As Autumn creeps in I stock my cupboards with a few items to prevent and treat colds and flu. Gan Mao Ling, Kwan Loong oil, vitamin C, Immustim and propolis, to name a few, but one of my favorites is simple and reliable elderberry tea and syrup.
All parts of the elder plant have a long history in folk medicine. The flower is used to promote sweating and resolve phlegm from exterior pathogens. The inner bark and root are used as strong emetics and to relieve stubborn constipation. The leaves and berries can be made into poultices with vinegar or honey to relieve damp heat in the skin such as poison ivy. The berries were also made in jams, jellies, wines and liquors that would be used through the fall and winter. Elderberry syrup is one of the first things that I reach for when someone is starting to fight a cold or flu.
From a Chinese medicine perspective there are two major reasons that we get sick: either our system is weak and susceptible to exterior invasion (Lung qi and wei qi deficiency) or the pathogen is exceptionally strong relative to us (think of plagues). Elderberry helps to strengthen any Lung deficiency condition, giving your immune system a powerful boost. It is antiviral and anti-infective, perfect for fighting off those pesky viruses. The berry also has expectorant, diaphoretic and diuretic properties to help move fluids, the bowels and relieve phlegm. It even helps treat food poisoning.
From a western nutritional perspective elderberry is high in calcium, vitamins A, C and B6 and iron—and, best of all, it’s tasty and kids don’t usually mind it. It’s gentle enough I can give it to babies or the elderly and it can be used regularly without contraindications. I often start to use elderberry tea (often mixed with other teas like berry or nettles) several times a week at the start of school or weather transitions. The syrup is handy for if one of my family comes home ‘a little under the weather’ or having been around someone who was sick we take a tablespoon 2-3 x a day for one day. For someone who actually gets sick, I recommend taking the syrup through the course of the cold. Remember to get rest and get in to see your Amma Therapist for treatment!