If I had to choose only one herb to have on hand during the fall and winter months it would have to be the simple elder berry. After learning how to use them to make my own elder berry syrup many years ago, we’ve never been without them!
While I have purchased them many times from our local health food store, and online stores like Mountain Rose Herbs, I’ve also begun to forage for them myself when they ripen (usually in August). A couple of years ago I was thrilled to find a cluster of bushes in my mom’s horse pasture! It sure beats traipsing through ditches on the side of the road.
While used for centuries in the herbal world as a helpful remedy for colds and influenza, studies have also showed promising results as well with patients getting over the flu faster, and with less medication needed, while taking elderberry extract.
I also make different herbal blends to pair with my elder berries depending on the season and what I feel we need.
Years ago I used to grab just about half my herbal apothecary and add them to my syrup, but now I find that less really is more, using only 2-3 different herbs at a time. This syrup tends to the warming side of things with the added cinnamon and ginger – great for the fall season.
- 3 cups water
- ½ cup dried elder berries (or 1 cup fresh)
- 2 Tbsp elder flowers
- ½ Tbsp ginger root
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- ¼ - ½ cup honey or sugar
- 1 Tbsp vodka or brandy (optional)
- What we're going to do first is make and infusion with the water and herbs. Heat the water to boiling and pour over herbs. You can do this in a mason jar and then strain, or simply use a clean french press.
Infusions, simply put, are strong teas, so we'll be letting this sit for about 30 minutes (berries are fairly fragile and don't need to be infused as long as other parts of the plant do).
Once you've let this infusion sit for half an hour, strain.
- The next thing we'll be doing is making a decoction, which means we'll be reducing the amount of liquid by half.
So grab a small pot and pour your infusion into it, noticing how high the liquid is - sometimes I eyeball it, other times I grab something like a popsicle or skewer stick and mark the liquid level.
Turn your burner on medium and watch as it warms up. As soon as it begins to steam, turn the burner to low and let it continue to steam until the infusion is reduced by half. This could take 45 minutes or so.
- Once your decoction is finished, remove from heat. If you are using sugar, you can add it immediately and stir until dissolved. If you are using honey (especially if it's raw honey), wait until it cools to room temperature.
- Vodka can help add to the shelf life, though is not needed, especially if you use it quickly.
- Once finished, keep in the refrigerator. (should be good for a couple of weeks - otherwise freeze until needed)
This is one of our favorite elder berry variations and all of my kids love it! And I love that I can use something homemade and natural to help keep my family well.
As for dosing, it’s best to do small doses a few times per day, rather than a larger dose once per day.
And dosing will vary from herbalist to herbalist you find, but the common average seems to be 1 teaspoon at a time for adults, 1/2 teaspoon for children, and 1/4 tsp for small children/toddlers, taken multiple times per day.
In our home we normally follow the above guidelines when we’ve been exposed or feel like we’re coming down with something.