It’s the last hurrah for the Cherry Blossoms. It is also the last hurrah for April. Why not capture them both?
I found one Cherry still in bloom on Ankeny St., but by the time I brought the bunch of blossoms home they had fallen to pieces. I just had to share these, so lovely!
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Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) was one of the reasons I discovered herbalism. As a 19 year old pre-med student, I searched the universities Pub Med database in search for the best proven medication for the awful cold I was having. The doctors were sure it was either strep throat and mono, but both tests came back negative. So I searched for some magic cough syrup, or antibiotic from heaven, but every study that came up said that over-the-counter cough syrups were actually ineffective. I noticed page after page of studies in German that had Holunderbeere (German for elderberry) in the title. I refined my search and found out that Elderberry was an effective treatment for the flu and other winter ailments. I was still skeptical, but the seeds had been planted.
As if we needed any more reasons to drink our elderberry syrup, Matthew Wood adds that “[the berries] have a property not found in the other parts of the plant; they are used as a tonic to the build up the blood and combat anemia. For this purpose they may be combined with blackberries” (434). Dark berries = yum. Cancer-fighting anthocyanins, anybody?
I first saw elder’s creamy white flowers on the slopes of the Blue Mountains in North Carolina, and didn’t see it again until I was at Sage Mountain in Vermont. The last time I saw it was last June in southern Minnesota, on the sides of bluffs and hills outside Winona. Is that just a coincidence that all the places I have seen the black elder growing were either mountains or hillsides? Although I have seen elder growing in Northern Minnesota, it is not the right kind to harvest (it may be red elder). Typical of the elder of fairy tales and folk lore, whenever I find an elder tree in the woods up here, I can never find it again! For you Duluthians, there are a few in Hartley park, in the deer-proofed area.
I have come across many elderberry syrup recipes over the years. This recipe from Rosemary Gladstar is the one I like the most because 1) it is alcohol free, 2) it can be made with fresh or dried berries, and 3) storing it in the refrigerator reminds me to use it was a food and medicine. It is seriously delicious with baked garnet yams, waffles, or mixed with mineral water.
- 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup honey
1. Heat the berries and water to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 30-45 minuets.
2. Mash the berries, strain, and add 1 cup of honey. I add a half cup of the purple liquid to a measuring cup, then pour in honey until the total volume is 1 1/2 cups. Then stir to mix well, and add to the rest of the reserved liquid.
3. Bottle and store, refrigerated. for 2-3 months.
4. Enjoy a tablespoon daily to keep the immune system strong, use more often when afflicted with the flu.
Refereance: Gladstar, Rosemary. The Family Herbal.
Thyme’s (Thymus vulgaris) anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic, expectorant and astringent actions and it’s volatile oil content make it very useful for respiratory infections, sore throat, coughs including chronic bronchitis and whooping cough. Here’s a bit about thyme from “My Favorite Mints” post.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup is a well-known, time-tested, effective and utterly delicious respiratory tract tonic. David Hoffmann summarizes the research of this small tree; “The extract was effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. It also reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3 to 4 days in a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study”(580). The flowers are handy to have around as well, as they are part of the old gypsy cold remedy of equal parts of yarrow, peppermint, and elderflower drunk as a tea, steeped strong and served hot. I like to add a bit of boneset in the formula to address the chills and body aches that often come with a bad cold or the flu. The flowers are a wonderful diaphoretic to open the pores, and they relieve chest congestion through their anticatarrhal action. Elderflowers is called by Matthew Wood “the great infant remedy”, especially in babies and children with red, dry skin on the cheeks and blue coloring around the eyes (457).
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is a classic New World (American) herb, used by Native Americans and quickly adopted by Eurpeans. It was and still is “…one of the best remedies for the relief of symptoms that accompany influenza” (Hoffmann, 549). Hoffmann also writes:
“High dilutions of various sequiterpene lactones isolated from E. perfoliatum demonstrated immunostimulant activity. In addition, polysaccharide fractions from E. perfoliatum showed immunostimulant actions in granulocyte, macrophage, and carbon clearance tests.”
Have you ever had aches that felt like your bones were being crushed or that they just simply hurt no matter what position you take? Pain like that calls for boneset. It is the first herb that I reach for aches and pains. After having tried it for the flu with great success at relieving aches, I decided to try it for aching bones at times other than the when one has the flu. I found it successful for deep thigh and pelvis aches accompanying menstrual cramps, but unsuccessful for aches after strenuous activity. It doesn’t surprise me that boneset did not relive the latter aches; they were more from a muscular origin than from “the bones”. King’s American Dispensatory recommends it for the “‘bone pains’ of syphilis” (549). I use a tincture, and take it every hour as needed. Boneset is also a well-known diaphoretic, another reason why it is useful for the flu. Like elecampane, it contains bitter properties and is slightly stimulating to the large intestine.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) tea is effective for sore throats, as mentioned in this older post.
There are many other respiratory herbs to pick from, based on your specific symptoms. I tend to alternate between wild cherry and elecampane, though I sometimes use mullein, pleurisy root, coltsfoot, horehound, and less often use lobelia, osha and hyssop. Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina) has expectorant, astringent and antispasmodic actions. I have found it works well for those coughs that will not stop or are dry and ticklish with a sore upper chest (Tierra, Leslie). David Hoffmann writes, “because of its powerful sedative effect o the cough reflex, wild cherry bark finds its main use in treatment of irritating coughs” (575).
One of my favorite garden flowers, elecampane (Inula helenium) is indicated in cases with lots of mucus (often yellow or green) accompanying deep bronchial coughs. Elecampane is both effective on tough coughs and gentle enough for children. It is a tonic for the lungs, soothing to irritating tissues, a stimulating expectorant that actively works copious mucus out of the lungs, and an anti-microbial to help rid the body of the underlying infection. All in all, a pretty hand herb to have around! Use the root, either in tincture or dried and decocted as a tea. Hilltown Families has a good recipe for elecampane syrup; I can’t wait to try it! I find it interesting that elecampane has a marked effect of the large intestine, which is related to the lungs in Chinese medicine, as elecampane works on both.
Hofffmann, David. Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine.
Tierra, Leslie. Healing with the Herbs of Life.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal Vol. I.