Yarb Tales – Uses of Elder A recipe for Elderberry Shrub appeared in last week’s column along with a promise to share some of the virtues of the herb. Elder’s flowers and ripe berries are so good for human beings, pollinators and our fine-feathered friends.
Berries appear in August in our zone 7 gardens and we pay attention once they are green and fully filled out. Green, unripe berries are poisonous because they contain prussic acid, the precursor to cyanide. Once they turn purple-black, it is time to gather them before the birds get them. Songbirds and wild animals eat elderberries. Sharing resources is a part of ethical living, especially for the naturalist and herbalist. Those of us who are wildcrafters have a duty to leave plenty for everyone. We want to be sure that the berries are fully ripened for making shrub, elder syrup, cordial, jelly and wine. Berries should be cooked before eating. We also dry some of the berries, so we have them to use in recipes in winter months when we really need their protective virtues for fighting flu and colds. Besides being anti-viral, other healing properties are anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cathartic, diuretic, laxative, stimulant and sudorific. Elderberries are nutritious, high in vitamins A and C and antioxidants, they also contain vitamin B, calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine, and even some protein.