Updated: May 13
In September it’s marked in my diary “Elderberries!” to remind me to get outside and collect them. As Autumn approaches Elderberries begin to change from green to a beautiful deep purple/blue, signaling the season change. In Chinese Medicine you are taught to observe the seasons and act accordingly. Each organ has an associated season and in Autumn it is the Lungs.
“The Lungs influence the skin and the defensive qi (immune system) and are easily invaded by exterior pathogenic factors, particular cold” G. Maciocia
In Autumn the wind becomes colder and hours of light begin to reduce, it is a time when we should prepare and strengthen our body, ready for the colder months. We must begin to think of our Lungs and supporting our immune systems, as it’s also often the time when colds and flu attack. Not only are we in a wardrobe limbo, trying to guess what will be appropriate dress for the weather that day, but it is also a time when many are thrown back into the harsh reality of work and school; increasing the chances of becoming run down and open to attack.
Fear not though nature is clever and everything is ready and there to help us if you know where to look. One such food is the elderberries, that have been used for centuries to protect against colds and flu. Scientific evidence is also growing to support the use of this abundant and useful fruit.
The ripe dark bunches of elderberries drooping and ready for picking.
Elderberries are rich in vitamin A, C, B6, Calcium and Iron, but also contain high levels of antioxidants such as polyphynols including anthocyanins and flavanoids, that can’t be synthesised in the body. My patients are always listening to me talk about the importance of the deep purple foods rich in anthocyanins, as they help heal gut integrity and in turn help balance hormones, but as we learn more about the human biome we are realising gut heath is key in all aspects of medicine. Something Chinese Medicine has known for centuries (Just saying ;)).
The beauty of herbs is that often the active ingredients contained with in, work together to produce the optimal benefits. The great thing about elderberries is not only are they one of the richest sources of anthocyanins, but they also have plenty iron. The iron helps carry the anthcyanins from the gut into the blood stream therefore increasing their bio availability. Once in the blood stream they link to the free radicals we are always trying to reduce.
Research has also shown that a mixture like elderberry syrup could inhibit the replication of 11 strains of the influenza virus and increase cytokines production. Barak et al. (2001, 2002). A more recent study from Tiralongo et al (2016) also showed that elderberry supplementation produced a significant reduction in the duration and severity of cold symptoms in air travelers. So no more getting sick on holiday!
Elderberry Syrup Recipe.
Step 1: Collect in a large bowl some elderberries. You can identify Elderberries by the knotty wood stems, long leafed with serrated edges and large drooping bunches or small purple fruit.
Step 2. Cover with cold water and leave for 5-10 mins to soak and clean any bug, snails or other stowaways off.
Step 3. Spread out on a towel to drip dry.
Step 4. Go through each bunch discarding any unripe berries. Then roll the berries between your fingers to remove from the stems. I used an old take away tub to collect them. I then chose to freeze them so I could make the syrup the next day. Fresh fruit can safely be frozen for at least a year, so any extra berries you collect can be frozen for latter batches.
1 teaspoon of ground cloves 2 tablespoons of fresh grated ginger or if like me you missed it off your shopping you can use 1/2 a teaspoon of dried ginger. 1 stick of cinnamon or 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon 1 tablespoon of both lemon and orange rind. 1 cup of raw local honey. (approx 250g) 3.5 cups of water (approx 700ml) 1 and a 1/3 cups of fresh or frozen elderberries. (approx 300g)
Step 6. Add the water, elderberries and spices (not the honey) to a medium sized pan. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for 45 mins till the mixture has reduced by half. Then leave to cool.
Step 7. Once the mixture has cooled, mash the berries with a spoon, then strain into a bowl to remove all the berries. Discard the berries. Then add the honey to the cooled and reduced mixture and stir well.
Step 8. Transfer into a sterile container. I used a 500 ml glass bottle with stopper which is the perfect size for this recipe, but you can use and glass jars you have saved. Label and enjoy.
Dosage: ½ – 1 teaspoon for kids and ½ – 1 tablespoon for adults. If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day until symptoms disappear. Not suitable for children under 1 yr old.
If you are on immune suppressants, pregnant or breastfeeding consult your GP or qualified herbalist for advice on safe usage.