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I have the flu. I’m pretty sure you can’t catch it from me by reading this, so don’t be afraid. Because I have the flu, I am researching a bit more about healthy eating and smart practices.

Yes, it has been an overtly festive end to 2010, and now it is time to get 2011 off to a good start. The flu serves as a reminder… reminder to Take It Simple. I came across this article in the New York Times today, It is a great little uncomplicated bit that even someone delirious with flu can read and take to heart.

This flu on the new year reminds me of the excellent article that Tammy wrote several weeks ago. I would emphasise to use her list and get your pantry ready before the flu strikes you down…

Natasha Henderson in Montreal

elderberries, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves & elderflowers, yarrow, peppermint

Elderberry syrups are everywhere these days.

I love the fact that these products are available but I often wince at the price tag.  It is like anything though, you are paying for the convenience and the availability… and maybe a touch of hype?  I know how to make elderberry syrup, and I can tell you that it is not very expensive to make.   It’s no wonder that this syrup is in demand: elderberries are anti-inflammatory, relaxingly diaphoretic, antiviral against many viruses and a wee bit laxative in regular doses.  These little berries are helpful in cases of colds, sore throats and flus.

I like to keep elderberries on-hand. One of the advantages in doing so is that I do not have always make a syrup.  I can make a decoction of the berries, and then add little honey. Sometimes I forego the honey, since  it’s important to avoid sugar; too much sugar gives my immune system a lot to deal with. This will ultimately set me back.  On the other hand, there is a disadvantage to avoiding sugars in herbal preparations. In this case, an elderberry decoction has a much shorter shelf life – like between 24 and 72 hours – if kept in the fridge.  I add honey and make an elder berry syrup in cases where I want a longer shelf life, if I am dealing with people who are new to herbal remedies, or who have sensitive palates.

Elderberry Syrup

The most basic syrup is elderberries simmered for a long while in water, then squished, strained and composted. Add honey to the final decoction.  As always, I can add all sorts of tasty and useful ingredients to make it my own lil’ creation.

First Step

1/2 cup dried elderberries (50 grams)

3 cups of water

In a sauce pan, bring cold water and berries to a boil, then slowly simmer until it is reduced to 1/2 the amount, between one cup and one and a half cups.

Second Step: Squish the berries to release the juice, Strain with a strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Compost the berries.

Third Step: Mix 1 cup of raw honey into the hot decoction.  Sometimes I add tinctures, like 50 ml of echinacea.

Fourth Step: Put the syrup into a suitable container with a tight fitting lid, making sure that there is not a lot of head space.  Label clearly, note ingredients, suggested uses and the date it was made. Use within 2-3 months (before the end of the winter).

How I use the syrup: I take a teaspoon of the syrup several times a day if I am fighting a cold or flu because it will generally decrease the severity and duration of the illness.  It is nice to stir it into a tea… perhaps the elderflower, mint and yarrow tea?

The decoction: Take 1 tablespoon of the berries and put in a sauce pan with 2 cups of cold water.  Add fresh ginger or cinnamon if you would like.  Slowly simmer this until it is reduced by half or for a half an hour.  Remove from the heat.  If you want, add a teaspoon or two of dried leaves and flowers to this (yarrow, mint, elderflower) and steep for 10 minutes before straining everything.  This might seem like a strong brew, so I take a 1/4 cup every couple hours.  I drink other tea and water in addition to this because I know that I want to get a lot of fluids into my system when I am fighting something.

THE DIY elderberry syrup kit!

Take the ingredients of your choosing and put them in a little muslin bag.  Or put them in a cute jar that could hold the syrup after it is ready made.  Attach clear instructions on how to make, use and store this syrup.  Add a little container of ye olde traditional blend of peppermint, elderflower and yarrow. Decorate as desired.  The ready made syrup is a nice gift too.  I like the dried berries and such because it is easier to transport and people have the choice of making a decoction without sweetener or a syrup.

optional additions:

1 stick of cinnamon , 5 cloves, 3 crushed cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon echinacea root, 1/4 tsp ginger powder, a few slices of raw ginger

*glycerites of elderberry are also wonderful.

** the elderberries I am referring to are Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis.  Be sure to know what berries you are working with.  The red berry elders are toxic.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

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