Elderberry: Nature’s Blessing

It's been a wonderful Indian Summer here in Southern Oregon. We've been having mostly blue skies with often a gentle breeze, a cool nip at night, and once again, a familiar low cast coming from our sun, reminding us it is time to start slowing down, and to finish collecting the fruits of our labors, and those so selflessly offered up to us by our non-human cohorts.

One of the fruits quite ready for the picking is that of the Elder, long regarded as a virtual medicine chest by peoples the world over. It's leaves, bark, and especially it's flowers and berries, have all been used medicinally for hundreds of years, for everything from rheumatism (berry juice), headaches (infusion of branches applied externally), and healing newborn's navels (powdered root and bark), to measles (tea of flowers). Probably, it's most well-known uses are that of a diaphoretic, helping the body deal with fever through the mechanism of sweating (classically an infusion of the flowers), and of an anti-viral agent, helping the immune system deal with colds and flu (the berry).

At this time of year, the berries of the Blue Elder are quite abundant here, located most commonly on exposed sites in the foothills and mountains.

I find that a very effective and pleasant tasting tincture can be had by slightly grinding the dried, cleaned (no stems) berries, adding them to five times their weight in liquid measure of 100 proof vodka and vegetable glycerin (1/2 & 1/2). For example: 8 oz (1/2lb) of dried berries added to 40 oz (1 quart, 8 oz) of a 50/50 vodka/glycerin mix (20 oz each). Let the mixture sit (be sure to shake it daily), for a month or so, then strain it. The alcohol provides superior extraction and preservation, while the glycerin provides a bit of sweetness. I take this tincture by the spoonful, 3-6 times a day if I feel anything coming on. Usually, whatever was trying to rear its little head, is gone the next day.

Other ways to reap the berries' many benefits include eating out of hand, and in pies, cobblers, wines, vinegers or juice. Be sure to use fully ripe berries, and always leave most of them behind, unpicked on the tree, for the wilder creatures to enjoy.

Some things to keep in mind, are that the seeds, and in much higher concentrations, the leaves and bark, contain hydrocyanic acid, a compound that may lead to mild cyanide poisoning if consumed in large quantities. Best to cook, ferment, or strain your elderberry delights if you are eating them often, and in generous portions, as the heat or fermentation will render the toxin harmless.

In this time, when tragedy and uncertainty are quite palatable, I find comfort and renewed meaning when I once again open to my relationship, and belonging, with the wild world, where politics are unknown. It's there waiting for us.

Written by Karen Wennland, Clinical Herbalist

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