As the seasons start to shift, the Earth element in the body is entering an adjustment phase, opening fertile ground for fall flus and colds. (Actually, we are going into Earth season literally as we enter Virgo, which is a place where Chinese Medicine and Western Medical Astrology intersect.) Building the strength of the immune system, along with otherattention to the health of the body can help traverse the season without too much discomfort.
One of the tools you can put in your belt is Elderberry syrup; in this case an oxymel, which means that it's made using honey and vinegar. Making it with honey and brandy would be called an elixir. Both are shelf stable for about a year. Today I'm giving you a recipe method for the oxymel version, but you could just substitute brandy for the vinegar for the elixir version. The rest is the same.
I also like to add warming and carminative (help with digestion) spices, both because they make it tasty and because healthy digestion also supports the immune system.
Elderberry will grow across pretty much the whole of the United States as well as northern Europe; and you can find both native and European varieties around. Here in the Pacific NW there are two types of native Elders, Sambucus racemosa var. racemosa or Red Elder; and Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea, or blue elder. For cultivation tips if you'd like to grow Elder, I have a video on my Instagram .
Typically, people will use the flowers of both plants interchangeably, but only the fruits of the blue or black elders. The problem with the Red Elders' fruits lies in the seeds, which could be strained but they are really tiny.
If you come across some in the wild where you can forage the berries, you can do the whole process locally. I've posted a photo below of the leaves, which are pinnate; meaning that there are leaflets opposite each other on a common stem, typically with one leaf at the terminus end of the stem. Elderberry usually has 5-7 leaflets to a stem. Red Elder smells like bitter peanut butter when crushed. The berries are in clusters branching out from a single stem in an umbrella type shape; the Red Elder berries have an upward sweep to them. I strongly suggest learning plant ID from a knowledgeable herbalist in your area when starting out to forage.
*Notes on sustainable and responsible foraging: Elderberry is quite prolific and many berries are too high to reach, so most likely you won't over harvest and there will be lots left for the birds, but it's always a good practice to take a moment to ask the plant if it's ok to harvest....feel what answer comes to mind and respect that if it's a no. ( Don't anger the Old Lady in the tree!) Also, Elder branches are somewhat brittle, so pulling on large branches tends to lead to breaking them. Please go gently on the trees.
If you don't know where to find Elderberry or don't know how to ID them, however, the berries are usually found for sale anywhere where herbs are sold.
In European lore, the Elder tree was the home of the Old Lady who was the wife of Pan, and over time the name simply transitioned to the name "Elder". The tree was considered sacred and protective, and people considered it bad luck to chop them down. As Christianity spread, like many other "old ways", the meaning become more complicated, with the Elder becoming a witch tree. Elderberry has anti-viral properties(1)(2) and undoubtedly continued to be used in the countryside as it worked and it was the medicine people had access to.
On to the recipe to make the syrup/oxymel; I wanted to make this printable, but unfortunately my website host doesn't have a good plug in for that:
2 oz. Elderberries (dried) or about 5 oz. fresh
1 stick cinnamon or about 1 tsp. ground
1 tsp. Orange peel
1/2 tsp. Turmeric
1/2 tsp. dried Ginger
2-3 Star Anise
2 whole black Peppercorns or 1/8 tsp. ground
1 tsp. Coriander
1 tsp. Fennel Seed
optional: 2 Bay Leaves
About half a pint of honey and half a pint of Apple Cider Vinegar or more of one or the other depending on personal taste
Put Elderberries into clean pint jar. Add Spices. Put in ACV first as it as more fluid and will settle to level quicker than the honey, saving a lot of time. Add the honey next. If using a jar with a metal lid place some sort of barrier under the lid, such as waxed paper or the lid with rust due to the acidity of the vinegar. I don't find that plastic wrap well, the vinegar works through it. Plus there's too much single use plastic in the world. Label the jar with the ingredients and the date. Place jar in a cool dark spot, but somewhere that you will remember to shake it for the first several days to a week and then leave for another 5 weeks before straining.
*hack~ The strained material can be simmered for a second batch that will be less strong than the first, but still tasty and useful!