Saturday, September 29, 2007
Elderberry Sambucus a local forgotten medicinal?
As I am on my way up the mountain to collect elderberry, I notice several trees loaded with berries bordering yards, on the roadway, and in even in a nursing home parking lot. Elderberry used to be called "the medicine chest of the country people" but from the looks of my country town here in Sandy, many have forgotten. I picked some Elderberries a few weeks back for my friend Kiva. When I went to the small deserted country post office to deliver them, the clerk was eager to make conversation. I explained to her that I was shipping my friend some elderberries. "ewwwww where did you get them, I loved those as a child, my thumbs would be blue and numb, my Dad would use them for wine, jelly, cough medicine- I wouldn't know where to find any now" When I explained that they are actually quite common, she was sure they must not be the same berry, and in fact that to be careful that they may be poisonous. Have people gotten away from collecting their own medicinals? If there is one "goal" I have with this blog it is to empower people to get back to the old ways- lost traditions. Of course, be sure of what you are collecting, jim has a great guide for gathering your own herbs.
To (hopefully) get you interested in this wonderful plant, I will attempt to dredge up some interesting facts and legends.
Around here in the Pacific Northwest we have both red and blue elderberry. Blue is the one you want for wine (Rebecca's recipe), jelly, syrup (jim discusses it here), elixir ( Darcy's recipe) and other medicinals (kiva's tea), much more medicinal info can also be found on Henriette's site. There are 3 types of blue species that inhabit the West all similar in appearance; sambucus cerulea, S. racemosa & S. mexicana and one red fruit species S callicarpa (pacific red elder) the red has red berries and pyramid shaped flower clusters, the blue has blue berries and flat top flower clusters. Depending on what source you hear it from, the red can be toxic so I would stick to the blue. You can find the berries around here in the Pacific Northwest at the end of summer into early autumn.
The name Elder comes from the anglo-saxon word "aeld" meaning fire, the association being made because of the hollow stems were used to blow on fire (to increase flame) The name "sambucus" is from the Greek word meaning wind instrument. Both Shepard's & Native Americans used to make flutes from the elder branch, the tree was sometimes called "the tree of music". The hollow reads were also used to make smoke pipes, elk whistles, pop guns, and sprouts on maple syrup trees. Some Native American tribes used the sticks of elder for twirling sticks (the sticks used to start a fire by friction), the straight branches were also used for arrows. It should be noted that the leaves, bark, shoots, twigs, and roots of the fresh plant (of either color) are toxic, and children have been poisoned by chewing or sucking on the bark.
The Elderberry plant has held an important place in European myth. There have been opposite stories relating to it magical & supernatural qualities. There has been an association with both the devil and witches (the bad ugly ones lol) The wicked witches were believed to live in elder trees, so people were afraid to cut them down. It was considered dangerous to sleep in the shade of an elder or to plant one near a house. It was also believed if you fell asleep for too long under an elder that you would become intoxicated. Six knots of elder wood were used in a Yorkshire incantation to ascertain if the cattle were dying from witchcraft.
In contrast, the elder was believed to be a tree of protection against evil spirits and for this reason people would plant them near their homes. The leaves are an insect repellent and people used to hang the branches from doors & horses bridals to keep the bugs away. Elder was also planted near dairies to keep the milk from turning.
The fairy Folk love music and they used the wood of the elder to make all of their musical instruments. Hilda the mother of the elves is said to live in the root of the elder, and anyone under the elder tree at midnight on Midsummers day would see the king of the fairies and all his retinue pass by.
In England the dwarf elder was said to spring up whenever Danish blood was shed in battle, for this reason it was called "Dane's blood"
In Tyrol elder was planted on graves, if the plant flourished with berries it is believed that the dead person is happy in the other world after passing.
The appearance of berries on the elder would indicate it was the right time to sew the wheat in the field.
As described above in some of the links I provided, elderberry is both delicious and medicinal. In small quantities you can add it to food ( Elderberries do have hydrocyanic acid , in large quantities it can lead to stomach upset and diarrhea, how much I guess would depend on the person, this can be avoided by straining out the seeds or thoroughly cooking the berries, red elder berries have larger amounts of these compounds, which is why they are considered "toxic" Henriette has a nice write up here). Elderberries are good with other berries such as blueberry or raspberry, and a little honey can be added for sweetness.
Add equal parts of mashed fresh elderberries and blueberries to your favorite balsamic vinegar, shake well.
Elderberry Iced Tea
Equal parts frozen Blueberry and Elderberry (seeds strained)
Juice of 1/2 fresh Lemon
Approx 6 heaping tablespoons Green Tea (or other favorite tea)
Boil 3 cups water in a small pan. When it reaches boil, turn off the heat and add green tea. let steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and add to pitcher. Puree frozen berries in lemon juice, add to pitcher. Fill with water and ice, chill. Add honey or stevia to taste. (you can also used the dried berries and steep them like a tea, use the fresh blueberries for the puree)
Cream Cheese puree
Add elderberries ( seeds strained,to taste) to cream cheese and puree for quick sandwich spread, to put on fruit, add nuts, other berries, the possibilities are endless! To make it creamer add a dash of olive or flax oil, yum! You can also add
Add Elderberries to..
apple & rhubarb pies
More Delicious recipes
Use your imagination!
Elderberries are really fun to experiment with in different teas
Dried elderberries, & blueberries equal parts, with a little feverfew & rose hips, honey and a squeeze of lemon for a great winter tea if you feel a cold coming on.
Also try variations with (not all actions are listed) Astragalus (adaptogen, healthy immune function), peppermint and spearmint(digestive aid, antiseptic,analgesic, astringent, calming) , chamomile (anti-inflammatory, digestive aid, relaxing) , licorice (sweet, antiviral), cinnamon (carminative, anticeptic), ginger (carminative, expectorant, antimicrobial -to name a few but can be drying), echinacea (antiviral, antibacterial) and other dried berries such as raspberry.
Resource:Profiles of Pacific Northwest Plants by Peggy Robinson 1977
Edible and medicinal plants of the west Tilford 1997