There are so many great ways to support your winter health with herbs. Starting with simple dietary additions (like garlic!) and ending with soothing choices to make your cold or flu more tolerable and shorter, herbs are my go-to for prevention and treatment.
One of the tastiest herbal allies, however, is the elderberry.
This shrubby perennial plant has been used as medicine for centuries to support health and well-being. I often see it growing naturally in moist soils, but it has also historically been planted at the edge of gardens as the protector of the garden. Even its name, Elder, speaks to its wise and respected role in our collective medicine chest.
Elder’s lacy, delicate flowers, and bright purplish-black berries can both be used for their medicinal properties. The flowers are diaphoretic meaning that they help to lower fevers by inducing sweating. It is a common ingredient in many cold-care tea formulas.
The berries are rich in vitamins C & A, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, and phytosterols. They are often used in prevention and treatment of colds because of their ability to boost the immune system. As an antiviral, they are helpful in treating upper respiratory viruses including colds and flu, but have also been used in treatments for other viruses such as herpes and shingles. Elderberry’s effectiveness is not just an “herban” legend, but its ability to reduce the duration of the flu and to fight viruses has been published in a number of scientific articles (links to abstracts in the resources below).
As a food, elderberry can be consumed as a jam, wine, or in pies, but it’s easiest to use as preventative medicine or for treating cold and flu when made into a tasty syrup. Luckily, it’s really pretty easy to do, too! I even made a handy graphic . . .