This week I learned the most important lesson about elderberry syrup.
So important, I am sharing it with you now, that you may learn from the error of my ways.
Here is my number one tip for elderberry syrup: make it before you need it. Because let me assure you – when you need it most, is when you least feel like making it!
Elderberry syrup is known for its anti-viral properties. A lot of research has been done on the exact mechanism by which the berries work their magic. Here is an article describing a recent study on how elderberry actually helps combat the flu virus. I used to buy commercial elderberry syrup for this purpose, and when I discovered the elderberry shrubs growing in my front yard, homemade syrup was top on my plans for the bounty! If you can forage elderberry, I highly recommend making your own as well.
When the berries were fresh, I fermented a batch of elderberry syrup following the recipe in Forage, Harvest, Feast. It stayed stashed in my fridge for possible outbreaks. We used most of it combating “the crud” in late September and early October. Did it help shorten our illnesses, and lessen the intensity of the symptoms? Couldn’t tell ya! But in hindsight, I definitely should have made more back then, rather than waiting until we were all sick again.
This time, it may have been the flu.
Only one family member was sick enough for a doctor’s visit, and the swab came back negative. However the test for the flu is apparently pretty inaccurate, so we’re assuming it was still influenza based on the severity of our symptoms and how quickly we went from “just fine” to “I want to crawl under a rock and die.”
Because I froze my elderberry harvest, I couldn’t make another batch of fermented syrup since freezing kills the natural yeast on the fruit. Plus, we was very sick and wouldn’t have wanted to wait several days for the fermentation process anyway. So I used a cooked syrup instead. Here is the recipe I started with. There are plenty of other recipes loose on the web with other immune-boosting, virus-fighting ingredients, but I wanted one that was just elderberry and a sweetener. This recipe seemed simple: equal parts water and berries; simmer for 30 minutes; strain and allow to cool; then mix in a half part of raw honey. (Raw honey also has antioxidant and antibiotic qualities but apparently high temperatures can destroy the elements that provide healthy benefits.)
Easy enough, right?
Wrong! I still had a lot of fiddly little stems stuck to my frozen berries. I have never found any hard and fast rule about how much stem is “safe” when preparing a syrup, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Working in small batches, I tried removing the rest of the stems. The remaining berries waited in the freezer so they didn’t get all squishy (and messy) while I plucked the berries off as fast as I could. Which, when you’re sick and shivering from a fever, is not very fast!
Also, you’d be amazed at how fast the berries soften and start leaving purple stains on everything! Maybe next year I will try dehydrating the berries instead, so I can take all the time I need to remove the stems. Oh and maybe I won’t wait until I am already sick to make a fresh batch of syrup!
Thankfully I did not have enough as much honey as the recipe called for, because even half that amount was WAY too sweet for my taste buds. The final ratios I used were 3 cups water, 3 cups elderberries (and a few of those infernal stems!) and 3/4 cup honey.
(The article also mentioned the possibility of “loose stools” due to the potency of the syrup. In our house at least, there didn’t seem to be a correlation between elderberry syrup and this particular condition, versus it being a symptom of being sick.)
Not everyone was willing to try the syrup, so I was the main subject of this particular study. I settled in at one tablespoon per dose of syrup, twice a day. As my symptoms started improving, I cut back to one dose a day. After just four days I was basically up and running again.
Did the elderberry syrup help? Did my symptoms go away faster, and did I spread disease less to other people? Obviously this isn’t a scientific study, and I have no metrics to prove anything. Plus, I can’t even prove for sure I had the flu! But I felt better emotionally knowing that I did what I could to manage my own health using simple, natural ingredients, rather than sign my well-being over to Big Pharma. Or just laying around feeling sorry for myself!
Have you tried elderberry syrup, or other foraged remedies to take care your health back into your own hands? Share your favorite story below!