Elderberries grow on tall, spindly bushes and the tiny dark blue-black berries develop in clusters after the feathery flower fade. Elderberry bushes are apparently quite easy to grow so I will be looking to add one to my garden soon as elderberries are extremely nutritious, rich in antioxidants, an known to stimulate the immune system in response to flu viruses. As the H1N1 hysteria grows (along with the pressure to subject our children to a virtually untested vaccine) you can bet I want something safe and free of side effects to give my family when we head into crowded synagogues and classrooms later this month.
Elderberry syrup, as it turns out, is super easy to make. The only hard part is finding your berries. Here in the Portland metro area Morning Shade Farm has a row of u-pick elderberry bushes. It took about 10 minutes to fill our buckets with snipped berry clusters. The only fiddly bit is coaxing the berries off the stems. After that, a quick rinse, a bit of a simer, some straining, adding honey, and bottling. That's it! Seriously. Instead of paying $9-12 for a 4 ounce bottle of Sambucol, I have nearly a quart of the stuff which cost about $2, plus another 4 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, our standard homemade cold remedy. I made a double batch of the elderberry syrup by gently simmering 2 cups of washed elderberries in 4 C water for 45 minutes. I let things cool a bit and then strained the juice through a fine mesh strainer, mashing all the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. I then mixed in about a cup and a half of honey and poured into a 1 liter ez cap bottle (I buy mine here). I will keep this refrigerated. The great part is that, unlike the tonic, this stuff is good. Really good. Like pour it on your pancakes or drink 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 2T/day for big kids and adults and 1 T/day for younger ones as a preventative measure and 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 your black elderberries raw--they can cause stomach upset.
I understand that the hard part here is finding the elderberries. But they are out there--ask around. And if you can't find fresh, you could make this with dried elderberries purchased online though I don't know how the cost would compare to commercially made. I figure that using my u-pick berries I can make close to 5 quarts of this stuff for under $10 which might be an incentive to plant a bush in your garden. I hope you are able to try this and that we all stay healthy this fall.
Edited 9/9/09: I just learned that you can buy dried elderberries from The Herbalist and it's still very cost effective at $2.33/ounce. You only need 1/2 cup of berries to make 4 C of syrup so making your own is still a huge savings.