Elderberry has become a very important aspect of keeping healthy during cold and flu season. There are several medicinal benefits that have been studied and elderberry is now commonly seen in places as common as your local grocery store. If you live in the United States, you might even be able to forage for it.
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What is elderberry?
They are a flowering tall shrub of the genus Sambucus that can be found throughout temperate and subtropical regions, including much of the United States. There are several different species, one of which, the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa L.) is poisonous, including the berries and flowers. The rest of the elderberries are edible but only after processing. The flowers are also edible and used for many different recipes as well.
How to identify elderberry
It took me several years to be confident in my identification. I was really surprised that it would grow wild near me. In fact, now that I can identify it easily, I find it everywhere. Particularly in the wild edges near forest or out a little ways from the city. They’re distinct in that the trunk of the plant can get very tall, very quickly.
There are several defining characteristics but be sure to check with your local extension office or a trained botanical specialist in foraging for correct identification. NEVER consume a plant that you have not confidently identified. Especially these types of berries as there are a few lookalikes.
Elderberry Edge Farm has an excellent and thorough post on how to identify elderberry. There are a few main components: smooth bark, shark tooth leaves that are opposite each other, clusters of tiny white flowers, green berries then turn deep purple or a blueish color with a whitish outside.
The USDA has a good article on elderberry that covers the edibleness, including why you need to process (cook) the berries before consuming and never consume the stems, leaves or roots.
What are the benefits of elderberries?
There have actually been a few scientific studies conducted to determine the health benefit. Since elderberry has become more popular recently, institutions have done much more research. This study out of Australia asserts that it is possible that it may reduce the duration of colds and reduce cold symptoms. Another study from Norway provides some evidence that elderberry helps with influenza A and B.
As evidence grows, more people are searching a way to use elderberry for their own health benefits. However, it is not without risk. WebMD suggests that it is not for everyone. It is not for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with certain autoimmune diseases and should be used with caution with children.
If you do get your hands on some elderberries or elderflowers, you can definitely make a whole host of different recipes for food or medicine. Below are some great recipes to try out:
How do you use elderberry? LEAVE a comment!
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