to school season starts, it’s important to pay attention to the way that we feel each day, as those early signs of feeling burnt out play an important part in maintaining health. Eating good food, staying hydrated and making sure we get plenty of sleep are all important factors in living healthy through the changing seasons.
Elderberry is a wonderful superfood-like ally that we can take in large quantities, and with plenty of rest our body’s natural response kicks in. Elderberry syrups and tea have long been used to help support optimal immune function. When our resources are low is when all those amazing immune supporting herbs really come in handy. They help our body maintain its normal immune response.
Because it’s so much like food, Elderberry is incredibly safe for kids, and happens to taste divine when combined with honey; hence the elderberry syrup!
The power of elderberry gets even better when paired with other immune supporting herbs like Echinacea or rosehips and warming synergistic plants like ginger and cayenne. See the recipes below for other creative ideas for ways to include Elderberry into your medicine cabinet.
While herbalists are often seen roaming the fields with baskets for harvesting, it’s important to remember that many animals and songbirds also feed on the fruit and it’s an important source of food, especially with the approaching winter. I often find myself running out to search for the bushes hoping to get to it before the birds, but always try to be aware of who else might need this special food and herb.
It’s also one of those plants that is steeped in folklore. Almost any old textbook you read mentions the use of elder as a protector, often being made into wands used by witches or its shrubby foliage creating habitat for little beings. They were almost always planted at the edge of the gardens to offer strength and protection. In all traditions around the world the Elder tree is considered sacred and magical and treated with great respect. There are very strong superstitions about not cutting down the elder as there is fear around releasing its spirit or out of a deep respect for this tree, which gives so much by way of plant medicines, food and drink.
There are so many great recipes for elderberry syrup that you can easily find one. Another nice way to use them is in tea. Here is a simple recipe for the winter months,; adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s and Traditional Medicinals Gypsy Cold Care Tea.
Elderberries, Rosehips, Yarrow and Peppermint.
Equal parts each. Steeped for 15 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold over ice.
Another fun way to use elderberries is to juice and freeze them in ice cube trays. Use them in drinks, cocktails, smoothies- they are easily accessible and storable!