Foraging Friday – Blue Elderberries

The other day Mr. Misty was out hunting and he brought back a present. No, it wasn’t a buck, but it was something just as exciting – to me.

Blue Elderberries (Sambucus nigra).

Supposedly prolific where we used to live in Central Washington, we were never fortunate enough to find any to forage, and those who were fortunate, guarded their “secret spots” as if guarding Fort Knox. Seriously, if you’re not familiar with Blue Elderberries, they are worth their weight in gold – especially when you’re ill.

Blue Elderberries, containing flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits, have a long history of medicinal uses.  They are best known for their ability to ward off colds and flu and aid in the recovery from those and other serious illnesses.

It’s important to note ONLY the blue (or purple) berries of Elderberry are edible. The Red Elderberry fruit, leaves, bark and flowers are potentially dangerous as they contain a poisonous chemical related to cyanide and should be avoided at all costs.

Also note, there is another plant that has been mistaken for Blue Elderberry, a mistake that could prove fatal to both humans and livestock – berries of the Pokeweed Plant.

All parts of the Blue Elderberry plant can be used medicinally.

The flower clusters of the Blue Elderberry are edible and though mild, they have medicinal qualities. They are often used in tea to break fevers by stimulating perspiration, to relieve headaches, clear infections and decrease inflammation from arthritis.  The flowers can also be used as a poultice for sprains, strains, and wounds. The leaves are stronger and have been used as a laxative and similar to the flowers, can be used as a poultice. The berries make a tasty cold/flu/cough syrup and can also be used to make jams and jelly’s, as an addition to muffins, and a friend mentioned the wonderful pies their mama makes with them.

Mr. Misty only brought back one sprig of berries, as he wasn’t sure he had a 100% ID, which is VERY important when you wildcraft and forage wild foods. Once we confirmed we did indeed have Blue Elderberries, we made the half-mile trek into the woods behind our home and picked what we could (leaving some behind for the wildlife who rely on them) and came home with about a quart of berries.

We gathered just enough to make a small batch of jam, dehydrate some for tea and make an immune-boosting syrup to get us through the worst of the cold and flu season. If we have any left over, we’ll tincture them for a concentrated boost of health.

This is definitely a plant we want to integrate into our landscape this coming spring. We’ve read they are easily propagated in the spring by taking softwood cuttings, but we are taking an easier route and will purchase some already established plants from a local conservation district.

So, are you  familiar with Blue Elderberries? If so, what is your favorite way to use them?

(Disclaimer: I am not a Physician nor am I Certified Herbalist. The information provided on this site has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent conditions, illnesses or diseases, it is purely anecdotal and stem from my own personal fascination with the natural world around me. I use the following for my research: Peterson Field Guides – Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs, The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, books and videos by Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed, as well as various internet posts. I encourage you to do your own research. Before trying any herbal remedy, consult a physician or certified medical professional to make sure it is safe for you to use.)


Content and Photos by Misty Meadows Homestead and S.Lago © All Rights Reserved

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