Tag Archives: ginger

Elderberry Syrup with Ginger, Cinnamon, and Clove: A Powerful Medicine to Keep Sickness Away

Cluster of elderberry

Cluster of elderberry

It is that delightful time of year again, when the berries of the fall ripen, when the pumpkins grow orange on their vines, and when the elders are literally loaded with berries.  The elderberry tree is a fascinating plant, rich with mythology and magic.  The word “elder” of course has multiple meanings, but I like to think of this plant as my elder in a literal sense, that I can sit at the feet of the elderberry tree and learn much from her wisdom.  We were blessed this year with a bumper crop of these delightful elderberries, and I set to work making a medicinal syrup (I like to call it Elderberry Elixir) to aid in immune system support for the winter.  Last year when I made this syrup in September it went bad by the time January rolled around, so this year I got smart and decided to can it for longer-term storage.

 

You can make this recipe with dried berries instead of fresh ones.  Fresh elderberries have been reported by some to cause an upset stomach, but when you dry them or cook them they are perfectly fine and highly medicinal.

 

My herb teacher, Jim McDonald, taught me that Elder is particularly useful for the kind of immune system support one needs to prevent viruses from replicating throughout our bodies–the elder provides support to block that kind of replication.  It has a host of other health benefits, such as a high amount of flavenoids and for general support for colds, reducing the amount of time one needs to get through the sickness.  This Elderberry Elixir is a great and tasty way to take such medicine.  Jim has a fantastic write up on elder (both flowers and berries) on his site that I highly recommend you read! Grieve’s herbal has a complete listing for elder online here.

 

One of the reasons I prefer to pick my own berries is that it allows me to develop a relationship, hopefully over a period of years with many visits, with the elder as a species but also as an individual tree. Learning to find your own medicine if you are able, and spending time just sitting with those trees, seeing how they grow, picking their fruit and giving thanks, perhaps leaving an offering, is a critical part of herbal practice.  The plants are our teachers, our allies, and they respond better to us when we establish a relationship.  I kinda see it like the difference between having a conversation with a stranger vs. a very close friend–if you end up having a 20 min conversation with someone you just meet, you might have a good conversation, get to know the person a bit, learn a bit about their life. But if you ended up having that same 20 min conversation with a person you knew well, that conversation would be much different, likely much deeper.   Working with the plants themselves is a lot like that–the stronger of a connection you develop with a particular plant species over time, the more effective of a medicine it is going to be for you.  Elder is one of those plants that is quite abundant throughout most of the US, and its worth seeing her out and sitting at her roots and learning from her.  She has powerful, potent medicine for us, and many other lessons to teach as well.

Elderberry Elixir

Ingredients:

Fresh or dried elderberries (you can get dried ones from Mt. Rose Herbs).  The recipe is based on ratios, so you can get as many as you want of these. I prefer the fresh, but not everyone can get to them.

Fresh ginger, 1 TBSP per cup of fresh berries / per 1/2 cup dried berries

Cloves, 1/4 teaspoon per cup of berries / per 1/2 cup dried berries

Cinnamon: 1-2 teaspoons per cup of berries (depending on your taste) / per 1/2 cup dried berries

Honey: 1/2 cup per cup of berries / per 1/4 cup dried berries

Water enough to cover the berries

 

Instructions

1.  Remove your berries.  You  will have bunches and bunches of awesome elderberries after you go picking (or you will have the dried ones ready to go). One of the best ways to remove elder is to start by freezing the berries.  If you freeze them, they will come off super easily, and freezing will save you a lot of processing time.

Pulling off frozen berries

Pulling off frozen berries

2.  Measure your berries and add water to cover. Measure out your berries and add an appropriate amount of water to cover them up.

3. Prepare your other ingredients (except honey, that comes later). You will want to chop your ginger very fine.  You can use whole cinnamon sticks and cloves if you want as everything will be strained.  I like the powders because I think I get a better extraction that way. Add your ingredients to the pot.

You can use a food processor to quickly prepare ginger

You can use a food processor to quickly prepare ginger

Look at those lovely ingredients!

Look at those lovely ingredients!

4.  Mash up your berries and simmer your ingredients for 1-2 hours.  The longer you simmer your ingredients, the better extraction you’ll get of everything.  I like to cook this a minimum of two hours.  After you’ve cooked it that long, let it cool on the stove for a while (likely another 30 min to an hour).

Mashing berries

Mashing berries

This is a very good sized batch!

This is a very good sized batch!

5.  After it cools, use a strainer strainer to strain out the seeds, cloves, ginger and other “hard” materials.  If you are canning it, you don’t want to let it get too cool.

Strained syrup

Strained syrup

6.  Add honey.  Add your honey to the syrup at this point.  You can also choose to add honey to taste later in the process if you are using raw honey and want to preserve its natural enzymes.  I added my honey then canned it, so I did lose some of the raw honey benefit, but my syrup will stay good for a very long time, so I decided the trade off was worth it.  I could have canned or froze it without the honey, and added it in as I was taking it.

7.  Select a preservation method. I chose to hot water bath my elixir, mainly because when I made this last year at this time, I just stuck it in the fridge and then when I really needed it, it had gone moldy.  It will keep in the fridge for about 3 months, but that isn’t going to get you through the whole year till the elderberries are in season again.  So I would suggest either canning it or freezing it.  I chose to hot water bath can it–I followed instructions online for canning elderberry juice (1/4 headspace; 15 minute hot water bath processing time). The elders are very tart and contain a lot of acid, so the recipe is a safe one for hot water bath canning.

Ready to can the syrup!

Ready to can the syrup!

 

There you have it–a powerful medicine from a wonderful plant ally.  In terms of dosage, you want to take 1-2 tbsp of this a day; even more if you feel sickness coming on.  Its not “medicine” in the traditional pharmaceutical sense, so you can take a lot if you’d like.  I usually stick to the 1-2 tbsp per day and find that works quite well for me!

Digestive Bitters – Locally Harvested Medicine for Better Digestive Health!

A few months back, I was able to visit herbalist Jim McDonald for an herbal consultation, and we spent a lot of time talking about bitters, specifically, digestive bitters. Jim suggested to me that part of the reason that so many Americans suffer from digestive issues is that we’ve largely cut out the bitter flavors in our diet, and these bitter flavors stimulate digestion (our own digestive enzymes). So rather than taking digestive enzyme pills (usually coming in a $60 or so bottle for the good ones) to increase the digestive enzymes in our stomachs to help us process food, we might switch to eating some bitters, which essentially encourage our own bodies to produce our own digestive enzymes.

 

After seeing Jim, I decided to do some more research on the concept of a digestive bitter, and I learned a lot of really interesting things.  Bitters are found quite a bit in the wild, and as humans evolved, we most certainly ate a lot of bitter foods (just go sample any number of wild greens and you’ll get exactly what I mean).  But when we cut bitters out of our diet, our digestion began to suffer.  In fact, according to an article Jim had written for Llewellyns 2010 Herbal Almanac, bitters stimulate all digestive functions, including “saliva, acids, enzymes, hormones, bile and so forth…” and each of these, in turn, help break down food.

 

Beyond the immediate physical benefits, I there is also a spiritual side to the bitters.  You are taking and extracting the essence of a plant, preserving it in alcohol, and then taking that plant as medicine.  This puts you in communion of the plant (even more so if you harvest/grow the plant itself).  This has powerful spiritual implications for those who choose to seek them.

 

 

Making Bitters

If you want more bitters in your diet, besides the obvious choice of eating more bitter foods (dark chocolate, bitter greens, etc.) you can also craft your own digestive bitters by tincturing them in high-proof alcohol.  You can mix various tincture flavors to produce a nice effect, but the key is, the bitter flavor must be there.

 

I decided to focus on locally-sourcing and wildcrafting/wild harvesting my bitter blends, and so, I began with some basic recipes from materials I could either A) easily obtain and B) find locally.  I started with making a blend that I had bought from Jim–Ginger, Orange (both of these for flavor and medicinal) and Dandelion root (bitter).  I’m now experimenting with other bitters and other flavors I can source or grow locally (black raspberry, blackberry, etc).

 

I’m going to walk through the basic process here so that others can try this approach.  Its actually really a basic tincture recipie, which can be used for all sorts of things, both magical and mundane.

 

 

1. Obtain/Gather Spirits.

You need to obtain some high proof, rather neutral spirits.  I’ve tried tincturing in Everclear (190 proof, not available in all states) or Vodka (80 proof).  Everclear is a bit faster and way stronger, but vodka works well (I’ve tinctured vanilla beans in Vodka and Brandy quite successfully for years)

Everclear for tincture/bitter making

Everclear for tincture/bitter making

 

2. Obtain/Gather Ingredients.

So for my first blend, I purchased organic oranges and ginger, and then wild harvested dandelion root from my yard.  (For those of you who have been reading this blog, you’ll also note that I also made wine from the dandelions a few months ago! Dandelion is a wonderful plant!).  Since this first batch, I’ve been experimenting with other ingredients that I can grow and/or harvest (like various berries….yum).

Look no further for bitters!

Look no further than these plants for bitters! Use the root.

 

3.  Finely chop ingredients.

At this stage, you want to make sure your ingredients are clean (this particularly applies to roots and wild-harvested ingredients).  Then you can finely chop them up (use a food processor for large batches, but I really do like using the knife, it brings me closer to the ingredients without the use of any fossil fuels).

 

4.  Put the ingredients into the alcohol.

In his book Making Plant Medicine, Rico Cech gives a basic tincture formula for tinctures– 2 parts plant to one part alcohol for fresh ingredients and 5 parts plant to 1 part alcohol for dried plant ingredients.  (By the way, if you are interested in a good book on medical herbalism, this book is really great, and its a worthy compliment to Matthew Wood’s Book of Herbal Wisdom because they talk about plants so differently).  So you can use a small kitchen scale to weigh out your plant ingredients and a measuring cup to portion out your spirits, and add them together in a jar.  Put a label on it and tincture away!

Chopped up, fresh ingredients in alcohol

Chopped up, fresh ingredients in alcohol

 

5. Let sit for some time (in a dark area) with an occasional shake of the jar, typically 4-6 weeks.

Some ingredients can be tinctured longer to have increased flavor (vanilla beans being a good example of this). Other ingredients should only be tinctured for the amount of time specified.

 

6.  Strain your materials.

I used a cheesecloth to strain out my plant material after 6 weeks.  Sorry my photo is a little fuzzy!

Straining dandelion root bitter!

Straining dandelion root bitter!

 

6.  Mix your flavors.

Now you want to spend some time mixing your flavors–I’m using a variation of Jim’s recipe, which includes orange, ginger, and dandelion root.

 

7.  Enjoy!

At this stage, you are ready to enjoy your bitters.  Try to take them with every meal, typically 5-15 drops.  You can also take them in-between meals to promote good digestive health.  Before I took bitters I was taking digestive enzymes, but now, I’m happy to say that the bitters do the job (and they are a lot cheaper!)

Completed strained bitters, and smaller bottle for mixing.

Completed strained bitters, and smaller bottle for mixing.