Elderberry refers to several different varieties of the Sambucus tree, which is a flowering plant belonging to the Adoxaceae family. The most common type is Sambucus nigra, also known as the European elderberry or black elder. This tree is native to Europe but is widely grown in many other parts of the world. Elder trees (S.Nigra) can grow up to 9 metres (30 feet) tall. In May/June the trees are full of clusters of small white- or cream-colored flowers known as elderflowers. These can also be used in many recipes that I'm sure I'll explore that here when its the season. The berries are found in small black or blue-black bunches and are just coming to an end around now.
Whilst the flowers that come earlier in the year have a delicate aroma and can be eaten raw and cooked- The berries are quite tart and need to be cooked to be eaten. Both the flowers and berries are edible but the leaves and stalks are not and are infact slightly toxic so will likely give you an upset stomach and could cause some nausea. So fo this reason you will need to destalk your berries before brewing.
In folk medicine today, the elderberry is considered one of the most healing plants with the dried berries being used to treat influenza, infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain, and nerve pain, as well as a being a laxative and diuretic. The berries and flowers of elderberry are packed with antioxidants and vitamins (particularly high in Vitamin C) that will help to give a boost to your immune system. Especially important as we head into the colder months and the nights become chillier as well as longer- i find this is when we are most likely to pick up colds, flues and general sniffles. The elderberrys are here to keep us healthy as we adjust into the cooler months.
Elderberry brandy honey syrup
This year I have only made a very simple elderberry syrup with some added ginger using a fairly basic recipe that you can find here. So I have borrowed this excellent recipe from my good friend Tamsin Sagar who makes some wonderful foraged goodies and has a much deeper herbal medicine knowledge than myself.
what you will need
Around a litre of destalked Elderberries (picked fresh is always best)
3 litres of water
1 litre of Brandy
1 litre of local honey
Juice of 2 lemons
Optional added herbs/ spices- you could try
Cloves/ Stair anise/ Ginger/ Cinnamon/ Thyme
A big pot
A muslin cloth or strainer
what you do
Add Elderberries and water together- you want to have ratios of 1 berries to 3 parts water
Simmer them for a couple of hours on a low heat
Water should reduce to roughly a ratio of 1:2 berries to water
Add the lemon juice, honey and brandy to the pot
Gently heat so all is mixed/ dissolved and then remove from heat
(raw honey shouldn't be heated for long as will lose some of its raw benefits)
Leave to stew for at least 24hours but a few days will allow honey and brandy to extract more goodness
Strain mixture into sterilised bottles
The brandy will preserve the syrup for at least a year so enjoy whenever needed
why its good
Brandy whilst acting mainly as a preservative and giving the syrup a good long shelf life (at least a year) it is also a good lung tonic as it opens up the bronchioles getting medicine where its needed. It also helps to relax and ease breathing and the alcohol will extract more and different properties from the magical elderberries. As will the honey that will then help our cells absorb the medicine.
Proper raw local honey is its own medicine and has heaps of its own benefits from being anti bacterial, anti fungal and helping with seasonal allergies. If you are getting your honey from a reputable beekeeper or apiary then you are actually helping the bees out here too- as these set ups generally take very good care of their bees and act as safe havens for the bees that are facing so many challenges and threats. There are barely any honeybee hives left in the wild now so bee populations rely on nice beekeepers. Buying local honey helps support them to help the bees and also keeps your food miles down! Win win :)
Its August and the hedgerows are full of my foraging favourite Blackberrys, packed full of nutrients and antioxidants these little berries are everywhere and it is worth making the most of them whilst they are. And with the cooler August we're having- you still have a good few weeks to get outside and start picking. Blackberries come into season alongside many other fruity joys- apples, elderberries, plums and figs also all come into fruit in the next few weeks. So its a great time to pick up free seasonal fruits, always remembering to try and pick away from roads (especially busy ones) and higher than the area dogs may have peed- i would also recommend wearing long sleeves and trousers as brambles and nettles are good neighbours in the fruity hedgerow.
Blackberries are high in antioxidants which help control free radicals (one of the leading causes of skin damage). They are also high in vitamins A<B< C and E along with a host of key minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium) and these vitamins and minerals which can help to boost collagen production (the protein that is responsible for skin elasticity) so Blackberries are sure to help maintain healthy vibrant glowing skin. Now of course you can do this by eating them and I do ALOT. Every year- with the seasons I have a few classic recipes that I like to make so I can preserve some of my foraged favourite dishes for later in the year. Blackberries are no exception and I tend to fill the freezer with enough to last many months as well making jams, cordials and deserts. But this year I have also decided to have a go with a few blackberry beauty recipes starting with this one shown below.
Blackberry AND BAY scrub
What you will need
1/2 cup blackberries (washed)
1/3 cup coconut oil
3 cups of sugar (read below for sugar choosing tips)
2 dried bay leaves
A small sprig of rosemary (optional)
A tsp vitamin e (optional)
A blender or mixer
A sterilised jar
what you do
Wash the blackberries
Chuck it all in the blender
Check consistency- too grainy (add more oil), not abrasive enough (more sugar)
Store and label in your sterilised jar/ container
Will keep in fridge for up to 4 weeks or 1 week at room temp
Apply a generous layer to body in shower or to face at sink
Massage over skin gently
Rinse off with warm water
Pat dry- no need to moisturise after :)
why its good
Apart from the benefits listed above of the mighty blackberry- its probably worth mentioning some of the other choice ingredients. As one of the best parts of DIY beauty is you can then tailor your own scrub to suit your own needs.
Coconut oil- keeps skin hydrated by trapping moisture and bolster the skins protective barrier. Also has anti-inflammatory properties so can soothe irritated skin, anti-bacterial properties to keep skin clean and prevent break outs as well as contributing toward increased collagen production. And lastly CO has a high fatty acid content so works well as a moisturiser. You can swap coconut oil out for other skin loving oils and Ive seen alot of recipes using honey as well. I personally love CO and as one of my main soaping oils and fridge staples i tend to always have a lot on hand so it works well for me.
Sugar- In this recipe I have used a soft light brown sugar (partly as this was the first to hand) but there are some slight differences in sugars. White sugar is coarser and you will get a harder scrub using it- this may be more desirable if you want to make a body scrub. Brown sugar is finer so maybe better suited for a facial scrub- again have this in mind because brown sugars can vary alot but get a softer sugar if you want a softer scrub. Sugar itself is a natural exfoliator that can help get rid of dead skin cells to leave skin smoother and both types of sugar contain glycolic acid, an agent that helps skin cells regenerate faster for a more youthful appearance and loosens the bonds of dead skills making them easier to scrub away. It is also possible if you want a rougher scrub for the body to use salt- Salt can have a drying effect on the skin, while sugar is a natural humectant, meaning that it pulls moisture from the air and into your skin. So this again is up to you and what you want the scrub for- although salt is not generally recommended for facial scrubs. I wanted to make something suitable for my face so a softer brown sugar worked well for me.
Bay- anti-inflammatory, helps to retain moisture and reduce puffiness- has also been used in acne treatments.
Rosemary- helps to soothe skin, reduce redness, swelling and puffiness of the skin . Useful in the treatments of conditions of eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis. An antioxidant that will prevent damage from free radicals
Vitamin E- Nourishing whilst it also protects skin from damage from UV and free radicals. Anti-inflammatory so can soothe skin and hydrate it whilst providing protective barrier. Also an anti-oxidant it can prolong shelf life by preventing the oxidisation of oils.
And lastly scrubs are good because they make our skin all nice and smooth- removing and cleaning away all the dead cells and leaving nice fresh skin behind, skin which can soak up moisture and goodness better. Great for the body before a shave they can help pull the hairs up so preventing and getting rid of ingrown hairs. Helps circulation and heathy skin regeneration! This scrub is fairly gentle and I hope I've added enough info on tips that you can tailor it to your own needs. Honestly it takes maybe 10mins to make and you can always swap herbs and oils around to your skin needs or to what you have available. Also half or quarter the recipe if you only want to make a small batch to try out or double if you want to make some for friends.
Enjoy and have a berry merry time
As plastic free July comes to an end I thought I'd share a few of my favourite plastic free swaps. These are swaps and changes I've made in my own journey to live a more sustainable zero waste and yes plastic free life. Its not easy to change everything and it takes time to use stuff up and replace with more environmentally conscious products and plastic free July aims to help draw attention and raise awareness of some of the simple swaps we can all make it to help save the planet and resolve the plastic pollution crisis. There is heaps of info out there on alternatives to a lot of the essentials we all need that often come in single use plastic so I'm going to keep it short and sweet and have whittled it down to 4 things I love and would recommend as I believe them to be so much better than their plastic counterparts. If you haven't already I would recommend swapping these things in next time
To mark the end of plastic free July and that I've finally started a blog I'm also offering a 20% discount with code PFJuly for the next week and a free soap saver bag for all orders over £20- so theres never been a better time to make some sustainable swaps
1. SAfety razor
The essential in plastic free shaving- the safety razor not only looks cool and kind of old fashioned but is a truly great swap. It gives a super clean shave and the only waste with these razors is the metal blade. I bought a metal safety razor about 4 years ago that I like but I now stock safety razors with wooden handles (which I think are actually much nicer). Once you've invested in your safety razor- it will last you a lifetime with some care. And added bonus the blades are super cheap so will save you lots in the long term. The blades generally come in a small amount of cardboard and paper that can recycled and the metal blades should be disposed of in a sharps bin when they've become blunt and no good. You do need to take a little care with these razors as they are sharp but the amount of shaving waste you will save is worth that extra bit of care and they look cool.
2. sisal soap saver bag (and Soap)
The soap saver and soap are a game changer in my showering routine and I love them. It is basically a small pouch that you pop your soap in and hang in the shower like one of those pesky plastic bottles with the hooks. The pouch and soap become a self soaping exfoliating little pouch so not only can go do away with single use shower gel bottles but also with those silly body puff things. Its a great body exfoliator so you can give yourself a good scrub and get that skin all lovely and soft. As the drawstring on the pouch allows you to hang the soap it can dry out ensuring your soap lasts a long time by not sitting in a little puddle of water and becoming soapy mush. They are also made from completely natural fibre Sisal so when they do eventually need replacing you can home compost them. Just an FYI soap and especially handmade natural soaps contain glycerine that will attract water- you need to let your soap dry between uses to extend its life so you can get the most amount of use from it. If your not sold on soap bags then a decent soap rack that allows air to get underneath the bar will help prolong its life and keep your bar hard and useful for a longer time. The other great thing about these bags is you can stuff all the little ends of soap bars in them and at a teeny £3 I would definitely recommend trying one out.
3. mouthwash tabs (from georganics)
I'm a big fan of Georganics and stock a good range of their natural Toothpastes and powders as well as the mouthwash tabs. You can find all of these in the Dental section of my shop. I love the mouthwash tabs because they are just so much nicer and more refreshing than the harsh big brands. I have a little cup that I pop a tab in so when I'm brushing, it fizzes away already for me to swish my mouth out with at the end. I have quite sensitive teeth and also suffer with bruxism so am protective of my teeth but have found using the mouthwash tabs to help keep me smiling. I know from chatting to lots of people at markets that toothpaste tastes and requirements vary greatly but if you are interested in trying out a natural toothpaste then Georganics are the experts in this area. Personally I prefer the Toothpowders (particularly the charcoal) and find it be slightly more abrasive and fizzy to give a deep clean which is great for my tastes.
4. Kitchen- Compostable sponges and brushes
This one is a bit of a no brainer- plastic sponges or compostable sponges? Well guess I'm just here to say that compostable sponges are great and work every bit as good as the ones you generally find in the supermarket. Compostable sponges can be made from a range of natural materials from wood pulp to sisal and coconut husks- and I would get a range so you can combat all your dirty dishes. The sponges are great but for things that need a bit more a scrub I have a wood sisal pot brush and a bamboo scaper. I was a bit skeptical that the bamboo scraper would work but its actually amazing and gets everything off with very little effort- washing up Joy :)
Seal doesn't stock much kitchen stuff apart from Bamboo Straws but my market mate who runs eco earth market has a great range on his site alongside heaps of other sustainable home essentials. Check it out- ecoearthmarket.com/collections/kitchen and swap those horrible plastic sponges out for some much nicer natural alternatives.
So thats it- my 4 of my favourite swaps and recommendations. There are heaps of other swaps to make from reusable cups and cutlery, shopping bags, solid shampoos or switching to loose tea and shopping locally at farmers markets and your local refill store. Really the list never ends as more and options come on the market and more companies adapt to keep up with consumer demand for sustainability. I guess its just remembering to try and do what we can and make better choices when we can. By making that extra effort to choose products that are kinder to the planet and that you can take pride in owning- it will make a huge difference in time. Together we can make change happen and get rid of single use plastics
Peace and Love