The Magic and Mystery of Elderberries
Elder trees have long been associated in the mythology of various cultures with healing and magic. Many times, they were the representation of renewal and regeneration. The tree can readily regrow damaged branches, making it able to withstand and recover from severe weather conditions. Any part of the plant will take root, with rapid growth, so you can easily create your own grove of Elder from just one parent tree. It's parts also have remarkable healing properties, lending to actual use, and story alike. A plethora of legends and folktales have emerged around this tree.
Myths of the Elder Tree
The Celtic legend of "the Dagda" used the Elder tree in his magic. He was known as the "good god", or the "all father"--similar to the Christian Lord Father of the Holy Trinity, and the Norse god, Odin.
Ancient Greeks believed that nature spirits dwelled in Elder trees. A grove of Elder was sacred to the woodland god, Pan. Greeks, at the time, would make the wind instrument, the sambuke, out of Elder wood to celebrate Pan.
The Elder Queen was heralded by Celtic pagans as a faery spirit within the tree, a dryad. She was associated with the image of the Crone--the final aspect of a triple goddess--with powers of wisdom, healing and transformation.
Gypsies thought it was bad luck to cut and burn Elder wood. Though, in Ireland, witches' brooms were made from Elder, instead of the traditional ash. New parents were warned that it was unwise to use Elder wood for a baby's cradle, but one should stick to the traditional birch. Since Elder is associated with the Crone image, surrounding a newborn with it is counter intuitive. It may also invite the tree's spirit to harass the baby by inflicting illness or physical harm.
Folklore holds that Elder is excellent wand-making wood. I am not surprised that JK Rowling used it for the most powerful wand in her wizarding world.
Healing Powers of Elderberries
Before the development of modern medicine, the fruit from the Elder tree (sambucus nigra) had been used to treat a wide range of minor health issues. Today, science has discovered Elderberries are usefully to help the body heal from certain ailments.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, Elderberries contain flavanoids. Similar to the health benefits of drinking red wine, this antioxidant helps prevent damage to your body's cells. For centuries, an Elderberry salve has been used in treating wounds, soothing and aiding in the healing process.
Elderberries have amazing anti-viral properties. They are an excellent way to boost your immune system, and it has been noted that consuming Elderberry juice can shorten the time span of a cold or flu. A doctor can prescribe a chemical anti-viral medication that "might shorten the duration" of the flu symptoms, but Elderberry juice supposedly does the same. It is used to bring respiratory relief, and may reduce the swelling of mucus membranes and sinuses, as well. WebMD suggests drinking Elderberry juice in order to ease symptoms like a fever, headache, sore throat, fatigue, cough and body aches within 24 hours of their onset. Supposedly, it will cut the amount of suffering time of the illness by up to half. A study showed that Elderberries contain a property that can kill the H1N1 (swine flu) virus in test tubes, but there are doubts it would work in humans.
Personally, I use Elderberry juice regularly. I brew my own and serve it to my son anytime he's sick. I welcome any immune system boost when we're feeling ill, and I've developed a recipe that tastes great. Elderberries can be very tart and bitter, if not cooked properly and correct preparation prevents poisoning. Raw berries are inedible, and the seeds contain a poison similar to cyanide that should not be consumed. You can make a tea with a few dried berries and tea leaves, or boil them into a syrup or juice. I'll share a few of my favorite recipes to help you get started on your own Elderberry potion.
Cold and Flu Relief Tea
1/4 cup dried peppermint
1/4 cup dried lemon balm
1/4 cup dried Elder flower
1/4 cup dried yarrow flowers
boil water. add 1 tsp per 8 oz hold water. steep 10 minutes. add honey to taste
Herbal Drugstore. Linda B White, MD. Steven Foster. Rodale, 2000
1 tsp dried Elderberries
1 tsp black, green, white or herbal tea
8-12 oz hot water
boil water, pour over tea/berry combination. allow to steep 3-5 minutes. sweeten and enjoy.
Choose your tea based on your tastes, and desired caffeine amount. Black tea will give a strong, rich smoky taste, while green is earthy and mild. White tea has a delicate flavor, so the Elderberries will dominate. Herbal teas can compliment the Elderberry taste in a variety of ways, experiment until you find what you like. My favorites are berry based herbal blends or citrus infusions.
*Note: the steeping time for tea does not extract the full amount of health benefits from the Elderberries, but can still be comforting and flavorful.
4 cups water
1/2 cup dried elderberries
1/2 cup sugar or honey (more or less to taste)
in medium saucepan, combine water and berries. slowly, bring to a boil. reuce heat to simmer, adding sugar/honey 1 tbsp at a time, stirring gently. simmer for 10 aditional minutes, or until liquid is reduced by half. strain and squeeze out any extra liquid from berries. discard berries. allow to cool and store in glass container in fridge.
The syrup can be used to make soda, by adding it to seltzer. You can put some over ice cream for a creamy treat, or drizle on fruit and whipped cream. Use the syrup to sweeten tea. Or take 1 teaspoonful directly, 4 times a day as a serum when sick.
1/2 cup dried Elderberries
8 cups (2 quarts) water
(adjust amount of berries to taste: for stronger flavor, add more berries; for milder taste, use less berries)
in medium saucepan, combine Elderberries and water, bring to a boil. leave on low boil for 20 minutes. cool slightly, strain berries, squeezing out any extra liquid, through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer. discard the now pulverize berries--the fruit will be bitter and seeds inedible. store in glass container in fridge. will yield about 6 cups juice.
You can drink the juice over ice, or mixed with your favorite punch. Add it to ginger ale, or seltzer, even use it in cocktails.
The plain juice is fine, if you enjoy the taste, but there are some nice add-ins that will give your Elderberry juice a wonderful flavor:
- add 3/4 cup frozen berries (strawberries are sweetest) and 4-5 medium slivers of candied ginger to warm Elderberry juice. let sit in fridge overnight to steep. berries and ginger can be removed at anytime and enjoyed as a snack, too. lightly sweetening the juice, the berries and ginger compliment the Elderberry flavor.**
- 2 Tbsp powdered ginger and 1/4 cup lemon juice can be added to warm juice for a spicy, tangy taste.
- add slices of citrus--lemon, orange, grapefruit-- and 2 Tbsp honey to warm juice, store in fridge to brew overnight.
**my household favorite!
Experience the Elder
While steeped in mythology, the Elder tree has long been regarded for its supposedly magical healing traits. It is now often recommended to drink a juice made of its berries when suffering from colds or the flu, as they has anti-viral properties. The berries can be prepared in a variety of ways, depending on your tastes, giving you a great flavor while helping you feel better.
How to do you treat a cold or flu?
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