Updated: Dec 10, 2020
By Kim Walker of Handmade Apothecary
Elderberries! There are few more satisfying plants to know than the generous elderflower tree (Sambucus nigra). It grows in many a hedgerow and waste site in rural and urban areas, and can be sustainably gathered due to its abundance.
In spring, the elder provides lush green leaves for making bruise balms and insect repellent; in summer, fragrant creamy blooms for cordial making and hay fever remedies; and finally, rich purple berries full of antiviral, immune boosting properties.
Despite the Monty Python Life of Brian insult ‘your father was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries’, referring to the rather uninspiring smell and taste, the deep purple fruits provide one of the tastiest winter elixirs used traditionally by herbalists to both treat and to stave off winter colds and flu. Recent research* supports this use, with in-vitro and in-vivo trials showing it to be an effective remedy. Certain flavanoids bind to the cold and flu virus particles, preventing them attaching to the body’s cells and therefore reproducing and spreading.
Elderberry is a must-have for the herbal first-aid kit and the following recipe is a multi-purpose elixir that can be used either as a winter tipple or as a medicine. For an alcohol free version, please check out this link.
Recipe for Elderberry Elixir
This delicious spiced elderberry liqueur contains plenty of antimicrobial and immune-boosting herbs. Take it at the first sign of cold or flu, or as a preventative if you are in an environment where an infection is doing the rounds.
300 g (10 1/2 oz) elderberries, removed from stems and lightly crushed
grated zest of 1 orange
5 cm (2 in) piece of fresh ginger root, sliced thinly
1 cinnamon stick
5-10 cloves, lightly crushed
5-10 cardamoms, lightly crushed
2-4 star anise pods
brandy or vodka
1. Place the berries, fruit and spices in a clean 750 mL mason jar and cover with port until about three-quarters of the way up. Fill the rest of the jar with brandy or vodka and leave to infuse for 2–4 weeks.
2. Strain off the liquid, squeezing out and discarding the solids, then transfer the liquid to a labelled and dated dark glass bottle. TIP This can also be made with dried berries which will need to fill the jar to a third of the way.
TO USE: Take 5–10 mL (1–2 teaspoons) in a little water, or with hot water, 2–3 times a day. SHELF LIFE: Due to the high alcohol content, this will keep for at least 2 years.
This recipe has been adapted from the Herbal Remedy Handbook (2019, Kyle Books) by Kim Walker and Vicky Chown. Photo credit: (c) Sarah Cuttle and Kyle Books.
*Porter, R., & Bode, R., (2017). A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Products. Phytotherapy Research. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.5782