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 :)