The Magical, Mystical Elderberry

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Elderberry syrup and blossoms

Sambucus canadensis is a large shrub native to moist sites throughout North America and Europe.  It has been used by Native Americans and healers worldwide to treat a variety of illnesses and is considered a sacred tree by many.  All parts of the plant have different medicinal and mystical properties from the flowers to fruit to leaves and even the wood.  The giant elderberry in my yard is in full bloom right now and viewed from my kitchen window.  Legend has it that if you sleep under the elder berry on midsummer’s eve you will meet the nature fairies and garden devas who will grant your wishes and provide healing.  So  my loving hubby and I dragged some sleeping bags out there last night to see what we could see.  It was quite pleasant, a cool, clear evening looking up at the stars framed by elderberry flowers. We saw a few satellites and enjoyed the croaking frogs but not much news from the garden fairies.  I did feel a very light and sort of buzzing energy form around us but no wishes granted, no amazing dreams – yet.  By midnight we were still awake with the traffic noise of Springbrook road interfering with any real sleep, and an early morning ahead, so we went back inside.  I did have an exceptionally powerful meditation this morning about creativity and using my thoughts to effect life change – So perhaps my wish has been granted after all! My thoughts create the change I want to see!  I AM the creative power of God and I choose thoughts of joy, abundance, goodness, compassion, health and love. We will see over the next few months how healing has been accomplished.

In the meantime, I’ll make good use of the magic of mother elder and make elder flower syrup! The first thing is to make sure you identify the plant correctly!   Viburnum, hydrangea and dogwood are blooming now so make sure you know the difference.  Elderberry is a large rather unruly shrub found growing wild along streams, moist bottom lands and I often notice it growing alongside railroad tracks and in waste lands.  It has large pinnately compound leaves with opposite leaf arrangement and at present huge white flat topped panicles of creamy white flowers.

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Common elderberry Sambucus canadensis in full bloom in Pleasant Prairie, WI on the summer solstice June 21 2012

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close up of flowers and leaves of elder 

These flowers will later develop into dark purple blue clusters of berries which will hang in clusters from the branch tips when ripe.   Elderberry flowers are high in vitamin C and bioflavinoids.  The Menomonie and other Indians drank elder flower tea to bring down a fever and to treat colds and flu.  It is soothing to the nerves and relaxing to the entire body including the skin. As a tincture it is used to prevent hay fever and infused in oil it becomes a healing skin ointment. An infusion of the dried leaves can be used as a mosquito repellent or insecticide. Every part of this plant has healing properties.

 Elder flowers are commonly eaten as a fritter dipped in a crepe batter and fried. OMG good with maple syrup!  I like to make a syrup of the flowers which make a delicious drink when mixed with sparkling water and a little mint.  

Elderberry Syrup Recipe

2 cups elder blossoms stripped from the inflorescence.  Find flowers that are just open without browning and with at least 3/4 of the florets open.

4 cups water

4 cups sugar

4 lemons and zest

1 tsp citric acid or fruit fresh

Make a simple syrup by heating the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the solution is clear. Let the syrup cool. Wait until the syrup is cool before adding the lemon and flowers to preserve the enzymes, energy and flavor of the fruit and flowers.  Strip the blossoms from the flower stalks as much as possible.  When ripe, you can rub them between your fingers and they will fall off easily.  Use a zester to remove the yellow part of the lemon peels without including the bitter white underneath. Juice the lemons and add to the cooled syrup along with the lemon zest and elder flowers.  Add the citric acid and stir.  Cover with a clean dish towel and let sit for 3-4 days.  Strain the solids out and decant the syrup into clean jars. Sterilize the jars by rinsing with boiling water. This recipe makes about a quart.  The syrup will be good for a month or so in the frig.  You can preserve the syrup by using the hot water canning method and cover the jars in boiling water for ten minutes. While this is good its not as great as the fresh syrup.

To use add a couple tablespoons to a large glass of ice.  Fill with sparkling water and a sprig of mint if you have some.  Stir well and enjoy the subtle flavor and magic of the healing elderberry!

The syrup is also popular mixed into cocktails especially with champagne or gin. Elder flowers are the  main component of a commercially produced wine called St Germain. A sort of fizzy elder flower champagne can also be brewed at home which is quite delicious.   Extra magical!

 

Stay tuned for more about elderberry as the fruit ripens!  

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