Elderberry Herbal Remedies
Contributing Writer | Kyle Kirby
Sambucus canadensis, or the American elderberry, is in prime blooming season at the moment. The creamy white flower clusters give off a faintly sweet aroma, before dropping off and becoming deeply violet-indigo hued berries later in August and September. Though slightly toxic when eaten raw, the berries can be processed into a variety of drinks, jams, and herbal medicines.
The elderberry’s history with mankind dates far back with texts from the ancient Greeks, as well as the discovery of elderberry stores in prehistoric North American human sites. Though there are many species of elderberry, Sambucus canadensis is the main variety used in and native to North America. The Native Americans used the plant to make flutes, dyes, meals, medicines and more. In folk medicine they are most often used to treat common ailments like stomach ache, congestion, constipation, cough, and sore throat. As with most herbal remedies, more research is needed. However, according to a division of Purdue University, “Some of these properties seem justified since elderberry fruits contain tannins and viburnic acid, both known to have a positive effect on diarrhea, nasal congestion, and to improve respiration.”
Elderberries are high in vitamin C and fiber, and also contain several antioxidants: phenolic acids, flavonols, and anthocyanins. Each compound has unique benefits, but all of them are said to have anti-inflammatory properties. The elderflowers are especially rich in flavonols, and can be eaten raw, fried, or cooked into pancakes or teas.
Both elderflowers and elderberries can be made into liqueurs. They are simple enough to make at home, or one can find the French company St. Germain’s version in most liquor stores. It has a light, sweet flavor that is perfect for summer afternoons.
The berries are especially popular as a syrup; it can be used as an immune booster for cold and flu symptoms, as an addition to drinks, or as a decadent dressing for breakfast foods and desserts. Look for the easy recipe below and try making your own immune boosting syrup, and/or healthful cocktail mixer from, Loving the Home Life.
With so many culinary uses and potential health benefits, the elderberry is an asset to any garden, and a friendly plant to keep an eye out for when enjoying nature.
The Arboretum will be selling locally grown Sambucus canadensis elderberry plants in various sizes come fall if you'd like to try and grow these wonderful native shrubs. If you can't wait until then and would like to try a landscape cultivar known for their wonderful foliage and flowers go to our website for our online Grab n' Go plant sale to place an order.
Summer Plant Sale
We are thrilled to open the Frances Plecker Education Center back up to the public and our JMU community as of last week! And along with that - we're able to bring back our summer plant stand filled with perennials, shrubs, and trees! The next time you make a visit to the Arboretum, take a look at the rotating plants we have to offer!
Monday - Thursday | 9 AM - 3 PM
Fridays | 9 AM - 12 PM
Want to make an online order instead? We're continuing to offer this popular service throughout the summer!
Make a Twig Boat!
Let your kiddo be a little engineer and encourage them to design and make their own stick boat! Twig rafts, boats, and floats are simple to make and so much fun! You can float them in a puddle, stream, pond, or even a bucket of water. Encourage your little one to try to make a twig boat using only materials found in nature!
For a simple twig boat, collect a bundle of twigs roughly the same size and several long pieces of sturdy grass. Lay out the grass vertically underneath your twigs (6-8) which are laid together on top of the grass. Tightly wrap the grass around the twigs to bring them together – this may take a few attempts. Try to keep your twigs flat and tight together. Take one extra twig and slot it into the bottom of your boat to become your mast. Gently thread a leaf by poking the mast through it in two places – this will make the sail. Add a few fallen tiny flowers for decoration and start testing to see if your twig boat floats. Once you perfect your design, get with a sibling, parent, or friend and have a twig boat race!
Activity adapted from family-budgeting.co.uk/