A folk remedy for centuries it is now being researched and rediscovered. High in antioxidants this fruit has high medicinal value. Elderberries have a large amount of Vitamin C as well as amino acids, sugar, tannin rufin, vibumic acid, carotenoids, and Vitamins A and B. They are mildly laxative, diaphoretic and diuretic. The very powerful guercetin antioxidant is thought to account for the therapeutic qualities of the berry and that of the flower. There is also a flavonoid in this fruit called anthocyanins that protect cells against damage.
The elderberry can be used to reduce inflammation of the urinary tract and bladder, tonsillitis, viral and bacterial infections, asthma, nerve disorders, arthritis, back pain, diabetes, improves vision, weight loss, heart health, stimulates the immune system and reduces LDL cholesterol, HIV and cancer. Elderberry juice was used in the flu epidemic in Panama in 1995.
The elderberry flowers can be used for poultices to treat wounds, an eye wash for eye inflammation and conjunctivitis. It can also be made into a lotion that soothes rashes, burns, sunburn and to relax sore muscles.
You will find elderberries growing wild in rich soil near wet ditches and along stream banks in the warmer parts of North America and Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa. They like to grow near black raspberry and blackberry bushes. They ripen from August to October. Depending on the variety, elderberries can grow twelve to fifteen feet tall and thrive within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones three through eleven. There are five to thirty varieties and the Sambucus nigra is most often used and is the only one that is non-toxic when eaten uncooked.
They have a small clusters of white and cream colored flowers in late spring. There is one disease known as powdery mildew that the leaves tend to suffer from which gives them a whitish coating.
Pick the ripest first, the darkest purple to black on the top of the bush. They look like small purple grapes. Snap off the individual elderberry cluster at the base of the stem where it attaches to the branch. Ripe berry clusters will break off easily. Try not to squash the berries. Pick over the berries well checking for green or unripe berries and detach them from the stems. Rinse well in water and check again for stems.Easy to freeze to use in pies or other recipes throughout the year. Eight ounces of the concentrated syrup can be purchased for about $9-$10.
The elderberry has a very tart flavor which is lessened when cooked. You can make elderberry cough syrup with filtered water, elderberries, a cinnamon stick, cloves and sugar or honey. They are also delicious in flower tea, jelly and jam, pies, fritters, ice cream, dumplings and even wine.
The skin and pulp can be eaten and they produce a lot of juice for as small as the berry is in size. Look for the blue variety. The red is distasteful and can even be poisonous. Don’t worry about mistaking the two for they are very definite in color and the red ones grow in dome shaped clusters.
Do not over do because there are a few side effects. People with a known allergy to plants in the honeysuckle family can get skin irritation, rash, or difficulty breathing. Too many berries can cause weakness, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. If there is a question cookthe berries as a preventive measure. The berry can also cause the blood sugar level to lower. Some have even experienced rapid heart rate, dizziness, headache and convulsions. Eating elderberry is not recommended during pregnancy or breast feeding.