A few weeks ago my husband’s co-worker dropped a box of tissues on his desk as she hustled past. When he looked up, puzzled, she shrugged and said, “It’s flu season.” Many choose to get a flu shot, but here is a much safer method.
A Healthy Alternative
Each year, in preparation for flu season, we make sure we have a plentiful supply of elderberries (Sambucus nigra) in the freezer. They grow wild around here, which is a good thing. My husband is the picker. He picks the umbels (flower heads) and totes them home in five-gallon buckets. Then he and the kids sit around the kitchen table carefully removing each tiny berry from the stems.
To freeze the berries, rinse them in cold water, drain, and dry on a terry-cloth towel. Then, spread them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and place them into the freezer. After an hour or so, scrape them off the cookie sheet into a zip-shut bag. Label and return to the freezer.
If you do not have wild elderberries in your area, dried ones will work just as well. You can order them from most bulk herb suppliers found online.
The phytochemicals in elderberry have antiviral properties, especially for the respiratory system. An Israeli study in 1993 proved that it fights the influenza virus. Some researchers believe that the extract binds to the flu virus and prevents it from invading cells in the body. You can buy elderberry syrup at your local pharmacy under the name of Sambucol. Sambucol is a great product that works, but it is quite costly. So…we make our own at home.
To make your own elderberry syrup you need the following ingredients:
- 1 cup of elderberries (fresh, frozen, or dried)
- 3 cups of water
- 1/2 cup raw honey
In a stainless steel or glass pan, bring water to a boil. Add the berries and reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Strain out the berries and add the honey. Bottle and store in the refrigerator. This will last a couple weeks in the fridge. Some recipes call for more honey. The purpose of the honey is as a preservative, so if you intend to use it up you only need enough to sweeten the taste. Since we have a large family and a quart jar of syrup doesn’t last that long, I choose to cut the honey.
Other recipes I’ve seen include simmering a cinnamon stick and a tablespoon of grated ginger with the berries. We’ve used the above recipe for many years with great success. However, both the cinnamon and the ginger are warming to the system and, since the flu is a cold condition in the body, they are both beneficial.
The elderberry syrup is quite good by itself so you need not hide it in any other juice. In fact, since we do not keep fruit juice in the house, I use elderberry syrup to hide the taste of herbal tinctures that I give to the children. Whenever anyone says they feel like they are getting a sore throat, runny nose, or any other symptom, I give them a shot glass full (it holds about two tablespoons) every couple of hours on that day. Generally, that takes care of it. If not, I give it to them 3-4 times the following day.
If someone fails to mention anything until they are full-blown sick, I add a dropper full of echinacea tincture and about 10 drops of goldenseal tincture to each dose.
This is what works for us. Are there any reasons to abstain from elderberries? The fruit and flowers have no known side-effects. However, you want to only ingest the ripe, black berries. Unripe berries can cause an upset stomach or diarrhea if eaten in excess.
Photo by dorena-wm