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This flu-fighting 101 comes from HOMEGROWN member Magpie Ima, an earth mama from Oregon. If you like with what Magpie can do with elderberries, wait 'til you see her sour cherry clafoutis—just one delicacy on her blog, Magpie Eats. Thanks, Magpie, and keep the good ideas coming!

I wanted to let you know about my recent experience making my own antiflu medicine. I’m just so thrilled to be able to make a proven antiviral flu remedy for a mere fraction of the cost of the commercially prepared variety!



Elderberries are extremely nutritious, rich in antioxidants, and are known to stimulate the immune system in response to flu viruses. You can bet I want something safe and free of side effects to give my family before we head into crowded synagogues and classrooms! Elderberries grow on tall, spindly bushes. The tiny blue-black berries develop in clusters after the feathery flowers fade. And apparently the bushes are quite easy to grow, so I'll be looking to add one to my garden soon.

Elderberry syrup is super easy to make. The only hard part is finding the berries. Here in the Portland area, in season, Morning Shade Farm has a row of you-pick bushes. It took about ten minutes to fill our buckets with snipped berry clusters. The only fiddly bit is coaxing the berries off of the stems. After that, a quick rinse, a bit of a simmer, some straining, adding honey, and bottling. That's it! Instead of paying $9 to $12 for a 4-ounce bottle of Sambucol, I have nearly a quart of this stuff, which cost about $2, plus another four batches' worth of berries in the freezer. How cool is that?



The recipe I used came from Rosemary Gladstar's Family Herbal, which is the source of The Dreaded Tonic, my family’s standard homemade cold remedy.

» 2 cups washed elderberries
» 4 cups water
» 1 ½ cups honey



I made a double batch by gently simmering the elderberries in water for 45 minutes. I let things cool a bit, then strained the juice through a fine mesh strainer, mashing all of the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. I then mixed in the honey and poured the result into a 1-liter easy-cap bottle (I buy mine here). I’ll keep the finished syrup in the fridge.



The great part is that, unlike The Dreaded Tonic, this stuff is actually good. Really good. Like, pour-it-on-your-pancakes or drink-it-straight-from-the-bottle good. I only used about half the suggested quantity of honey, and it's still sweet and fruity and ever so delicious. I won't have any trouble getting my kids to take their daily dose. That would be 2T/day for big kids and adults, and 1T/day for younger ones as a preventative measure; twice that amount to reduce severity if someone falls ill with the flu. Because of the honey, I wouldn't give this to babies.



One thing I learned as I did a little research: Under no circumstances should you substitute red elderberries, which are quite toxic. And don't eat black elderberries raw. They can cause stomach upset.

I understand that the hard part here is finding the elderberries. But they’re out there. Ask around. And if you can't find fresh, you can make this with dried elderberries purchased online. One cost-effective source is The Herbalist; you only need half a cup of dried berries to make 4 cups of syrup.

And since I figure I can make close to 5 quarts of this stuff for under $10 using you-pick berries, that might be an incentive to plant a bush in your own garden. (Another HOMEGROWN member, Carrie, points out that you can sometimes find elderberry bushes online at Stark Bro’s.) I hope you’re able to try this—and that we all stay healthy throughout flu season!



Got another use for elderberries—or another HOMEGROWN flu fighter? Post a comment below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also be interested in the HOMEGROWN 101 on making your own echinacea tincture, or, for fewer medicinal benefits but lots of happy taste buds, check out the Chai Tea Concentrate 101 and the Homemade Extracts 101. You can always find more things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft, and simmer in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.




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Just bought Sambucol with a coupon but making it woukd be so much cheaper. Wish I had realized it last year when I went berry picking although I didn't inquire if the upick farm had Elderberries. LAst week was teh first time I tried Elderberry syrup.

Ur right though I should find a way to fit a few shrubs on my urban homestead.

Elderberry is a natural anti viral. People have been using it forever. Great Job!

We make elderflower cordial which is delicious. We've learned to remember to leave some of the flowers that are in reach, so they can develop into berries, otherwise the berries are all up at ladder height. I'll try this flu remedy.
I love elderberry, I use dry to make a great tea for my children when they are sick.

Elderberries are very easy to grow on almost any soil type and reliably set berries. They need sun

If you freeze the berries first, the stems easily fall off, saving time and avoiding purple fingers.

I bought two cultivars from the local nursery to plant along the creek once I heard about it's medicinal qualities.  Once they started growing and I knew what the plant looked like, I discovered that they were growing wild all along that creek!  So now I make sure the wild ones have room to grow and prosper.  A friend made a concoction from the berries last year and it was very tasty indeed. 

Allen: How lucky that you have elderberries growing wild! Would love to hear what recipe your friend used for the concoction.

HI, sorry for being a bit slow on the uptake on this one but i have never used Elderberry's before and think here in Australia I will probably have to go with the dried variety.  For the above recipe do you mean I would only use 12cup of dried berries to the 4 cups of water?  Thank you, as we come into our flue season I can't wait to add this to the house hold daily routine 

Black Elderberries are one of my favorite medicinals!  It boosts the immune system, helps to clear up chest congestion, and it's yummy in jams and pies. It's also interesting to me how such an important plant grows like a weed, in one variety or another, in so many different countries.

Now, a word of caution... you do need to take proper precautions as the stems and leaves of Elder trees can be noxious (just wear gloves), and only the flowers and fully-ripened berries can be used.  And by "fully-ripened" I mean that the entire cluster of berries has turned black.  Confused?  Don't be.  This is completely normal for many medicinal plants - with some you can eat the leaves but should avoid the roots...with others, everything is fine except the flowers.  You just have to "get to know" the plant first before you can fully appreciate it.

Here's a helpful video from "Green Deane" - a man who really knows his medicinal plants:

Eat The Weed, Episode 29 - Elderberries

And here's his website blog where he even gives a recipe for Elderberry Wine:

Elderberries: Red, White and Blue

Several years ago, I was lamenting to a friend how Elderberries didn't grow here in Florida.  He was like "Oh yes they do!" and brought me a potted plant from one of his nature walks.  Next thing I know, I begin seeing Elder trees everywhere alongside the roadways.  It's like the flowers were all saying "Heyy! Remember this spot, because in about a month or so, Elderberries are going to be ready."  So when the time was right, I stopped to snip a few clusters (in retrospect, it would have been better to pick Elderberries only from trees that were 1,000 feet or more away from a roadway where auto fumes are ever present).  But I made my first Elderberry Jam.  The taste was a bit funky, but it was delicious.  I also felt really connected to all the generations of the past who made stuff out of ripe Elderberries as part of their simple way of life. 

SO, what is the best way to remove all those tiny black Elderberries from the cluster?  Well, an 86 y/o woman told me how, growing up in Ohio, they would just crush the cluster and hang the whole thing upside down to drip into a container...which is fine if you're making Elderberry Pie.  You could put the clusters in a plastic bag, place it in the freezer, and the berries should easily fall off the stems when shaken...but then, as soon as the berries warm up, they get all gushy (not a problem if you're planning to make jam or syrup).  But what if you want to store them for the winter months?  My solution:  use a cheap hair comb and "comb" the ripe berries off the stems.  That solution worked the best.  ;)

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