A wealth of folklore, magic, and superstition is attached to this shrub-like tree, often described as a “complete medicine chest,” because of its extensive healing abilities on a wide variety of ailments. The most used species is Sambucus nigra, which grows throughout North America, Europe and many other parts of the world. Its history of medicinal use includes the entire plant in different preparations and dosages, such as the fresh leaf tincture as a reliable nervine. Today most commonly used are the fragrant white flowers that bloom in the spring and the ripe purple-black berries in the fall. The entire plant has shown to possess both anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties while also being a moderate immune system stimulant.
The ripe berries are rich in vitamins A and C. They have a slight diuretic and laxative effect. My favorite uses of the fresh or dried berries are syrups and tinctures. Elderberry syrup can be now be found on any grocery or natural food store shelf. But please do yourself a favor and make your own, for it is less expensive and better than anything on the market. For every cup of fresh berries or half cup of dried I decoct them in 3 cups of water, simmer uncovered until reduced by half, smash all the spent berries with a potato masher, then strain through a cloth or fine mesh sieve. Sugar or honey is then dissolved in the hot liquid. My favorite additions to this recipe are dried rosehips, astragalus root, ginger root, sweet cinnamon chips, cardamom, and cloves. Your kitchen will be filled with the most pleasant fragrance of warming spices and berries. This healing herbal liquid will help ease coughs and befriend the immune system. I prefer to keep my syrup refrigerated and take by the spoonful. My family asks for this syrup every day because it tastes so delicious. You can also tincture the berries which will extract both alcohol and water soluble constituents then add to the syrup which will make an excellent preservative.
It is well worth getting to know elder on a deep and personal level; the mysteries she unfolds are immense and I don’t believe that anyone will ever truly know what “Hyldemor” has hiding up her branches.