Power Plants: Elderberry

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Remedies

Power Plants

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you know one of the most powerful magical objects is the Elder Wand, which was fashioned from the wood of the Sambucus niger shrub, native to the warmer regions of Europe and North America.
Elderberries may not be magic, but they have long been applied to swelling and wounds, and have more recently been used as a treatment for cold and flu. The delicious purple-black berries are still enjoyed as jams and jellies, and they make a popular form of wine.
(Influenza, Bacterial sinusitis, Immune booster)
In the fall, elderberries turn a deep purple, showcasing their high concentrations of antioxidant flavonoids, anthocyanins, and quercetin, all believed to account for the medicinal actions of this plant’s berries and flowers.
European herbalists traditionally used elderberry for pain relief and to promote the healing of injuries. They later learned from North American Native peoples that the plant was useful for infections, coughs, and other conditions, too.
Elderberry is one of your most powerful allies against influenza. According the Health Canada, the flu affects between 10% and 25% of Canadians every year (usually between November and April) and sends 20,000 people to the hospital, killing roughly 4,000. The good news is one study confirmed that people receiving a daily dose elderberry syrup—packed with therapeutic phytonutrients—recovered faster than those receiving a placebo.*
Additional uses include as a laxative for constipation, stimulating general immune function, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergic rhinitis, and sinusitis. Essentially, if anything from your nose to your throat to your lungs is infected or affected, turn to these berries.
Difficulty: Easy
Hardiness: Perennial in zones 3 to 9
Time to Plant: Spring or early fall
Time to Harvest: Late summer
Location: Full to part sun
Soil Type: Moist, well-drained
Elderberry is an attractive landscape shrub and comes in a wide range of varieties. They are relatively easy to grow, but they are not suited to small spaces. Some varieties will grow well in pots, but these will not produce adequate fruit yields.
Common Varieties: Elder varieties are sometimes treated as distinct species, and other times as subspecies of Sambucus nigra. The Canada elder (S. nigra canadensis) is common in central and eastern North America. Popular cultivars include the cutleaf elderberry (Lacinata) and Black Lace (Eva), which has purple-black foliage. Make sure that you don’t plant Dwarf Elder (sambucus ebulus) for medicinal purposes—it can be toxic.
Plant in early spring. Although elderberries will thrive in almost any soil, they do best in loamy soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter. Elders grow big: they average about 2 m high and 2 to 3 m wide (6 feet high and up to 10 feet wide), and some can get much larger. So leave plenty of space when planting—at least 1 to 2 m, or as indicates on the plant’s tag.
Elders need to be cross-pollinated if they are to produce berries, so plant two or more cultivars close to one other.
When designing gardens or containers that are functional and attractive, look for plants with more than one season of interest. Plants like elderberry offer multiple periods of display, from flowers, to foliage, to fruit! White blooms appear in spring, giving way to purplish berries in the fall. Varieties such as Black Lace also feature show-stopping dark foliage throughout the growing season.
Elderberry is not drought-tolerant. On average it requires between 10 and 20 mm of water per week. Water as needed, and use mulch to maintain moisture and reduce risk of plant loss.
In late winter or early spring, prune away any dead, broken or weak stems. During the growing season remove weeds surrounding the plants. Avoid heavy pruning for the first couple of seasons: wait until they are established.
Elderberries are loved by many creatures, especially birds. Apply garden netting in midsummer, before berries ripen to save some fruit for you!
Inspect plants often and be on the lookout for white powdery mildew on the leaves: if you spot mildew, remove and discard the infected branches.
The shrub will produce some berries during its first season, but increased yields will happen during the second and third years. Berries will ripen sporadically over a two-week period in late summer to early fall. To harvest them, use a fork to tease the ripe berries off their stems. Only harvest fully ripe berries, which will be plump and almost black in colour.
Wash the berries only when needed. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week, freeze, or preserve into jellies. Elderberries can also be placed in a dehydrator and dried for future use.
No flu for you? Take this triple tincture!
North Americans spend about $2.9 billion on over-the-counter cold and flu remedies every year, but some may be unsafe, especially for children. Many include the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) and an expectorant called guaifenesin, two chemicals worth avoiding. Elderberry extract can address both of these symptoms naturally!
To make this remedy you’ll need to keep an eye on your elderberry plants throughout the growing season. In spring, when the shrub is blooming, collect 2 cups of the flowers and wash them thoroughly. Bring ½ cup water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the flowers. Boil for 10 minutes, turn off heat and let cool.
Next, purée the boiled flowers in a blender and pour into a small Mason jar: it should be filled about halfway). Fill the jar with vodka. (To make a children’s formula, switch out alcohol with vinegar.) Store the jar in a dark cupboard, and remove it daily to shake vigorously until it is time to harvest the berries.
When ready to harvest in the fall, collect 3 cups of fully ripe berries. Wash them and freeze 2 cups in a sealable container to prevent freezer burn. Place the remaining 1 cup of fresh berries in a blender and add the flower tincture. Blend and pour into a clean glass container large enough to hold the entire contents.
In 2 weeks, strain the beautiful dark purple liquid into a glass bowl using cheesecloth. Squeeze out all the juice from the cloth and discard the berry skins and plant material. Now blend the liquid 1 cup of the frozen berries and return the mixture to the jar. Add 5 tbsp of manuka honey to sweeten. To get a super-concentrated, flu-busting elderberry elixir, add the other cup of frozen elderberries in the same fashion 2 weeks later.
Store the tincture in a dark place. Take 1 tsp three times daily through cold and flu season.
Always getting sick? Stick to this syrup!
Some people seem to succumb to every virus that goes around. Elderberry is suspected to work by boosting the immune system, as well as by coating viral particles so they can’t infect cells as readily. If you’re always coming down with something, consider taking this immune-boosting syrup right through the winter.
4 cups                               water
juice from ½ lemon
1 cup                                  elderberries
1 tsp                                   ground cinnamon
3 tsp                                   ground ginger
½ cup                                 manuka honey
Pour the water and lemon juice into a saucepan and add berries, cinnamon, and ginger. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer for 1 hour, being careful not to overboil. Remove from heat, let cool, and pour through a strainer. Add the honey and mix thoroughly. If you want, you can add ½ cup of echinacea tincture (see page TK). Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Take 1 tbsp daily for immune strengthening and support.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase the Clef des Champs Elder Tincture or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
Make sure elderberries are fully ripe and fully cooked before you use them: unripe or uncooked berries are poisonous. Other plant parts (including the leaves, stems, and root) may also contain toxic constituents related to cyanide and may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Avoid if you have any allergy to plants in the Adoxaceae family, which also includes viburnum. There are some reports of allergies in children playing with toys made from fresh elder stems.
Because elderberry helps to heighten immune response, it should be avoided by people with autoimmunity disorders and those taking immunosuppressant drugs. High doses of elderberry may have diuretic (urine-producing) effects, so those already taking diuretics or water pills should avoid it. Elderberry may also lower blood sugar, so additional blood tests may be necessary in those with diabetes or hypoglycemia.
Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free Radical Biol Med 2000;29:51–60.
Serkedjieva J, Manolova N, Zgórniak-Nowosielska I, et al. Antiviral activity of the infusion (SHS-174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra L., aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria officinalis L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses. Phytother Res 1990;4:97–100.
Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1:361–9.
Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 104–5
Kong F. Pilot clinical study on a proprietary elderberry extract: efficacy in addressing influenza symptoms. Online Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics. 2009;5:32-43.
Roschek B, Fink RC, McMichael MD, et al. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009;70:1255-61.
Uncini Manganelli RE, Zaccaro L, Tomei PE. Antiviral activity in vitro of Urtica dioica L., Parietaria diffusa M. et K. and Sambucus nigra L. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Apr 26;98(3):323-7.
Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. A systematic review on the sambuci fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytother Res. 2010 Jan;24(1):1-8. Review.

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