“We’ll need paper bags and vodka.”
A lot could be guessed from that statement but probably not the reality: a friend and I were going foraging for elderflowers.
Though I missed dandelion season this year, I did finally got around to making nettle beer for the first time and, well, if you’re into seasonality your heart likely leapt more than a bit when you read that. It’s hard to explain to those who aren’t.
In the Midwest, elderflowers follow nettles. They’ll go into cordial and wine and syrup, rather than beer. And elderflower foraging, to make said cordials, wine and syrup, it seemed needed paper bags and vodka, to be transported home from Michigan.
The paper bags is for toting them in a dry, airy environment so they don’t glob up from moisture. The vodka is for stuffing a canning jar full of flowers and vodka so the steeping can begin post haste after the flower picking.
My friend and I set off from Chicago at 7:30 a.m. on a beautiful late June day to drive to my friend Seedling Pete’s farm. Pete, it seems, has planted elderflowers on his farm but more importantly, knows an old-timer named Fritz who could show us where to forage elderflowers from the side of county roads.
Elderflowers and their resulting berries, are fascinating and, seemingly, ubiquitous, once you get to know them. We foraged around the remote farmy areas of southern Michigan before driving home, and noticing pockets of elderflowers growing all along the expressway to Chicago — and even in Chicago proper, here and there.
Called “nature’s pharmacy,” it is amazing to learn what they can cure. And even more amazing to realize that they aren’t planted, as a home pharmacy, in every yard in America. In fact, in America at least, they are considered a weed to be eradicated, despite their knee-bucklingly awesome curative powers, reported best by Wikipedia:
Black elderberry has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Sambucus nigra L. may be an effective treatment for H1N1 flu. A 1995 study found: “A complete cure was achieved within 2 to 3 days in nearly 90% of the SAM-treated group and within at least 6 days in the placebo group (p < 0.001). No satisfactory medication to cure influenza type A and B is available. Considering the efficacy of the extract in vitro on all strains of influenza virus tested, the clinical results, its low cost, and absence of side-effects, this preparation could offer a possibility for safe treatment for influenza A and B.” A small study published in 2004 showed that 93% of flu patients given elderberry extract were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. A 2009 study found that the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Amantadine. A 2004 study found that symptoms of influenza A and B virus infections were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. The study stated, “Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza. These findings need to be confirmed in a larger study”.
A 2001 study entitled “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines” concluded: “We conclude from this study that, in addition to its antiviral properties, Sambucol Elderberry Extract and its formulations activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. Sambucol might therefore be beneficial to the immune system activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases. Sambucol could also have an immunoprotective or immunostimulatory effect when administered to cancer or AIDS patients, in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments. In view of the increasing popularity of botanical supplements, such studies and investigations in vitro, in vivo and in clinical trials need to be developed.”
They can cure H1N1! for the love of all things holy! And can help cancer patients and AIDS patients! Why in God’s name are we all rushing around trying to eat the exotic goji berry, drink Kumbucha and shoving all manner of drugs down our gullets when we can cultivate the mother of all curative plants in our own yards?
Yes, in case you were wondering, I am making room for a few plants in my front yard. I’m getting them from Hartmann Plant Company, where Seedling Pete got his plants.
And with the fragrant foraging haul, I made some luscious bevvies:
Elderflower wine, made by soaking a handful of flowers in Target box ‘o wine for two weeks. Make sure if you make it, you strip off every bit of green from the flowers as they make the resulting wine a bit stemmy tasting.
Elderflower liquor, which I am attempting to turn into St. Germain liquor.
Elderflower syrup, which I made by making a standard sugar syrup, adding sliced lemon and letting it stand for a few days on the counter before straining and bottling for homemade soda.
I plan on returning to the foraging ground in the fall, when Pete tells me the berries are ripe on the trees, and making some of the magical black berry elixir. If you get sick next winter, I’ll bring you some.