One of the less common fruits today is the elderberry - good to eat and beneficial for birds and humans alike. But the elderberry has been used historically for centuries and in 400 BC, Hippocrates referred to the elder tree as his “medicine chest.”
More about the Elderberry
Elderberries are small, dark berries that grow in clusters on elder trees or elderberry bushes. These elderberry bushes are hardy plants that grow native in many countries and climates, particularly in damper areas. They are fast growing to a good size and width with compound leaves and tightly clustered bunches of tiny white flowers in late spring, followed by clusters of berries in late summer. You can only eat the berries and the flowers. The rest of the bushes can be toxic.
Elderberries have been a folk remedy for so long in North America, Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, and now the medicinal benefits of elderberries are being investigated and rediscovered.
There is a long list of heath benefits:
- Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity
- To lower cholesterol
- To improve vision
- To boost the immune system
- To improve heart health
- For coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis. Bioflavonoids and other proteins as well as large amounts of vitamin C and potassium in the elderberry juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell while strengthening the immune system. In research studies, those with flu symptoms who took elderberry juice reported less severe symptoms and felt better much faster than those who did not. Interestingly, elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995.
- Elderberries are also a good source of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants which are responsible for giving many red and purple fruits their color.
The most common varieties of the elderberry
- The European Elder is found throughout warmer parts of Europe and North America. The berries are black to dark blue, and it is the type of elderberry most frequently used in recipes and retail extracts and syrups.
- The American Elder is also used in recipes and said to be slightly sweeter than the European Elder. It is found in many climates, including most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains.
- The red-berried elder grows throughout the cooler parts of North America, but the berries, when ripe, are a bright red color. This is the elderberry to avoid because it is toxic.
How to use the different parts of the elderberry
The white flowers of the elderberry bush have many uses such as being pressed into tonics, brewed into wines and champagne, lightly battered and fried into fritters, or stirred into muffin or sponge cake mix for a light, sweet flavor. On the other hand, the berries when cleaned and cooked, can be made into extracts, syrups, pies, jams, or used as garnish, dye or flavoring. Elderberries are not suitable to eat raw.
Elderberries have tiny seeds that tend to stay crunchy even after cooking. These seeds can result in a slightly gritty taste when whole berries are used in recipes, but they are edible and don’t need to be removed before cooking or eating and it is for this reason, that many people choose to cook elderberries in conjunction with other fruits such as apples or pears. This will give a milder flavor and smoother texture.
But you don't have to gather and process elderberry flowers and fruit to benefit. You can buy inexpensive supplements such as Elderberry Lozenges or Honey Elderberry; Elderberry or Black Elderberry Extract; and Nature's Herbs Elderberry Echinacea Goldenseal. It is easy to add one of these to your daily diet to help build your immune system and to prevent those colds and flu.
You will be benefiting your general health with the fruit's cholesterol lowering abilities and powerful antioxidants.