It's that time of year again when the sniffling, sneezing, hacking and nose-blowing symphony starts to chime up all around us. "Mommy, my throat hurts" is usually soon to follow. Most are quick to turn to over-the-counter medications but they do nothing but mask symptoms and impede the body's immune system from doing its natural job: attacking the offending virus or infecting bacteria. All that lovely mucus and snot with low-grade fevers is the body's way of getting the nasty invaders out. If you try to stop this natural process it will take you twice as long to recover.
In today's hectic world (and with our constant demands), taking the time to properly recover isn't always feasible. Like with all illnesses, we need to get to the root of the problem. In the case of colds/flus and the like, this would mean getting the immune system in fighting form, and if this is done from the get-go, then you could possibly head-off the illness all together.
Elderberry is a folk remedy that has been used for centuries in places like North America, Europe, western Asia and north Africa. Elder is a tall shrub that can grow up to 30 feet tall. Elderberries are anti-viral & anti-inflammatory and they contain potent antioxidants called anthocyanins that protect against cell damage and enhance immune function by boosting production of cytokines. These act as messengers in the immune response to help get things done in a timely manner. Elderberries may also reduce swelling in mucus membranes and relieve nasal congestion. Not bad for a little berry.
Manuka honey comes from honey bees that forage on the manuka bushes (Leptospermum scoparium) in New Zealand. Its properties include anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and antiseptic along with some antioxidants. Manuka honey is wonderful both internally and externally as well. (You can find it here.) A lot of the elderberry syrup I came across contained honey as a sweetening agent. It only made sense to combine elderberry and manuka honey to make one helluva immune-boosting tonic.
A couple of things, though, before we get to the recipe. You'll notice in my bio that there are no initials after my name. If you are on medication of any kind, please consult your doctor before taking anything- including herbs. There are, as of yet, no studies of elderberry's effects on pregnant or lactating women so there is a lot of Internet disagreement over whether or not it should be taken. I personally feel it is safe as it has been used for hundreds of years, however, let's remember the lack of initials behind my name- it is always best to be extra cautious during pregnancy and lactation. Make sure to ask a board-certified, licensed midwife, licensed naturopath or D.O. if this syrup is right for you during this time. I have found that M.D.'s are usually not as open to alternative medicine as the former practitioners. When buying elderberries, make sure to get the Sambucus nigra variety found here or at your local health food store. Other varieties can be poisonous if not cooked properly. Even Sambucus nigra may cause an upset stomach if consumed raw (but it is not poisonous). This risk is nil if the berries are cooked first. Now that the warnings and precautions are done, let's get on with the recipe!
Bring 3 cups of filtered water to a boil in a sauce pan and add in a half cup of dried elderberries. Reduce to a simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. During the last 15 minutes of simmering, stir in an one inch piece of grated ginger.
Strain elderberry mixture through a fine sieve or a cheesecloth-lined colander. Gently press berries to extract as much juice as possible. Let cool completely before adding in the half cup of manuka honey so that all of the vitamins and enzymes remain active.
Manuka Ginger Elderberry Syrup
By Living Life Granola
1/2 cup dried elderberries
3 cups filtered water
1/2 cup manuka honey
1 inch piece ginger, grated
Bring water to a boil in a sauce pan and add in elderberries. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in ginger during the last 15 minutes of simmering. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or a cheesecloth lined colander. Gently press the berries to extract all of the juice. Whisk in the honey once the elderberry mixture is completely cooled. Store in a glass jar in the fridge for 2 to 3 months.
Preventative dose: 1 tablespoon daily for adults
1 teaspoon daily for children 3 years and up
1/2 teaspoon daily for children 1 and 2 years of age
Do NOT give to infants under 1 year due to the honey.
Sickness dose: 1 tablespoon every 2 to 3 hours for adults
1 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours for children 3 years and up
1/2 teaspoon every 2 to 3 hours for children 1 and 2 years of age
Do NOT give to infants under 1 year due to the honey.
***Ask your health care provider before using if you take any medications, are under medical treatment, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
At $20 a jar, manuka honey is not cheap, though it will yield two recipes worth of elderberry syrup. The twenty bucks does start looking like a bargain when you begin to tally how much missed work, co-pays and medications will cost you by the end of winter due to a worn out immune system. Manuka honey is a pretty good investment in my book. This syrup has warded off more than one virus in my household. We do not take it everyday and I would not recommend doing that either, however, it does work best when taken at the first sign of illness and continued until the symptoms abate. We have been known to take it if we have been in close contact with a sick person, but usually only for the day, just to help give the immune system a little boost.The best preventative, of course, is washing hands, not touching your face, getting enough sleep and eating lots of fruits and veggies. Here's wishing everyone a non-existent flu season!