Friday, August 29, 2014

Herb of the Week: Yes, My Mother Does Smell of Elderberries

The other night Mom and I cut down about half our elderberry tree to deter most of the fruit flies from attacking our other tree. Now it’s a race to see who can get to the berries first, nature or us. And while I’ve participated in this sprint to fall, I have never been personally drawn to this herb. I’ve used it when I am sick, when I have a sore throat, even on my waffles but never with any knowledge of why it is good for me. So I decided to do some reading.

Luckily, last Sunday Susan Hess gave us a material medica on elder. I enjoy her material medica because there is always a little bit of everything on it. Something about the myths or history, black letter symptoms, uses, and a few recipes. For Elder Susan Hess says that it is, “called ‘The Medicine Chest of the Country People,’” and before reading the rest of the page, I had a good idea why. Mom has tried to use herbs in whatever she creates and elderflowers and elderberries are no exception. Elder has always been a constant in our house because the flowers and berries are antiviral.

The elderberries seem to ripen right as students return to school. It’s almost a reminder to prepare for cold and flu season. While I’ve always had it as a syrup or tincture, Susan Hess suggests using it in a tea with peppermint and catnip for kids and to add yarrow for adults.

Elderberry is not only for medicinal purposes, though. In An Elder Gathering (available in print or pdf format) there are fantastic recipes, instructionals, and lore for incorporating Elder into your daily routine. Betty Pillsbury has unique recipes such as elderberry fritters and dumplings while Susanna Reppert-Brill offers everything from elderberry liqueur to a shrub that made my mouth water just by reading the ingredients.

Using the elder flowers or berries offers a variety of ideas and recipes to prepare for the winter ahead. Since the plant is so adaptable, it can be made into anything from tincture to fruit leather, making it perfect for children and adults to take as needed. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the berries or flowers this summer. You’ll thank yourself this winter!


Brown, Michele; Reppert-Brill, Susanna; Hess, Susan; Pillsbury, Betty, Sams, Tina; Schwartz, Maryanne.  An Elder Gathering. Lancaster: The Essential Herbal, 2012. Print.

Hess, Susan. Homestead Herbalism: Materia Medica and Other Herbal Gatherings. Chester County, Pa, 2013-2014. Elder page. Print.

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