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A tried and true healer: Elderberry Elixir


Despite the fact I had a flu shot the minute the doctor made them available, one of those germs invaded, took up residence in my ears, lungs, and sinuses, and has hung around with his buddies far too long. I’ve taken antibiotics and added a few homeopathic treatments to see if I can send this invader packing. Some of my self-care, which includes slathering Vicks on my feet and wearing cotton socks to bed, has offered comfort but not a cure. Several sympathetic friends recommended taking elderberry elixir, and one provided a bottle of his homebrew. When I looked up elderberries, it appears science agrees that syrups made from this native fruit have successfully evicted this nasty attacker and its accompanying symptoms.

The friend who gave me the tiny bottle of potent purple syrup started growing elderberries on his property so that he can manufacture enough immunity-boosting tonic to share with family and friends. After using it for several years, he swears it either prevents or reduces any number of respiratory illnesses along with other ailments. Research supports his personal anecdotes. In addition to curing these conditions, Chinese practitioners use medicines made from this plant to treat rheumatism and traumatic injuries. The bad news is that an 8 oz. bottle of elderberry syrup at a health food store dents a checking account considerably. For the same price he would have spent for tonic someone else concocted, our buddy bought plants from a local nursery to add to his landscaping and researched how to make his own brew.

Elderberries grow wild around most of Kansas so cultivating them doesn’t require extreme effort. According to our acquaintance, he planted a few roots the first year, and, in no time, they grew three to six feet high, bloomed, and produced fruit. Soon, he harvested stems full of dark purple berries, knocked the fruits loose against the sides of clean five-gallon buckets, and began simmering the plump ovals into concentrate. He’s still experimenting with the perfect recipe, but following his initial success, he’s expanded his garden.

After looking up this therapeutic powerhouse, I learned folks use both blossoms and berries to make teas, wines, cordials, tonics, jams, and syrups. This single plant probably helped many a prairie granny woman or native healer fill a medicine bag with cures for various ailments. I can see where the jams and syrups would prevent scurvy and other conditions caused by vitamin deficiencies. Before antibiotics, flus and chest colds could turn deadly, so pioneers and Native Americans welcome d a syrup that reversed or shortened symptoms.

Not only are these fruits good medicine, elderberries taste good. Anyone who likes making homemade jellies, jams, and syrups will love adding this flavor their selection. Add a pie filled with these succulent goodies to the menu and guests will salivate.

People need to know something else about this native plant. For all its benefits, those consuming it should be aware its fruits and flowers need to be fully ripe and heat processed. Individuals who consume raw products have found themselves suffering from a form of cyanide poisoning. Other wild berries produce similar concerns, so cooks need to educate themselves before tossing raw fruit in a salad.

Nearly out of my bottle of homemade elixir, I either need to find a stand of wild elderberries that I have permission to pick or take a lesson from our friend who grows his own and start my own berry garden. With such a flavorful treatment, there’s no reason to suffer through weeks of upper respiratory infections in the future.