Chow Town

Elderberry, an almost forgotten herb, becomes a star

Updated: 2013-08-07T15:52:14Z

By DONNA COOK

Who would ever think the elderberry would be the 2013 Herb of the Year?

Most people don’t even know what an elderberry shrub looks like or have even tasted elderberry wine, juice, jelly ….

The elderberry shrub typically grows to about 10 feet tall and shows yellow and white blossoms in early summer, followed by deep blue or black berries which usually ripen around September.

Growing up we would pick the berries. And let me tell you, if you don’t want to stain your clothes or hands, please wear gloves and clothes that you don’t mind getting stained.

These clusters of berries would make the most awesome jelly you have tasted. It is the most blackish purple color when you squeeze the tiny little clusters off the plant to cook them.

So why is it the Herb of the Year? Once a farmhouse staple, this North American native almost fell by the wayside.

Sambucus Canadensis, as the Latin’s called it, is a “Gift from the Gods.” From manufacturing of musical pipes to the treatment of human ailments, the shrub has aided countless generations.

Man apparently recognized it as a useful plant even in prehistoric times — evidence of its cultivation is found in Stone Age village sites in Switzerland and Italy. Spirits were said to live in the shrub, and some people therefore refused to cut it down or burn it.

Elderberries are known to stimulate the immune system by increasing production of cytokines, which enables immune cells to communicate with each other. Elderberry preparations also relieve nasal congestion and sore throat. It can prove useful in treating hay fever because it helps make the mucous membranes less reactive to allergens.

Finally, elderberry tincture may show some usefulness in preliminary trials against herpes, HIV, and Epstein-Barr viruses.

A lot of people I know make a tincture from ripe berries they have clipped off in clusters. They wash them and then pour a small amount of water into a pot with the berries and bring it to a gentle boil and then shut off the heat.

After they’ve cooled, mash them just enough to break some of the skins and then ladle them into clean quart jars to about three-quarters full.

Then they would fill the jars with 80-proof vodka, cap securely, and give it a good shake to mix the berries well with the vodka.

You would then store the mix in a dark corner for four to six weeks and shake every couple of days. At the end of that period, strain out the solids. (It’s a messy job; so don’t wear your favorite shirt.)

Store your tincture in dark bottles and use it when you feel impeding cold or flue symptoms. The tincture will maintain its potency for at least two years.

Elderberries are rich in flavonoids which are natural compounds with antioxidant qualities that protect cells against damage or infections.

Elderberry also contains vitamin A, B, significant amounts of vitamin C and amino-acids. All these nutrients can help you stay healthy and prevent diseases, by boosting your immune system.

So the next time you feel a little scratchy throat, drink a little elderberry juice.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.

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