The first time I learned about elderberries is when a homesteader I know told me she supplemented her income from making and selling her homemade syrups and tinctures. At the time, I knew nothing about elderberries even though they are quite common near the edges of the forest here Washington State.
As my interest in natural remedies grew, I started investigating the merits of elderberry then stumbled upon this fact: elderberries can and do fight the flu. Not only that, they do so exceptionally well. Talk about a light bulb going off in this prepper mind of mine! That single fact set me on path to learn about the other health and wellness benefits of elderberry and, as a natural follow-up, to make my own elderberry tincture and elderberry syrup.
Introducing the Elderberry: Some Background Information
Picking wild berries and using them for both food and medicine has been a part of human existence since the dawn of time. Not much has changed in that regard. These days, preppers and survivalists consider knowing how to forage for berries and other food items indigenous to their geographical area an important cornerstone of long term survival in the event of a catastrophic disruptive event.
The black elderberry, or Sambucus Canadensis, is a unique member of the honeysuckle family which grows on a small tree that resembles a shrub. Early Native Americans would use the durable yet pliable elderberry branches to craft tools, pipes, housing materials, and other items for their village. The berries, which typically were used in a recipe, were enthusiastically enjoyed by villagers young and old. The sweet and tart little berry would be crushed up, mixed with sugar or honey, and then used to make a tasty jam or syrup.
Interestingly, man’s first interactions with the actual berry from the elderberry tree involved using it for a variety of things besides food, including as a dye for fabrics. Over time, man learned that this dark, purple berry had a lot more to offer than taste. Pretty soon, elderberries were being used for salves, pastes, tinctures, and everything in between.
In my own research, I have learned that there are at least seven different species in North America, each specific to native growing conditions. Imagine my surprise when I learned there was even a species that grows in the Arizona desert!
12 Benefits of Elderberry for Health and Wellness
The elderberry is quite potent with several health and wellness benefits. I have identified twelve of those benefits although I am certain there are others.
1. Fights Flu: This is where elderberry shines, with ample research on the safety and efficacy of elderberry as a remedy for both influenza A and B.
2. Treats Wounds: With it’s antiseptic and mild antibiotic action, elderberry helps fight infection in wounds, especially when used in conjunction with honey.
3. Powerful Antioxidant: Elderberries are dense in antioxidants which have been linked to a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and even cancer cells.
4. Boosts Immunity to Disease: They are rich in vitamin C, which promotes the production of white blood cells and reduces oxidative stress.
5. Enhanced Brain Function: Elderberries contain 2.32mg of iron, which decreases lethargy and increases mental capacity.
6. Combat the Common Cold: Elderberry extract has proven to be an effective remedy to fight the common cold by triggering an increased immune response.
7. Clearer Vision: They are dense vitamin A content which maintains and improves vision.
8. Oral Hygiene and Mouth: Elderberries are beneficial for your dental health as well, with an ability to reduce gingival index scores by a measurable degree.
9. Efficient Digestion: As a great source of dietary fiber, elderberries help decrease bloating and constipation while also helping facilitate bowel movements.
10. Improves Skin: Elderberries provide a natural boost to skin’s moisture and elasticity levels.
11. Bone Health: Elderberries contain a high level of unique minerals that combined become the perfect cocktail for proper bone density and a healthy skeletal system.
12. Heart and Cardiovascular Support: Elderberries are rich in potassium, which increases blood flow in support of a healthy cardiovascular system.
How to Make an Elderberry Tincture & Elderberry Syrup
Homemade elderberry tinctures are a cinch to make and can save you a lot money when compared to over-the-counter versions. Also, it goes without saying that as a natural remedy, it is a better choice than synthetic medicines from companies whose primary interest is profit over wellness.
So how do you make an elderberry tincture? There are many variations but here is the version I made, using the recipe in Cat’s book, Prepping For a Pandemic.
- Fill a mason jar 3/4 full of dried elderberries (I used these)
- Fill the rest of the jar with vodka (I used the cheap stuff)
- Let it sit for 6 weeks
- Strain and remove the elderberries, reserving the liquid
Dosage for flu: 30 to 60 drops hourly beginning when you first suspect the flu coming on.
Dosage for general health and as a preventative: 1 teaspoon daily, perhaps in a glass of apple juice.
I also made a very simple elderberry syrup using these directions, again from Cat Ellis.
- Add 1/2 cup of elderberries to a pot with 2 cups of water
- Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 20 minutes to reduce by half
- Strain out the berries, and let the liquid cool just enough so that it’s still warm, but doesn’t burn you to touch it. You should have 1 cup of liquid
- Add 1 cup of honey and gently stir to dissolve the honey into the elderberry extraction
This is a very basic recipe. Try experimenting by adding other herbals and spices with healing benefits such as ginger root, cloves, garlic, cinnamon, and wild cherry bark. If you decide to experiment (I have not, but plan to) start off with a bit of extra water.
Dosage for flu or an acute infection: 1 teaspoon every hour until symptoms subside (try for a minimum of 4 times a day). As symptoms improve, reduce to 3x day, then 2x, then 1x until symptoms are completely gone.
Dosage for general health and as a preventative: 1 teaspoon daily.
Side Effects of Elderberry
There is some controversy relative to red elderberries and many authorities recommend that you avoid them. That said, if they are toxic, the symptoms are no worse than an upset stomach. Still, I would err on the side of caution and avoid them.
In addition, some studies have suggested that elderberry tinctures may not be an issue to people with an auto-immune disorder. This is because the elderberry tincture’s potency might cause their immune system to go into overdrive. There is also some debate as to whether or not pregnant and nursing mothers should use elderberry syrups and tinctures.
As with all natural remedies, if in doubt, consult with a trusted and sympathetic health care professional first.
The Final Word
As far as I am concerned, learning about the positive health benefits of elderberry and then putting that knowledge into practical use is prudent during normal times. I suggest you seek out wild elderberries growing in your community or learn cultivate elderberry yourself.
Make some elderberry tincture or syrup, and the next time you feel a cold or flu coming on, use this natural remedy and see how you respond. You can also start taking a teaspoon daily to build immunity and reap the benefits of the many addition wellness properties of elderberry.
In closing, I would like to thank Cat Ellis (aka The Herbal Prepper) not only for sharing her wisdom in two fantastic books, but for also answering my questions about making elderberry tinctures and syrups.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!