Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Each year, as we head into cold and flu season, many of us look for natural ways to boost our immune systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this focus all the more important.
Elderberries have been part of traditional medicine for centuries. Hippocrates, often called the “Father of Medicine,” even referred to the elder tree as his “medicine chest.”
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With their immune-boosting potential and anti-viral properties, these tasty little berries are making a big comeback. You’ve probably seen elderberry syrup and gummies on display at your supermarket and pharmacy. However, these commercial products can be pricey, and many of them contain added sugar and preservatives.
Let’s look at the elderberry, its health benefits, and some tasty, immune-boosting elderberry recipes you can make at home.
What are Elderberries?
Elderberries grow on a deciduous shrub (Sambucus) with about 30 known species in North America. The shrubs usually grow up to about 10 feet tall and boast yellow and white flowers in early summer. Small dark blue, purple, or blackberries then develop and ripen in late summer.
The easiest way to pick elderberries is by the cluster. Ripe clusters of elderberries get heavy and tend to hang upside down. However, elderberries are extremely perishable, which is why you seldom see them at farmers’ markets or in the produce section. Once you harvest these berries, the clock is ticking. You have only about 12 hours before they begin to ferment.
The berries have a balanced earthy and tart flavor that is similar to a blackberry, and they blend well with other fruits in recipes.
Do not eat the raw berries or their stems and leaves. Raw elderberries contain glycoside, which can cause a toxic build-up of cyanide in the body. Cooking releases the toxin, making elderberries safe to eat.
Health Benefits of Elderberries
Elderberries are a rich source of highly bioactive anti-oxidants that help the body absorb Vitamin C, reduce inflammation, and boost the immune system.
A study published by the journal of the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that people who took elderberry syrup felt relief from their flu symptoms an average of four days earlier than those who were given a placebo.
Another study of 312 sick airline travelers found that those who took elderberry extract three times a day recovered faster and experienced fewer severe cold and flu symptoms than those who didn’t take the supplement.
Recipes for Elderberries
How can you begin adding the healthy elderberry to your busy lifestyle? Here are some recipes:
1. Elderberry Syrup
This one is so obvious that we’re not even going to count it. The first thing you should try to make is elderberry syrup. It’s one of the easiest ways to get that immunity boost of elderberries. This recipe requires only a few ingredients, and you can make it in only about 45 minutes. It will last for a few months when you store it in the fridge.
Try taking one tablespoon a day if you are healthy, and switch to one teaspoon every four hours if you feel a cold or the flu coming on. (You can also spoon it on your pancakes if you’d like.)
2. Elderberry Tea
Elderberry tea is another popular way to get the benefits of this powerhouse of a berry. To get other nutritional benefits, try simmering this soothing tea recipe along with a cinnamon stick or slices of fresh ginger.
3. Elderberry Popsicles
When you have a sore throat, there’s nothing like sucking on a cold popsicle. It’s especially comforting for children. Here’s a recipe for an immune-boosting cold treat made with elderberry, orange and grape juice, and honey.
4. Elderberry Casserole
This recipe is popular in places like Germany. It’s a very sweet dessert that’ll have you reaching for a glass of milk. This recipe includes eggs, sugar, pastry flour, and whipped cream.
5. Elderberry Jelly
6. Elderberry Gummies
Have you read the ingredients labels on some of the gummy vitamins you can find at the store? Here’s a fun way for kids to get the benefits of elderberries without all the unnecessary other stuff. This recipe uses lemon, cinnamon, and honey to get the sweet flavor kids like.
7. Fermented Elderberry Honey
When you combine fresh elderberries with raw honey and natural yeast, you have the ingredients for fermentation. This honey recipe is an anti-oxidant champ.
8. Elderberry Thumbprint Cookies
How about a new addition to your holiday cookie selection? This cookie recipe is grain-free, gluten-free but has plenty of yummy flavor. (They look festive too!)
9. Elderberry Kombucha
If you like the gut-healing properties of kombucha, here is a way to combine that with the immune system benefits of elderberries. This kombucha recipe includes dried elderberries, dried lavender, fresh ginger, and honey.
10. Elderberry Juice
Elderberry juice is sweet, tart, and refreshing. Here is a traditional Nordic juice recipe that combines elderberries with apples. And this one is a combination of elderberry, ground cherries, carrots, and sumac for a healthy beverage.
11. Raspberry Elderberry Sorbet
Sorbet is an elegant, refreshing treat. Now you can make it an immune-booster too. This berry sorbet has both elderberries and raspberries in its ingredients.
12. Elderberry Wine
The creator of this elderberry wine recipe says her family drinks a small glass of homemade elderberry wine glass after dinner as a winter tonic. “It’s one of my favorites for staying healthy during flu season, and to support recovery from colds and flu,” writes herbalist Rebecca Hartman.
13. Elderberry Vinegar
If you would like to add some health pizzazz to salads and barbecue sauces, you might want to try elderberry vinegar. The process is similar to making an herbal vinegar. You add elderberries to your vinegar and allow the mixture to sit for a few weeks (or even longer). Here’s a video on how to make elderberry vinegar with apple cider vinegar. It’s easy!
14. Elderberry Soup
Here is an old German recipe for elderberry soup. It can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature.
Harvesting fresh elderberries is your best bet, but what if they are out of season or you can’t find any elderberry bushes in your area? Most recipes include ingredients amounts for dried or fresh elderberries. If the recipe calls for fresh berries, a rule of thumb is to use a half-pound of dried berries for each pound of fresh berries called for in the recipe.
You can order dried elderberries online at many retailers, including Amazon. And here are a few other options.
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