Herb of the month, May, 1999

Compiled by Michael Tierra L.Ac., O.M.D.

Elder (Sambucus Nigra) Part used: the flower and the berries
Family: Caprifoliaceae
All parts are used including the roots, stems leaves and berries. It can be gathered in all seasons and dried under the sun. Berries: sweet, mildly bitter and cooling; Flowers: bitter, cooling
The leaves can be applied externally to injuries to relieve pain and promote healing.

The black elder (Sambucus nigra) grows in hedges on the edge of forests and roads in diverse areas of the world. Its used dates back in ancient times to the writings of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Pliny. I has been commonly used down through the ages to make jams, jellies, soft drinks and wine. According to Grieves’ “Elder Flowers and Elder Berries have long been used in the English countryside for making many home-made drinks and preserves that are almost as great favorites now as in the time of our great-grandmothers. The berries make an excellent home-made wine and winter cordial, which improves with age, and taken hot with sugar, just before going to bed, is an old-fashioned and well established cure for a cold. ”

The term, ‘Elder” derives from the Anglo-Saxon term ÆLD which means ‘fire’. This derives from the use of the stems of which the soft pith is easily pushed out to make pipes that were used for blowing up fires. They were also used to make flutes both in England, by the Italians who made a flute called ‘sampogna’ as well as by the Native Americans. The Elder is the most sacred tree of gypsies who would never think to rudely burn it in their campfires. In fact all parts of the tree were widely used for their healing properties.

So great were the remedial powers of the elder that it was called “the medicine chest of the country people” (Ettmueller) and ‘a whole magazine of physic to rustic practitioners.’ One of the greatest physicians, Boerhaave, had such a high regard for its manifold curative properties that it is said that he never passed an Elder without raising his hat. The popular estimation of elder in Shakespeare’s time is witnessed by the comparison of it with the greatest healers of antiquity line in the Merry Wives of Windsor, Act II, Sc. 3: “What says my Æsculapius? my Galen? my heart of Elder?”

Indeed, there is hardly a more fascinating herb steeped with ancient lore than the elder. In the mid-1980’s upon the suggestion of Dr. Jean Lindenman, the developer of interferon, that researchers confirmed the active anti-influenza ingredients in elderberry. They found that the bioflavonoids in elderberry were able to bind and disarm the tiny viral spikes called hemagglutinin which are covered with an enzyme called neuraminidase that allow viruses to invade by piercing a cell’s membrane. Later, in 1992 a team of Israeli scientists and physicians formulated a syrup and a lozenge that contained elderberry. They found that the syrup worked in the laboratory with most common strains of viruses. They were subsequently approved by the Helsinki committee, a world-wide organization which approves patient studies, to carry out a double blind clinical study of patients infected with the flu virus during an epidemic in southern Israel. Half of the patients were given four tablespoons of the syrup per day and the other half a placebo. The results were that within twenty four hours, the symptoms of fever, cough, and muscle pain had improved in 20% of the patients. After the second day, another 75% were much improved and in three days a complete cure was effected in 90% of the patients studied. This was highly significant compared with the control group who had not taken elderberry syrup were only 8% of patients showed improvement after 24 hours and for the remainder, it took 6 days to show improvement in the remaining 92%.

Further tests were conducted on patients to determine the presence of influenza antibodies. Antibodies are substances the body naturally manufactures to combat invading pathogens such as cold and flu viruses. It was found that patients who took the elderberry extract had a higher level of cold and flu antibodies which indicated an enhanced immune system response.

Both colds and flus are caused by viruses. Typically influenza is characterized by high fever while colds are without fever. Influenza is therefore, an acute febrile infection with Type A and B viruses that tend to outbreak every winter. The attack rate may be as high as 40% of the population over a five to six week period. Influenza represents the most common epidemic that occurs yearly and for many, especially the elderly, can result in death as a result of pulmonary complications.

So far there has been no significantly successful treatment in mainstream medicine to doing more than affording temporary symptomatic relief for these, easily the most troublesome of all recurring diseases. Because the antigen of these viruses easily change form each year, the population has little or no resistance to the disease. Because of this, flu vaccines can offer resistance to only a few identified strains of the virus and are ineffective against the myriad of new strains which appear during outbreaks and epidemics. Furthermore, with flu vaccines needing to be administered yearly, as many as 50% of those receiving the shots have complications and for a small percentage, these complications can be life threatening. In 1976 the administration of the Swine-Flu Vaccine caused literally thousands of cases of Epstein-Barre (i.e. Guillain-Barre) commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, without the Swine Flue ever surfacing.

The two existing anti-flu medications are Amantadine and Rimantadine and have been shown to be effective only against Influenza A virus and with no effect whatsoever against Influenza B. They are typically very expensive and seem to cause side effects especially in the elderly. Furthermore, studies have shown the appearance of virus strains that are entirely resistant to either of these drugs.

Elderberry extract, is the mildest of natural substances, completely free of any side effects or contraindications. So far it has tested positive against eight different virus strains and has been used by hundreds of thousands of people in Israel who have found it effective against the influenza virus.

John Evelyn, writing in praise of the Elder, says: ‘If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness, or wounds.’

‘The buds boiled in water gruel have effected wonders in a fever, the spring buds are excellently wholesome in pattages; and small ale in which Elder flowers have been infused is esteemed by many so salubrious that this is to be had in most of the eating houses about our town. Some twenty years before Evelyn’s eulogy there had appeared in 1644 a book entirely devoted to its praise: The Anatomie of the Elder, translated from the Latin of Dr. Martin Blockwich by C. de Iryngio (who seems to have been an army doctor), a treatise of some 230 pages, that in Latin and English went through several editions. It deals very learnedly with the medicinal virtues of the tree – its flowers, berries, leaves, ‘middle bark,’ pith, roots and ‘Jew’s ears,’ a large fungus often to be found on the Elder (Hirneola auricula Judae), the name a corruption of ‘Judas’s ear,’ from the tradition, referred to above, that Judas hanged himself on the Elder. It is of a purplish tint, resembling in shape and softness the human ear, and though it occurs also on the Elm, it grows almost exclusively on Elder trunks in damp, shady places. It is curious that on account of this connexion with Judas, the fungus should have (as Sir Thomas Browne says) ‘become a famous medicine in quinses, sore-throats, and strangulation ever since.’ Gerard says, ‘the jelly of the Elder otherwise called Jew’s ear, taketh away inflammations of the mouth and throat if they be washed therewith and doth in like manner help the uvula,’ and Salmon, writing in the early part of the eighteenth century, recommends an oil of Jew’s ears for throat affections. The fungus is edible and allied species are eaten in China.

Evelyn refers to this work (or rather to the original by ‘Blockwitzius,’ as he calls him!) for the comprehensive statement in praise of the Elder quoted above. It sets forth that as every part of the tree was medicinal, so virtually every ailment of the body was curable by it, from toothache to the plague. It was used externally and internally, and in amulets (these were especially good for epilepsy, and in popular belief also for rheumatism), and in every kind of form – in rob and syrup, tincture, mixture, oil, spirit, water, liniment, extract, salt, conserve, vinegar, oxymel, sugar, decoction, bath, cataplasm and powder. Some of these were prepared from one part of the plant only, others from several or from all. Their properties are summed up as ‘desiccating, conglutinating, and digesting,’ but are extended to include everything necessary to a universal remedy. The book prescribes in more or less detail for some seventy or more distinct diseases or classes of diseases, and the writer is never at a loss for an authority – from Dioscorides to the Pharmacopoeias of his own day-while the examples of cures he adduces are drawn from all classes of people, from Emylia, Countess of Isinburg, to the tradesmen of Heyna and their dependants.

-Berries—All the other parts of the Elder plant, except the wood and pith, are more active than either the flowers or the fruit. Fresh Elder Berries are found to contain sudorific properties similar to those of the flowers, but weaker. Chemically, the berries furnish Viburnic acid, with an odorous oil, combined with malates of potash and lime. The fresh, ripe fruits contain Tyrosin.

The blue colouring matter extracted from them has been considerably used as an indication for alkalis, with which it gives a green colour, being red with acids. (Alkalis redden some vegetable yellows and change some vegetable blues to green.) According to Cowie this colouring matter is best extracted in the form of a 20 per cent tincture from the refuse remaining after the expression of the first juice. The colouring matter is precipitated blue by lead acetate (National Standard Dispensatory, 1909.)

The Romans made use of Elderberry juice as a hair-dye, and Culpepper tells us that ‘the hair of the head washed with the berries boiled in wine is made black.’

English Elder Berries, as we have seen, are extensively used for the preparation of Elder Wine. French and other Continental Elder berries, when dried, are not liked for this purpose, as they have a more unpleasant odour and flavour, and English berries are preferred. Possibly this may be due to the conditions of growth, or variety, or to the presence of the berries of the Dwarf Elder. Aubrey (1626-97) tells us that: ‘the apothecaries well know the use of the berries, and so do the vintners, who buy vast quantities of them in London, and some do make no inconsiderable profit by the sale of them.’

They were held by our forefathers to be efficacious in rheumatism and erysipelas. They have aperient, diuretic and emetic properties, and the inspissated juice of the berries has been used as an alterative in rheumatism and syphilis in doses of from one to two drachms, also as a laxative in doses of half an ounce or more. It promotes all fluid secretions and natural evacuations.

For colic and diarrhoea, a tea made of the dried berries is said to be a good remedy.

In The Anatomie of the Elder, it is stated that the berries of the Elder and Herb Paris are useful in epilepsy. Green Elderberry Ointment has already been mentioned as curative of piles. After enumerating many uses of the Elder, Gerard says:

‘The seeds contained within the berries, dried, are good for such as have the dropsie, and such as are too fat, and would faine be leaner, if they be taken in a morning to the quantity of a dram with wine for a certain space. The green leaves, pounded with Deeres suet or Bulls tallow are good to be laid to hot swellings and tumors, and doth assuage the paine of the gout.’

Parkinson, physician to James I, also tells us of the same use of the seeds, which he recommends to be taken powdered, in vinegar.

Elderberry Wine has a curative power of established repute as a remedy, taken hot, at night, for promoting perspiration in the early stages of severe catarrh, accompanied by shivering, sore throat, etc. Like Elderflower Tea, it is one of the best preventives known against the advance of influenza and the ill effects of a chill. A little cinnamon may be added. It has also a reputation as an excellent remedy for asthma.
Almost from time immemorial, a ‘Rob’ (a vegetable juice thickened by heat) has been made from the juice of Elderberries simmered and thickened with sugar, forming an invaluable cordial for colds and coughs, but only of late years has science proved that Elderberries furnish Viburnic acid, which induces perspiration, and is especially useful in cases of bronchitis and similar troubles.

To make Elderberry Rob, 5 lb. of fresh ripe, crushed berries are simmered with 1 lb. of loaf sugar and the juice evaporated to the thickness of honey. It is cordial, aperient and diuretic. One or two tablespoonsful mixed with a tumbler full of hot water, taken at night, promotes perspiration and is demulcent to the chest. The Rob when made can be bottled and stored for the winter. Herbalists sell it ready for use.

‘Syrup of Elderberries’ is made as follows: Pick the berries when thoroughly ripe from the stalks and stew with a little water in a jar in the oven or pan. After straining, allow 1/2 oz. of whole ginger and 18 cloves to each gallon. Boil the ingredients an hour, strain again and bottle. The syrup is an excellent cure for a cold. To about a wineglassful of Elderberry syrup, add hot water, and if liked, sugar.

Both Syrup of Elderberries and the Rob were once official in this country (as they are still in Holland), the rob being the older of of the two, and the one that retained its place longer in our Pharmacopoeia. In 1788, its name was changed to Succus Sambuci spissatus, and in 1809 it disappeared altogether. Brookes in 1773 strongly recommended it as a ‘saponaceous Resolvent’ promoting ‘the natural secretions by stool, urine and sweat,’ and, diluted with water, for common colds. John Wesley, in his Primitive Physick, directs it to be taken in broth, and in Germany it is used as an ingredient in soups.

There were six or seven robs in the old London Pharmacopceia, to most of which sugar was added. They were thicker than syrups, but did not differ materially from them; among them was a rob of Elderberries, and both Quincy and Bates had a syrup of Elder.

An old prescription for sciatica (called the Duke of Monmouth’s recipe) was compounded of ripe haws and fennel roots, distilled in white wine and taken with syrup of Elder.

The use of the juicy berries, not as medicine, but as a pleasant article of food, in jam, jelly, chutney and ketchup has already been described.

—Medicinal Preparations—Fluid extract of bark, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Water, B.P.

The flowers were used by our forefathers in bronchial and pulmonary affections, and in scarlet fever, measles and other eruptive diseases. An infusion of the dried flowers, Elder Flower Tea, is said to promote expectoration in pleurisy; it is gently laxative and aperient and is considered excellent for inducing free perspiration. It is a good old fashioned remedy for colds and throat trouble, taken hot on going to bed. An almost infallible cure for an attack of influenza in its first stage is a strong infusion of dried Elder Blossoms and Peppermint. Put a handful of each in a jug, pour over them a pint and a half of boiling water, allow to steep, on the stove, for half an hour then strain and sweeten and drink in bed as hot as possible. Heavy perspiration and refreshing sleep will follow, and the patient will wake up well on the
way to recovery and the cold or influenza will probably be banished within thirty-six hours. Yarrow may also be added.

If there was ever a plant steeped in ancient mystery and lore, it is the elder. To this day one will find elder bushes and trees in the older burial grounds of North America attesting to the old world custom of planting them in cemeteries to ward off evil influences. Because of the ancient belief that the cross of Christ was the made from the elder, the gypsies and other rural people consider it the height of bad fortune to burn elder in their camp or hearth fires.

Another old tradition was that the Cross of Calvary was made of it, and an old couplet runs:

‘Bour tree – Bour tree: crooked rong
Never straight and never strong;
Ever bush and never tree
Since our Lord was nailed on thee.’

In consequence of these old traditions, the Elder became the emblem of sorrow and death, and out of the legends which linger round the tree there grew up a host of superstitious fancies which still remain in the minds of simple country folk. Even in these prosaic days, one sometimes comes across a hedge-cutter who cannot bring himself to molest the rampant growth of its spreading branches for fear of being pursued by ill-luck. An old custom among gypsies forbade them using the wood to kindle their camp fires and gleaners of firewood formerly would look carefully through the faggots lest a stick of Elder should have found its way into the bundle, perhaps because the Holy Cross was believed to have been fashioned out of a giant elder tree, though probably the superstitious awe of harming the Elder descended from old heathen myths of northern Europe. In most countries, especially in Denmark, the Elder was intimately connected with magic. In its branches was supposed to dwell a dryad, Hylde-Moer, the Elder-tree Mother, who lived in the tree and watched over it. Should the tree be cut down and furniture be made of the wood, Hylde-Moer was believed to follow her property and haunt the owners.

Lady Northcote, in The Book of Herbs, relates:
‘There is a tradition that once when a child was put in a cradle of Elder-wood, HyldeMoer came and pulled it by the legs and would give it no peace till it was lifted out Permission to cut Elder wood must always be asked first and not until Hylde-Moer has given consent by keeping silence, may the chopping begin.’

Arnkiel relates:
‘Our forefathers also held the Ellhorn holy wherefore whoever need to hew it down (or cut its branches) has first to make request “Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest” – the which, with partly bended knees, bare head and folded arms was ordinarily done, as I myself have often seen and heard in my younger years.’

Mr. Jones (quoted in The Treasury of Botany), in his Notes on Certain Superstitions in the Vale of Gloucester, cites the following, said to be no unusual case: ‘Some men were employed in removing an old hedgerow, partially formed of Eldertrees. They had bound up all the other wood into faggots for burning, but had set apart the elder and enquired of their master how it was to be disposed of. Upon his saying that he should of course burn it with the rest, one of the men said with an air of undisguised alarm, that he had never heard of such a thing as burning Ellan Wood, and in fact, so strongly did he feel upon the subject, that he refused to participate in the act of tying it up. The word Ellan (still common with us) indicates the origin of the superstition.’

The whole tree has a narcotic smell, and it is not considered wise to sleep under its shade. Perhaps the visions of fairyland were the result of the drugged sleep! No plant will grow under the shadow of it, being affected by its exhalations.

****** —History—A wealth of folk-lore, romance and superstition centre round this English tree.
Shakespeare, in Cymbeline, referring to it as a symbol of grief, speaks slightingly of it as ‘the stinking
Elder,’ yet, although many people profess a strong dislike to the scent of its blossom, the shrub is
generally beloved by all who see it. In countrysides where the Elder flourishes it is certainly one of
the most attractive features of the hedgerow, while its old-world associations have created for it a
place in the hearts of English people.
In Love’s Labour Lost reference is made to the common medieval belief that ‘Judas was hanged on
an Elder.’ We meet with this tradition as far back in English literature as Langland’s Vision of Piers
Plowman (middle of the fourteenth century, before Chaucer):
‘Judas he japed with Jewen silver And sithen an eller hanged hymselve.’
Why the Elder should have been selected as a gallows for the traitor Apostle is, considering the
usual size of the tree, puzzling; but Sir John Mandeville in his travels, written about the same time,
tells us that he was shown ‘faste by’ the Pool of Siloam, the identical ‘Tree of Eldre that Judas henge
himself upon, for despeyr that he hadde, when he solde and betrayed oure Lord.’ Gerard scouts the
tradition and says that the Judas-tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is ‘the tree whereon Judas did hange

‘Some men were employed in removing an old hedgerow, partially formed of Eldertrees. They had bound up all the other wood into faggots for burning, but had set apart the elder and enquired of their master how it was to be disposed of. Upon his saying that he should of course burn it with the rest, one of the men said with an air of undisguised alarm, that he had never heard of such a thing as burning Ellan Wood, and in fact, so strongly did he feel upon the subject, that he refused to participate in the act of tying it up. The word Ellan (still common with us) indicates the origin of the superstition.’

In earlier days, the Elder Tree was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, a popular belief held in widely-distant countries. Lady Northcote says:

‘The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. In England it was thought that the Elder was never struck by lightning, and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cowhouses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.’

In Cole’s Art of Simpling (1656) we may read how in the later part of the seventeenth century:
‘in order to prevent witches from entering their houses, the common people used to gather Elder leaves on the last day of April and affix them to their doors and windows,’ and the tree was formerly much cultivated near English cottages for protection against witches .
The use of the Elder for funeral purposes was an old English custom referred to by Spenser, ‘The Muses that were wont green Baies to weave, Now bringen bittre Eldre braunches seare.’ ——-Shepheard’s Calendar – November.

And Canon Ellacombe says that in the Tyrol:
‘An Elder bush, trimmed into the form of a cross, is planted on a new-made grave, and if it blossoms, the soul of the person lying beneath it is happy.’

Green Elder branches were also buried in a grave to protect the dead from witches and evil spirits, and in some parts it was a custom for the driver of the hearse to carry a whip made of Elder wood.

In some of the rural Midlands, it is believed that if a child is chastised with an Elder switch, it will cease to grow, owing, in this instance, to some supposed malign influence of the tree. On the other hand, Lord Bacon commended the rubbing of warts with a green Elder stick and then burying the stick to rot in the mud, and for erysipelas, it was recommended to wear about the neck an amulet made of Elder ‘on which the sun had never shined.’

In Denmark we come across the old belief that he who stood under an Elder tree on Midsummer Eve would see the King of Fairyland ride by, attended by all his retinue. Folkard, in Plant-Lore, Legends and Lyrics, relates:

‘The pith of the branches when cut in round, flat shapes, is dipped in oil, lighted, and then put to float in a glass of water; its light on Christmas Eve is thought to reveal to the owner all the witches and sorcerers in the neighbourhood’; and again,

‘On Bertha Night (6th January), the devil goes about with special virulence. As a safeguard, persons are recommended to make a magic circle, in the centre of which they should stand, with Elderberries gathered on St. John’s night. By doing this, the mystic Fern-seed may be obtained, which possesses the strength of thirty or forty men.’

This is a Styrian tradition.
The whole tree has a narcotic smell, and it is not considered wise to sleep under its shade. Perhaps the visions of fairyland were the result of the drugged sleep! No plant will grow under the shadow of it, being affected by its exhalations.

Apart from all these traditions, the Elder has had from the earliest days a firm claim on the popular affection for its many sterling virtues.

Some Elder Wine Recipes

An old recipe for Elder Wine
‘To every quart of berries put 2 quarts of water; boil half an hour, run the liquor and break the fruit through a hair sieve; then to every quart of juice, put 3/4 of a pound of Lisbon sugar, coarse, but not the very coarsest. Boil the whole a quarter of an hour with some Jamaica peppers, ginger, and a few cloves. Pour it into a tub, and when of a proper warmth, into the barrel, with toast and yeast to work, which there is more difficulty to make it do than most other liquors. When it ceases to hiss, put a quart of brandy to eight gallons and stop up. Bottle in the spring, or at Christmas. The liquor must be in a warm place to make it work.’ The following recipe for making Elder Wine is given by Mrs. Hewlett in a work entitled Cottage

Comforts: ‘If two gallons of wine are to be made, get one gallon of Elderberries, and a quart of damsons, or sloes; boil them together in six quarts of water, for half an hour, breaking the fruit with a stick, flat at one end; run off the liquor, and squeeze the pulp through a sieve, or straining cloth; boil the liquor up again with six pounds of coarse sugar, two ounces of ginger, two ounces of bruised allspice, and one ounce of hops; (the spice had better be loosely tied in a bit of muslin); let this boil above half an hour; then pour it off, when quite cool, stir in a teacupful of yeast, and cover it up to work. After two days, skim off the yeast, and put the wine into the barrel, and when it ceases to hiss, which will be in about a fortnight, paste a stiff brown paper over the bung-hole. After this, it will be fit for use in about 8 weeks, but will keep 8 years, if required. The bag of spice may be dropped in at the bung-hole, having a string fastened outside, which shall keep it from reaching the bottom of the barrel.’

Another Recipe

‘Strip the berries, which must be quite ripe, into a dry pan and pour 2 gallons of boiling water over 3 gallons of berries. Cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours; then strain, pressing the juice well out. Measure it and allow 3 pounds of sugar, half an ounce of ginger and 1/4 ounce of cloves to each gallon. Boil for 20 minutes slowly, then strain it into a cask and ferment when lukewarm. Let it remain until still, before bunging, and bottle in six months.
‘If a weaker wine is preferred, use 4 gallons of water to 3 gallons of berries and leave for two days before straining.
‘If a cask be not available, large stone jars will answer: then the wine need not be bottled.’ Parkinson tells us that fresh Elder Flowers hung in a vessel of new wine and pressed every evening for seven nights together, ‘giveth to the wine a very good relish and a smell like Muscadine.’ Ale was also infused with Elder flowers.

The berries make good pies, if blended with spices, and formerly used to be preserved with spice and kept for winter use in pies when fruit was scarce. Quite a delicious jam can also be made of them, mixed with apples, which has much the flavour of Blackberry jam. They mix to very great advantage with Crab Apple, or with the hard Catillac cooking Pear, or with Vegetable Marrow, and also with Blackberries or Rhubarb.

The Fruit Preserving Section of the Food Ministry issued during the War the following recipe for

Elderberry and Apple Jam: 6 lb. Elderberries, 6 lb. sliced apples, 12 lb. sugar. Make a pulp of the apples by boiling in water till soft and passing through a coarse sieve to remove any seeds or cores.

The Elderberries should also be stewed for half an hour to soften them. Combine the Apple pulp, berries and sugar and return to the fire to boil till thick.

Another Recipe

Equal quantities of Elderberries and Apples, 3/4 lb. sugar and one lemon to each pound of fruit. Strip the berries from the stalks, peel, core and cut up the apples and weigh both fruits. Put the Elderberries into a pan over low heat and bruise them with a wooden spoon. When the juice begins to flow, add the Apples and one-third of the sugar and bring slowly to the boil. When quite soft, rub all through a hair sieve. Return the pulp to the pan, add the rest of the sugar, the grated lemon rind and juice and boil for half an hour, or until the jam sets when tested. Remove all scum, put into pots and cover.

Elderberry Jam without Apples

To every pound of berries add 1/4 pint of water, the juice of 2 lemons and 1 lb. of sugar. Boil from 30 to 45 minutes, until it sets when tested. Put into jars and tie down when cold. The Elderberry will, of course, also make a jelly. As it is a juicy fruit, it will not need the addition of any more liquid than, perhaps, a squeeze of lemon. Equal quantities of Elderberry juice and apple juice, and apple juice from peeling, will require 3/4 lb. of sugar to a pint. Elderberry Jelly is firm and flavorous, with a racy tang.

When the fruit is not quite ripe, it may be preserved in brine and used as a substitute for capers. The juice from Elder Berries, too, was formerly distilled and mixed with vinegar for salad dressings and flavouring sauces. Vinegars used in former times frequently to be aromatized by steeping in them barberries, rosemary, rose leaves, gilliflowers, lavender, violets – in short, any scented flower or plant though tarragon is now practically the only herb used in this manner to any large extent.

Elderflower Vinegar is made thus:

Take 2 lb. of dried flowers of Elder. If you use your own flowers, pluck carefully their stalks from them and dry them carefully and thoroughly. This done, place in a large vessel and pour over them 2 pints of good vinegar. Close the vessel hermetically, keep it in a very warm place and shake them from time to time. After 8 days, strain the vinegar through a paper filter. Keep in well-stoppered bottles.

This is an old-world simple, but rarely met with nowadays, but worth the slight trouble of making. It was well-known and appreciated in former days and often mentioned in old books; Steele, in The Tatler, says: ‘They had dissented about the preference of Elder to Wine vinegar.’ One seldom has the chance of now tasting the old country pickle made from the tender young shoots and flowers. John Evelyn, writing in 1664, recommends Elder flowers infused in vinegar as an ingredient of a salad. The pickled blossoms are said by those who have tried them to be a welcome relish with boiled mutton, as a substitute for capers. Clusters of the flowers are gathered in their unripened green state, put into a stone jar and covered with boiling vinegar. Spices are unnecessary. The jar is tied down directly the pickle is cold. This pickle is very good and has the advantage of costing next to nothing. The pickle made from the tender young shoots – sometimes known as ‘English Bamboo’ – is more elaborate. During May, in the middle of the Elder bushes in the hedges, large young green shoots may be observed. Cut these, selecting the greenest, peel off every vestige of the outer skin and lay them in salt and water overnight. Each individual length must be carefully chosen, for while they must not be too immature, if the shoots are at all woody, they will not be worth eating, The following morning, prepare the pickle for the Mock Bamboo. To a quart of vinegar, add an ounce of white pepper, an ounce of ginger, half a saltspoonful of mace and boil all well together. Remove the Elder shoots from the salt and water, dry in a cloth and slice up into suitable pieces, laying them in a stone jar. Pour the boiling mixture over them and either place them in an oven for 2 hours, or in a pan of boiling water on the stove. When cold, the pickle should be green in colour. If not, strain the liquor, boil it up again, pour over the shoots and repeat the process. The great art of obtaining and retaining the essence of the plant lies in excluding air from the tied-down jar as much as possible.

The young shoots can also be boiled in salted water with a pinch of soda to preserve the colour, they prove beautifully tender, resembling spinach, and form quite a welcome addition to the dinner table.

Good use can be made of the berries for Ketchup and Chutney, and the following recipes will be found excellent.

Elderberry Chutney

2 lb. Elderberries, 1 large Onion, 1 pint vinegar, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1 teaspoonful ground ginger, 2 tablespoonsful sugar, 1 saltspoonful cayenne and mixed spices, 1 teaspoonful mustard seed. Stalk, weigh and wash the berries; put them into a pan and bruise with a wooden spoon; chop the onion and add with the rest of the ingredients and vinegar. Bring to the boil and simmer till it becomes thick. Stir well, being careful not to let it burn as it thickens. Put into jars and cover.

Another Recipe

Rub 1 1/2 lb. of berries through a wire sieve, pound 1 onion, 6 cloves, 1/4 oz. ground ginger, 2 oz. Demerara sugar, 3 oz. stoned raisins, a dust of cayenne and mace, 1 teaspoonful salt and 1 pint vinegar. Put all in an enameled saucepan and boil with the pulp of the berries for 10 minutes. Take the pan from the fire and let it stand till cold. Put the chutney into jars and cork securely.

Elderberry Ketchup

1 pint Elderberries, 1 OZ. shallots, 1 blade mace, 1/2 oz. peppercorns, 1 1/2 OZ. whole ginger, 1 pint vinegar. Pick the berries (which must be ripe) from the stalks, weigh and wash them. Put them into an unglazed crock or jar, pour over the boiling vinegar and leave all night in a cool oven. Next day, strain the liquor from the berries through a cloth tied on to the legs of an inverted chair and put it into a pan, with the peeled and minced shallots, the ginger peeled and cut up small, the mace and peppercorns. Boil for 10 minutes, then put into bottles, dividing the spices among the bottles. Cork well.

All parts of the tree – bark, leaves, flowers and berries – have long enjoyed a high reputation in domestic medicine. From the days of Hippocrates, it has been famous for its medicinal properties.

Planetary Formula Elderberry Formulas:

Well Child Formula and Elderberry Syrup

Being pleasant tasting, for ease of administering, it is ideally suited as the primary ingredient for a Children’s cold and flu formula. It is, however, equally effective for the treatment of adult colds and flus. The best results will be obtained if it is taken at the very onset of symptoms. Planetary’s unique formula combines it with other herbs that are well known to be effective against colds and flus.
Echinacea, the most popular of all North American herbs is commonly taken alone with great effectiveness as an immune stimulant against colds and flus. Honeysuckle blossoms were once widely used in the West but is also used in traditional Chinese herbal formulas as a well known antibiotic and antiviral for the treatment of colds, flus and all upper respiratory infections. Lemon Balm, Catnip and Chamomile are among the most effective herbs to relax the system, promoting diaphoresis (sweating) to allow the body to natural overcome the disease process. Cinnamon twigs are used to stimulate the immune system and normalize circulation. Vitamin C is well known as an antioxidant and protector against inflammatory diseases of all kinds.
The combination of all these ingredients with Elderberry Syrup Extract makes this the best and most comprehensive herbal cold and flu treatment that should bring natural relief not only of the symptoms but of the underlying cause of the common cold and flu.

Notes compiled from Grieves, Modern Herbal, Coles The Art of Simpling, Gerard’s The Great Herbal and other sources.

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