Archives for posts with tag: Sambucus

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


An olde fashioned favourite tea that is used for sudden chills, chills from a feverish state or fevers is equal amounts of mint, elder flower and yarrow. If you happen to have a copy of Matthew Wood’s Earthwise Herbal, you will read that “mint tea was used during the terrific grippe epidemics of 1838 and 1836.”*

I would really love to know when this combination was discovered.  I would like to give you some kind of a quaint story about a particular person who looked quite hobbity, lived in a hollowed out tree and happened to come up with this recipe. Alas, I don’t have such a story.  All I know is that it is an olde recipe traditionally used for colds, flus, the early stages of a cold, fevers and chills.

Let’s look at why each of these ingredients might be helpful.  Try to keep in mind that this is not the only way these plants are used, it is not even the most popular way they are used.  I am simply outlining why this formula might be of use.  If you prefer not to use herbs for healing or if you have trouble finding these herbs, you can always try food as your first medicine.  I made a list of common foods useful for colds and flus a couple weeks ago.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is considered to be at first warming, then cooling.  It is also stimulating and drying.

Mentha piperita 0.1 R


Try a cup for yourself and pay attention to how you feel. It has a long history of use.  Even Dioscorides** put a spray of mint in his cloak to raise his depressed spirits. Peppermint is useful as a diffusive circulatory stimulant, antispasmodic, carminative, nervine, anti-emetic (in normal doses) and a weak anodyne. It is antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial. Peppermint helps to relax peripheral blood vessels, calms muscle spasms and dries dampness.

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra, S. canadensis) According to the King’s Dispensary, elder flowers are diaphoretic and gently stimulating when used as a warm infusion.

Sambucus nigra - vlierbloesem

Elder flowers

In a cold infusion, elder flowers are diuretic, alterative, and cooling.  Both hot and cold infusions will help the body to release toxins.  In 1653, Culpeper claimed that elder flowers are beneficial for edema (the word he uses is dropsy) and will aid in cleansing the blood, clearing the skin and will aid the liver and spleen functions.***  Elder flowers are also antiviral, anticatarrhal and antispasmodic.

Common Yarrow, Milfoil


Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is in the Aster family.  And as such, it is considered to be chemically complex.  This chemical complexity makes yarrow a normalizer, particularly in the circulatory system or when dealing with blood.  In the context of colds and flus, fevers and chills, yarrow helps as a diuretic and a diaphoretic, encouraging the removal of waste from the body and movement of the blood to the surface of the body.  It will gently relax the body while aiding liver function.  When you drink yarrow tea hot, it will increase the body temperature and make you sweat, thus acting as a diaphoretic.  It is also anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, bitter digestive tonic, antiseptic, antifungal, hypotensive, carminative and peripheral vasodilator.

How to prepare this classic combination? Boil a cup or two of water.  Add 1 teaspoon of the combination of equal parts peppermint, elder flower and yarrow.  Let this steep for 15 minutes in a covered vessel, strain the tea and then drink. And, perhaps put on a sweater or cover up with a blanket, take a nap or read a book.  Relax!

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

*Wood, Matthew. (2008) Earthwise Herbal; A Complete Guide  to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 345.

**Bartram, Thomas. (1995) Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York: Marlowe and Company, 331.

*** Culpeper, Nicolas. (1995) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited.

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