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A Berry Good Guide: Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis and Nigra)

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Hello, fellow plant enthusiasts! I'm beginning our journey with an herbal ally that is a true powerhouse. Many of you have heard of elderberry, and I'm positive many of you have taken an over the counter gummy, pill, syrup, etc, claiming to be an elderberry something or other.

Let's delve into a brief history and the myriad of health benefits this beloved herbaceous gem holds. This small, tart berry is native to Europe and North America and has been used for centuries both as a food source and a medicinal herb. My hope is to inform you on its amazing benefits, and also inspire to you try a true herbal remedy vs an over the counter something or other.

**Brief History**

North American indigenous tribes respected the elderberry’s (sambucus canadensis) healing properties and incorporated it into their daily lives. They used every part of the plant: berries (cooked) for food, flowers and berries for medicine, leaves for poultices, and wood for creating tools.

Elderberry (sambucus nigra) had been used extensively in folk medicine by the Greeks, Romans, and other early European societies. Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine", referred to the elder tree as a "medicine chest" due to its wide array of health benefits. The parts of the elder plant, such as the bark, flowers, leaves, berries, and root had been used to treat myriad health conditions including the common cold, flu, sinus infections, inflammation, sciatica, and nerve pain.

In the pre-Christian era, the elder tree was considered sacred by the Celtic people. It was believed to host the Elder Mother, a spirit who could bring good fortune or inflict harm. Hence, the elder tree was both feared and revered. Harvesting from the tree required asking permission from the Elder Mother. The practice of asking permission before harvesting is a wonderful way to begin cultivating a deeper relationship with plants, and I highly recommend trying it even when picking veggies or flowers from your one garden.


**Key Ingredients in Elderberries**

Elderberries are packed with a cocktail of beneficial ingredients. These tiny berries are a powerhouse of key nutrients such as vitamins A, B, and especially C. They contain a high amount of dietary fiber that aids digestion. Elderberries also have a high flavonoid content — anthocyanins, which provide antioxidant properties and that delightful deep purple hue.

Elderberries host key minerals like iron, potassium, and calcium, which help various body functions. Though tiny in size, elderberries serve an essential role in providing the nutrients we need.

**Medicinal Benefits of Elderberries**

1. **Cold and Flu Relief:** Elderberries have been long hailed for their antiviral properties, with many often turning to elderberry syrup at the onset of a cold or the flu. Studies show elderberry extract has the potential to inhibit the virus's ability to infect cells.

2. **Immune booster:** Thanks to a high vitamin C content and other immunity-friendly compounds such as anthocyanins, elderberries can give your immune system a real boost, helping you keep those nasty bugs at bay.

3. **Digestive Health:** High in dietary fiber, elderberries can aid in digestion by reducing constipation and promoting overall gastrointestinal health.

4. **Heart Health:** The impressive fiber and antioxidant levels can help decrease inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Remember, as with any herbal supplement, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider. When it comes to elderberries, do not consume them raw — they contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside that cooking or processing can break down.

There are two ways I love work with elderberry- A strong tea infusion to use while combating a cold or flu (up to 3 cups per day), or the daily use of an oxymel (herbs infused in vinegar and honey) during cold and flu season (1 tbs a day). I'll have these available to purchase at the end of Sept, or you can find some inspiration below to create your own.

It's important to note that like your diets, you want vary the way you consume herbal medicine- work with them seasonally. Too much of anything can create imbalance. Work with elderberry during cold and flu season, switching to different allies in the next season.

Elderberry Immune Boost Tea Recipe

  • 1 Tablespoon dried organic elderberries

  • 1 teaspoon fresh organic ginger

  • 1/2 teaspoon organic whole cloves

  • 1 teaspoon organic dried echinacea roots (if needed)

  • 4 slices fresh lemon or orange w/peel

  • 1-2 organic cinnamon sticks

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan and add 1 quart water. Heat to boil and then turn down and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain berries and herbs, add honey or your favorite sweetener to taste, and enjoy!

Elderberry Fire Cider Oxymel Recipe

Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups vinegar.

Active Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 1/8 cups organic dried elderberries

  • 1/2 cup mixed to your taste fresh chopped ginger, cayenne pepper, and lemon

  • 1/4 cup raw, local honey (or more, for sipping and cocktail mixing)

  • 2 1/2 cups high quality organic vinegar of choice (white wine, champagne, red wine, etc.)


  1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot over low heat.

  2. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

  3. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent fruit from sticking and burning.

  4. Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, pour into a glass jar and screw on a lid (if using a metal lid, line with parchment or wax paper to prevent corrosion).

  5. Store in a cool, dark place for three weeks.

  6. Strain vinegar through a fine mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth.

  7. Using a wooden spoon, press on berries in strainer to extract as much juice as possible.

  8. Pour into bottles to store.

Pro Tips

  • This vinegar can be made with fresh elderberries instead of dried—just double the quantity of berries, and use a fork to lightly mash them before you put them in the pot to simmer with the other ingredients.

  • In perfectly cool, dark conditions, elderberry vinegar can keep several months and up to a year. You will want to check your vinegar often for any signs of spoilage. I keep homemade, well-labeled vinegars in my fridge to ensure they stay good until the last drop.

Have fun with this, and let me know how you decide to work with elderberry in the coming months!

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