Herb Network: HeN

The Mighty Elder

HeN: Local herb networks for growing, learning, sharing the gifts of the Plant realm for health support and remedy, caring for ourselves and Earth. THIS IS A CALL FOR GUARDIANS OF ELDER TREES FOR COMMUNITY HEALTH

It is time that we renew our esteem and care for the Elder trees, Sambucus nigra.  Until just a few generations ago, the wealth of benefits it offers to us was commonly known and used.  The rise of our ignorance, so that now we generally hack them down rather than welcome them into our gardens, has the same root as all the other forms of havoc and destruction humanity is causing to Earth.  We have been living fundamental misperceptions about life.  In HeN References is a short-list of enlightening writings for those interested in such understanding, as well as the sources for the following information. This article focuses on why and how we are renewing our guardianship and acceptance of the gifts of the Elders, especially for shared use via Our local Herb Network (HeN).

Through the 1918 international influenza epidemic hundreds of thousands of people died.  For those who survived, the usual recovery time was six days, plus many months convalescing.  Yet among those who were given Elderberry as a remedy, not one person died, and the usual recovery time was two days.  It is as effective today, no matter what strain of flu virus.

The Elder tree has been known and used for thousands of years as a nearly complete pharmacy in itself.  Even if it provided only a cure for influenza, it would be worth cultivating many in every community.  Yet it also gives us much more.

I'll begin with why Elder is so highly valuable.  Further information, including about the 1918 flu and how Elder disables the flu virus is readily available from books and online.  The medicinal list is to impress its versatile importance, NOT to suggest untutored home use.  I do recommend that many in the community take part in growing and harvesting Elder flowers and berries, especially as flu vaccines are proving ineffectual and sometimes dangerous, and likely to be discontinued in the near future.  Elderberry can also be safely used as a preventative and Adaptogen, which is a class of herbs that build health, and is OK to use over long periods, for children too.  If we can also supply our local Medical Herbalists with high quality harvests to help us benefit from its wider applications, all the better, as locally grown herbs are known to be the most efficient.

CAUTION (Ody:) "Do not take any parts of Elder if the condition would be worsened by further drying or fluid depletion."  From Penelope Ody, a highly experienced herbalist doctor who works according to the five Chinese elements, that is the only caution I have found for uses as below.  In other words, other than promoting sweating inappropriately, we would have to try very hard to harm ourselves with Elder.

LEAVES: Externally for minor burns and chilblains, antiseptic, insecticidal, wound healers and skin soothers.

FLOWERS: Internally: Expectorant, anti-catarrhal, circulatory stimulant, promotes sweating.  For influenza, colds, sinusitis, and feverish illnesses; cold infusion: diuretic, alterative, cooling; warm infusion: sweat inducing.  Externally: sore eyes, irritated or inflamed skin, mouth ulcers and minor injuries.  Flowers and berries are bitter, drying, cool, slightly sweet.

FRUITS: (eat cooked not raw) Rich in vitamins A and C.  Anti-viral including for flu, herpes, shingles (ref RG); rheumatic complaints (with Willow), sweat inducing, diuretic, relieves constipation.  Immune-enhancing, often combined with Echinacea.

For colds (upper respiratory), flu, skin eruptions, sprains, bruises, wounds, hay fever, sinusitis, tension, constipation, rheumatic discomfort, and so on... "no single herbal tells Elder's complete story" (Green).

BARK:  Even this part of Elder is a gift, though used under Medical Herbalist supervision.

And of course we make a wonderful wine of the berries, plus cordials of the flowers are becoming increasingly popular.  It is worthwhile knowing Elder's fruit and flower effects, even though they are usually mild in small drink amounts.  Flower cordial is not helpful at bedtime for those with night sweats.  For medicinal effects we need more than the odd little glass of.

HARVESTING + drying flowers Be sure to harvest from plants that are growing away from road traffic and chemically sprayed fields.  Cut flower heads or berry bunches with secateurs (don't tear or pull off).  At home, gentle handling - keep the pollen and avoid bruising flowers, cut florets from stems, and lay them out thinly on a clean towel on a drying rack  Dry in an airy place away from sunlight and strong heat (and curious cats).  If well done, the dried flowers will smell as sweetly strong as when picked and still be creamy white (not brown as too often sold).  Store when dry in the dark in a large glass jar or paper bag (not plastic).
            WHEN TO HARVEST I have repeatedly and consistently found that flowers and berries (and ALL crops!) are best quality - flavour, fragrance, colour, best preservation i.e. the force is strong when picked at the times set out in the Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar - and always morning before noon.  It also has info re baking bread, tending bees, forestry...  You don't have to be growing Biodynamically, just be aware of when are the most beneficial times to do what.

And this is what you do... I recommend a copy of Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide for every household.  Among my stacks of herbals, hers gives the most clear and specific ' how to use' information, rather than just, e.g. 'use as tea'.  I have been using both the following for years, thanks to word-of-mouth tuition; hers are the first printed recipes I've come across.  There are loads of yummy recipes for flower and berry in Roger Phillips'  Wild Food.

FLOWER TEA MIX  Some of this mix was found in an Egyptian tomb.  Its fair to assume it works as well in life as for afterlife.  I keep a large jar of the mix handy and enjoy it anytime.  As a remedy we take more. Gladstar page 137:
This combination of herbs will help the body perspire, which will help lower a fever (so do not use in early stage of flu when heat is body's important first response; Flu virus is destroyed by heat)... also used to treat allergies, hay fever, and sinus congestion.
1 part elder flower
1 part peppermint leaf
1 part yarrow flower and leaf
To make strong tea / infusion:  Use large china or glass teapot or container.  Per litre / 2 pints water use 4 to 6 tablespoons of herb mix.  Pour over boiling water, cover with cosy, let steep for 30 to 45 minutes.  The more herbs and longer infusion make stronger tea suitable as remedy.  Sip throughout the day. (I suggest when poorly take 4-5 cups, not mugs, daily, OK with a bit of honey but please not sugar.)

ELDERBERRY SYRUP  This is best made on a Aga a) efficient energy use; b) easier to maintain low simmer and so preserve the vitamin C. Gladstar page 138:
Delicious enough to use just for the sheer flavor alone (it) is also helpful for warding off or speeding recovery from colds and flu.
4 pints / 2 litres fresh (fully ripe) elderberries (no stems)
1/4 ounce freshly grated ginger root (I use more: 2 'thumbs' of)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
            (I like more of that too, and also add a tablespoon of cinnamon powder or a stick or two)
Honey (can be done with sugar; see below re Grieves recipe using no sweetener)
Combine berries with 1/4 cup water in a large soup pot (never aluminium), simmer until soft.
Strain out the pulp - a gift to the compost heap.  Return the liquid to the pot and add ginger and cloves.  Simmer uncovered until the liquid reduces to about half original volume.  (A quick oil at some point ensures sterilisation). Pour the juice into a measuring cup, note its volume, then return to the pot.  Add the same amount of honey (that's VERY sweet - jam amount, USA sweet-tooth, and expensive - I suggest half maximum)  and stir until thoroughly combined.  Pour into warm, sterilised bottles.  Store in fridge (I find it keeps well in cool dark place), use within 12 weeks*.  To Treat or prevent a cold or flu, take 1 to tablespoons throughout the day.
GRIEVES: among 11 pages of small print information about Elder, we find that her syrup recipe adds no sugar.  *Important to remember that both cloves and ginger are good preservatives.  A remedy she takes by wine glassful with added hot water, a bit of sweet if you like.
* If you missed harvesting fresh berries, are prone to winter colds, dried can be found from wine-making suppliers, though quality is unknown and likely not local, and dried never holds the full life force.

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