Summertime Freshness: Elderflower Cordial

IMG_1884

Now is the time when elderflowers bloom. The creamy, fragrant blossoms of sambucus nigra are famous for their medicinal uses in teas and cough syrups. The blue-black berries are also chock full of vitamins and anti-oxidants that have proven activity against bacteria and the viruses that cause influenza and common cold. For your reference, the following study demonstrates the effect of a standardized extract on gram positive and negative bacteria, as well as a strain of influenza (Krawitz et al, 2011, BMC Complement. Alt. Medicine).

But more on the berries later. And more on the medicines later. Today, we are making something good for the soul: elderflower cordial.

I am almost sure you have seen the elderflower bush at least once in your life. They are a garden staple, growing into large shrubs that can reach up to 20 feet tall. The leaves are a vibrant green with a pointed end. Flowers are a creamy white with a tiny yellow center and give off a warm, sweet scent. The flowers can be expected in late Spring to early Summer (ours came a bit later this year due to a very unexpected snowfall). Berries, which are nearly black in color (hence the name sambucus nigra), will usually begin to appear in the late fall.

800px-Sambucus_nigra_004
S. nigra in bloom. Picture courtesy of By Willow – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2643905

I should point out that there are many varieties of elder, but the specific strain of Sambucus nigra is the kind that is used both for medicine and for the gorgeous beverage I am about to introduce to you.

Elderflower cordial is a very traditional party drink in Europe. It was quite popular with Victorians, though evidence of its use has been found dating back to Ancient Rome! A “cordial,” more broadly,” is a soft drink. It typically starts with a syrup that is diluted with seltzer, champagne, or pure water. Our cordial uses the seltzter, but by ALL means try the champagne! Whatever you choose, it lends the liquid a beautiful, floral-citrus taste with a hint of sweetness.

 

ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL

Ingredients:IMG_1843

(makes six cups of syrup)

12-15 fresh elderflower heads

2.5 lbs of sugar (5 cups)

1 lemon

1.5 oz citric acid (3 tablespoons)

6.5 cups of filtered water

 

Directions:

First, trim the stems of your elderflower heads back as much as you can. You want mostly flower, and not too much stem. Next, gently rinse your elderflowers in some cold water to remove anyIMG_1856 dirt or little insects. Let them sit on a paper towel until ready to use. In a large pot, simmer the sugar and water on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. While this is happening, peel your lemon with a vegetable peeler (but don’t discard the peels!) and cut into slices. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the liquid to a boil. When it reaches a boil, remove the pot from the heat. Put your lemon slices, peels, and citric acid into the syrup and stir well. Now place the elderflower heads face down into the mixture. Cover the pot, and let influse for at least 8 hours (overnight) or up to 24 hours.

After it is done infusing, strain the syrup through a fine cloth into a sterilized jar or bottle. This will keep for up to six weeks refrigerated. You can also freeze the portion of the mixture you do not intend to use right away, and it will keep for several months.

To use: add 2-3 tsp of syrup (depending on how sweet you like it) to a glass filled with ice. Pour seltzer or club soda to the top. Garnish with sliced lemon. Enjoy!

 

Osha and Ginger Oxymel for Your Child’s Chest Cold


I don’t know about you all, but this has been one rough winter for us, sickness-wise. Back-to-back colds followed by sinus infections followed by stomach bugs…is it my karma?

Being sick as a grown up is hard enough. But, when desperate, you CAN take more potent over-the-counter remedies like ibuprofen or antihistamines. Generally speaking, these are a no-no for little ones. So what do you do when you see them so sick and miserable? Cuddle the cold away?

Luckily, Mother Nature has a long list of effective-yet-gentle herbs that can ease your baby’s suffering. These can be given in the traditional forms, but good luck getting your toddler to drink tea or swallow a tincture.

Enter today’s star: the oxymel.  It is a Greek word: “oxy” meaning “acid” and “mel” meaning “honey.” The acid we are talking about is apple cider vinegar, which contains acetic acid.

Apple cider vinegar on its own has myriad uses and benefits, both internal and external. It has been studied for its effect on blood glucose levels (Brighenti et al, 1995), coronary artery disease, and blood pressure (https://nccih.nih.gov/health/chelation). Certain medications containing acetic acid are used to treat skin conditions, infections if the ear canal, and vaginitis. Furthermore, it has been shown to be a potent anti microbial agent, even against stubborn gram negative bacteria when used topically in a 3% concentration (Ryssel et al, 2009). And then there is the long list of folk uses:

  1. UTI remedy
  2. Facial toner/acne remedy
  3. Head lice killer
  4. Digestive aid
  5. Restless leg alleviant
  6. Detox/fat loss aid

…just to name a few. So, long story short, we are already on our way to a potent home remedy.

Then there is honey. Sweet, soothing, and medicinal. It is an established anti-fungal and antimicrobial, which is why it seems to never go bad. And, most importantly for our oxymel, it has been shown to be MORE effective than dextromethorphan (that’s the “DM” in a famous over-the-counter cough syrup) in treating nighttime cough in children (Paul IM, et al, 2007).

So, you could basically mix honey and apple cider vinegar and have an excellent cough syrup, no herbs required. But I like herbs. So let’s boost this oxymel to amazing heights with…osha root.

Osha grows wild in Colorado. It is in the celery/parsnip family, and greatly resembles Angelica, Cow Parsnip, and…poison hemlock. The latter and osha also often grow right next to each other. For this reason, I do not recommend foraging for this one unless you have a lot of experience. The root is completely different from hemlock. Osha is a brown taproot with a distinct maple and celery aroma. But nonetheless, I wouldn’t risk it. You can purchase osha online. Since it is local to Colorado, you will get the best price from www.herbsandarts.com. They are a wonderful local metaphysical and herbs store that ship all over.

Osha root is pricey, I will admit. Depending on the time of year, you can spend $25 on an ounce. But it is EFFECTIVE and one ounce makes quite a lot of medicine. It is an amazingly effective bronchodilator. You can FEEL it relaxing that tightness in your chest with an almost menthol-y, analgesic effect. Osha studies are sadly lacking, but empirical data support its use for cough and chest inflammation. And personal use gives it a thumbs up, too.

If osha is unavailable or not in your budget, you can also use elderberries, elder flowers, or linden leaf and flower. All are safe for children and have their own actions against colds.

I have also added ginger to this oxymel for taste, warming, and to help with any tummy upset due to the ingestion of mucus that often happens with a cold. So, here is the RECIPE:

OSHA AND GINGER OXYMEL

Ingredients:

  1. Organic raw honey*
  2. Organic apple cider vinegar
  3. 1 oz osha root, dried
  4. 1 tablespoon ginger root, fresh or dried
  5. Pint mason jar

Directions:

Place osha and ginger in mason jar. Fill two thirds with honey, one third with vinegar. Cover with lid. Shake to mix. Leave in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks. Strain into an amber colored bottle and store in medicine cabinet.

*Honey should not be consumed by anyone under the age of one due to the risk of botulism

One teaspoon of this was effective for my son (he is almost two). He liked the taste and I noticed a difference almost immediately-no joke. The beauty of this is that you cannot overdose on it. Give it as-needed with no fear of drowsiness or any other unpleasant side effects.