I’m featuring elderberry today (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) because in many places throughout the south, the prolific elderberry is growing, in bloom, and about to produce those fat clusters of berries often referred to as droops or cymes.
If you are a fan of the television show “The Walking Dead”, you may remember the series of episodes where the flu ran through the survivor community. Hershel, the veterinarian, played by Scott Walker, risked his life by collecting elderberry that he would later make into a tea. Later, he risked his life again by administering the soothing tea to the infected (and contagious) sufferers.
As a plant guy, I could plainly see, and even yelled at the TV a bit, that the “elderberry” was in fact some fake, I mean fakey, fake fake artificial plant that looked nothing like the real thing.
But it’s the thought that counts, and elderberry has been used in health therapy for centuries.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems that every noteworthy doctor is providing commentary on every news channel available. A few days ago, Dr. Oz specifically recommended elderberry. I assume he meant the various supplements available at the health food store and down the vitamin aisle everywhere. I know he said “elderberry” not sure about the rest. Is it me or does Dr. Oz talk funny?
While most elderberry health studies focus upon the European variety, one is a sub species of the other and I can’t tell which is which from what I read. What is important to know, is that they are characteristically similar, and both the flowers and berries of the common American variety have been used in herbal folk medicines by indigenous and immigrant peoples.
Whatever the difference, or perhaps medicinal equal, the American version has been and is made into- syrups and jams and pies wherever crafty rural folk exist. The craftiest among them make elderberry wine, and I have had my share. Admittedly crafted by my want -to -be country mom, not by me. Although I have made plenty of wines in the past, it’s not hard and perfectly legal in most places.
Further disclosure: My mom was a Jewish girl who grew up in Chicago and New York, but made her own soaps, wines, and cheeses. I know, runs afoul of common wisdom.
Unless you have never left the “concrete jungle”, I’ll bet you’ve seen elderberry growing along roadsides and disturbed earth. It’s not just a plant for the wide-open spaces. It can and does spread prolifically and seems to find the smallest plot of dirt, well, the birds and other animals who ingest and spread the seeds do anyway. Most usage recommendations clearly call for cooking to degrade the alkaloid compounds before consuming. Before I knew this, I ate a bunch or two without cooking, I suffered from no ill effects that I know of. But I must hasten to add that eating them straight is not a recommendation. I have included a source list below and thank the many authors with greater experience with elderberry than I. Spend some time perusing the links, particularly the one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
If you are at home working, or trying to look like you’re working, the study of folk medicine is fascinating, you might even take a walk to see if you can harvest some elderberries and flowers in your area. I’ll bet you’ll have no competition so social distancing will be a cinch. But, if the wild places are not for you, journey through the vitamin and supplement aisle practically anywhere. You’re bound to find elderberry in some form or another. I think I like the gummies best.