|Image from the Bulk Herb Store, where I buy my elderberries.|
As summer fades away thoughts turn toward the upcoming months of cooler weather, cozy mornings, rain, crackling fires... and colds and flu. We're thankful for the good health our family enjoys, and I believe a big part of this comes from eating plenty of nourishing, real food. One of my favorite foods to boost the immune system is the humble elderberry; simmered down into a simple syrup, it becomes a nourishing and delicious tonic. Instead of buying expensive bottles of it at the health food store, it's simple and frugal to make at home, and you can control what sweetener you use, as well as how much you put in.
Here's what the Bulk Herb Store, where I've bought dried elderberries, has to say about them: are tasty flu fighters. They contain compounds that inhibit the enzyme flu viruses from penetrating our cell membranes and also prevent the virus from invading respiratory tract cells. Taken early enough, as a tea or tincture, you may be able to head off an upcoming illness before it becomes a full-blown flu. They are especially good for bronchitis, colds, coughing, and influenza. Also contains substances that ease inflammation and pain and soothe the intestines, thus making them useful in all inflammatory bowel diseases.
If you'd like to make this wonderful food for your own family this cold and flu season, here's a simple recipe to get you started. I try to give my kids a spoon full every day through the cooler months; sometimes they take it straight and other times I mix it in with kefir, milk, or put it in a smoothie. If someone seems to be getting sick, they get some several times a day. You can read more about elderberry here. As with anything, please do your own research on any potential risks or benefits.
1/2 lb (approx. 2 C.) Dried Elderberries (Sources below)
16 C Pure Water
Spices (Optional - 2 cinnamon sticks, 8 cloves, a chunk of ginger, a few cardamom pods.)
8-12 C. Honey (preferably raw)
2-4 T Clear Alcohol (Everclear or Vodka) (Optional)
In a large stainless steel pot, pour water over dried elderberries. Soak for a couple of hours, until berries have softened. Add optional spices and bring to a boil. (I think the spices make it taste nicer, but don't always use them.) Lower heat and simmer for a couple of hours, until the water is noticeably reduced. It has a very pungent, bitter, almost burnt smell; this is normal! You will notice small "oil slicks" on the top of the water. Take off heat and strain the liquid into a large bowl. Add in an equal amount of honey' this will vary depending on how much you reduced the liquid. It will take a while for the honey to dissolve into the elderberry juice; you can use a stick blender to speed it up if you like.
Once it's well mixed it should be at room temperature and you can add the optional alcohol. This will act as a preservative and make your syrup last longer. In past years I've not used it, and have found my syrup lasts our family of 6 through the winter season, with enough to share. (Although it molded after that.) This year, I used some elderberry tincture as a preservative to increase the immune boosting properties of this syrup. Whether or not you choose to use alcohol, you'll need to refrigerate or freeze this; it can only be made shelf stable by adding a LOT more sugar or honey, which I prefer not to do.
This recipe makes 4-5 quarts of syrup, plenty for a large family plus some to share. To make a smaller batch, use the basic formula of 2 C Water for every 1/4 C dried berries, then add an equal amount of honey.
Dried Elderberries can be purchased from The Bulk Herb Store, Mountain Rose Herbs, or Wilderness Family Naturals.
This post is part of The Nourishing Gourmet's Pennywise Platter, Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday, and Real Food Forager's Fat Tuesday blog carnivals.