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Monday, September 19, 2011

What's going on in the Woodwife's kitchen?

It's that time of year again when the smell of autumn fills the air and temps like this morning's 37° F are chilly reminders that summer is coming to an end.  While harvest time means vegetables to put up for winter, it also means there are lots of herbal preparations that need to be made while the fruits and flowers are available.
Over the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to make elderberry syrup and tinctures to help us improve our immunity against winter colds and flu.  A friend and her family noticed some elderberries growing near their cottage and picked about a bushel to make into syrup.  They were kind enough to share some with me. 

The syrup recipe and dosage comes to us from Mountain Rose Herbs. If you don't have access to elderberries near your home, you can purchase dried elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs.  You can watch a video of John Gallagher from and Mountain Rose Herbs making this recipe.
I say this because it's a very informative video and John is a wonderful teacher with an entertaining style...but mostly because I forgot to take pictures myself!  You should be getting used to it by now!  I get so involved and excited about what I'm doing that photos to share are the last thing on my mind...until it's over.  Then I remember!  Blast! (You must pronounce this Blaaw-st, in true British style!)

Take a tablespoon daily to ward off illness and a teaspoon every 2-3 hours while sick. For children under 2, add the syrup to hot water to kill any microbes in the honey.
To one bottle of this syrup (about 1/3 the recipe), I've added 1/3 cup of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum.

I'm also tincturing a jar of elderberries in vodka.

An old time remedy, known as elder rob is made by steeping dried elderberries and cinnamon in red wine.  This concoction was very relaxing and used to treat flu symptoms.
Our friends at Lady Bug Farm, a local blueberry farm that produces their own honey and wines from fruits grown sustainably on the farm, gave us a bottle of meade or honeywine a few years back.   It had a good flavor but was a little too strong for our taste.  So, I started thinking...there's honey in the elderberry has medicinal properties...why not tincture some elderberries in meade?  So I started looking on the internet to see if I could find anything about the healing value of meade and look what I found! 

I dried the remaining elderberries for use later in the season.

A little bit about elderberry or Sambucus nigra:
Ancient physicians referred to the elder as a "compleate medicinale" because of it's wide range of healing properties.
The elder contains essential oil, alkaloids, tannins, flavonoids (including quercetin), mucilage, vitamins A and C,  potassium, calcium, phosphorus, beta carotene, cyanogenic glycosides and viburnic acid.

Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis.  The flavonoids include anthocynadins that inhibit viral pathogens from entering cells.

Flowers of the elder are said to be anti-inflammatory when used topically, promote sweating, useful as an expectorant, increase circulation, reduce phlegm and diuretic.  These properties are very helpful when treating feverish cold and flu.  Taken as a prophylactic early in the year can strengthen the upper respiratory tract which can be helpful in treating or preventing hay fever.
Elderberries have diuretic and sweat producing properties, too.  They are also said to be a laxative.  Recent research has revealed that syrup made from elderberries has antiviral effects. 
You can buy prepared syrups but it's easy and economical to make your own.

The basic Latin name, sambuca, inspired the name of an Italian flute, sampogna.  The stems of the elder tree contain a pithy center that can easily be hollowed out to make a tube.  Over time those tubes have been used for many things including flutes, elk calls, maple syrup spiles and pea shooters. But, BEWARE!  The bark contains a bitter alkaloid and glycoside that can turn into cyanide. Reports indicate that children have died from using these pea shooters and adults have been poisoned using elder taps on maple trees.  The up side to this poison is that it is effective as a natural insecticide when dried leaves are crumbled in the garden.

Carrying elder twigs in your pocket is said to be a charm against certain diseases.

Elder branches are said to possess the ability to drive away witches and snakes.  Perhaps this is the basis for Dumbledore's elder wand in the tales of Harry Potter.  

Legends tell of an "Elder Mother" inhabiting the tree.  In Denmark, she is known as Hydle-Moer and one must ask her permission before cutting down an elder tree.

Other folks tales say that if you stand under the elder tree on Midsummer's Eve, you may see the king of the fairies and his following. There may be some truth in this tale due to the fact that the fragrance of the elder flowers is mildly sedative, possibly producing a drugged sleep.  Many times drug induced sleep brings with it vivid dreams.

OK, lots about elderberries but there are a few other things steeping in my kitchen. 

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Lavender (Lavendula spp.) burn oil. 
We found a small stand of St. John's Wort earlier this summer so I harvested a few for seeds and burn ointment.  St John's Wort is very healing for burns and so is lavender.  I combined the two in a jar and filled it with a half and half blend of jojoba and almond oil.  I placed it in a warm, sunny spot to extract the medicinal properties from both.  The result is a deep red oil. I can use this oil as is or use it to create a salve that would be useful in treating mild burns, including sunburn. 
St. John'sWort has a rich history being used on the battlefields of the Crusaders to treat wounds and inflammation.  It's well known for it's mood lifting qualities, it is used as a tonic for anxiety and irritability, restoring the nerves from exhaustion, mild trauma and pains like sciatica.
Lore also suggests that St. John's Wort is useful in dispelling evil spirits...perhaps this is linked to the mood lifting transformation often associated with its use.

Lavender, one of the most favorite herbs of all time and a popular medicinal herb since ancient times, is also very versatile in its healing repertoir.  Headaches, indigestion, wounds, nervous exhaustion, asthma, worms, lice, bad breath, sore muscles, insect bites and stings, depression, sunburn, migraine, minor burns...yeah, its a must have in any Herbal Medicine Chest.

Another favorite of mine is Rosemarinus officinalis ~ Rosemary, a symbol of remembrance not only because of flower language lore but because of the memory promoting properties it contains.  Ancient herbalist John Gerard said of rosemary "it comforteth the harte and maketh it merie."  Rosemary is also great for exhaustion, depression, poor digestion, rheumatism, headaches (mainly those that respond to warmth rather than cold relief), hair restorative (encouraging growth and return of color), memory enhancer, tonic and all around uplifting aromatherapy. Obviously another "must have" for your Herbal Medicine Chest.

In the Woodwife's kitchen, I'm tincturing some rosemary in vodka and extracting healing properties in a blend of almond and jojoba oils.  As you can see from the list of beneficial properties listed above, both of these can be used in a variety of ways.  I plan to use the oil daily in an effort to improve my memory.

Mullein is a common "weed" that grows along roads and in disturbed areas.  I had planned to write an entire post on the virtues of mullein but Sarah @ Wellness the Natural Way did such a great job I think I'll just send you over to read her article.  
Here's a bit of a funny tale about my mullein "wildcrafting."  Early this spring I noticed a mullein plant growing in my flower bed along the porch.  I decided not to pull it and see what happened.  As the flower stalk began to grow, I realized that since that only happens in the second year of growth, it's been there since the year before!  The plant is a volunteer that's only a foot from the porch railing.  Mullein grows to heights of 6'-8' making the flowering tops out of my reach.  Mine was no exception but I was able to easily reach over the railing and pluck the pretty yellow flowers daily!!  I'm tincturing them in a enough vodka to cover.  I'll add this to hot tea when we have sore throats and coughs.

As the season progresses and the nights stay cold, I'll be gathering and preparing more herbal treasures from garden, field and woods to add to my herbal stores for the winter months ahead.

I'm sharing this post with the folks at
Real Food Forager and their Fat Tuesday linky.
Mind, Body and Soul on Wildcrafting Wednesday
Jenny Matlock and the gang @ Alphabe-Thursdays.
Wardeh and friends @ Simple Lives Thursdays
Jo and her friends @ Living Well Blog Hop

Much herbal love,


  1. Great information! We are about to make some elderberry syrup here very shortly. In Sweden we use the elderberry flowers to make a syrup that we mix with water and use as a refreshing drink. It is similar to the Italian syrup used to make the Italian Sodas.

  2. Interesting post, but you won't catch me making elderberry syrup. Sounds like a lot of work. lol.

    Playing Alphabe-Thursday with you,

    Wedding Bells to Wedding Galore!!!

  3. I never knew that elderberries were so beneficial! Here you are getting ready for winter with wonderful remedies for your family and I'm making sugar laden crab apple jelly....

  4. Unfortunately summer is over ! I don't like autumn and I admire you what you are all doing, I just go into a shop and buy !

  5. The Woodwife's kitchen...this is excellent! Thanks!

  6. What a pleasure to read ... thanks for sharing :o)

  7. Great post. Followed :)

  8. Thanks so much for sharing! I always learn so much on your blog!

  9. Don't mind me. I'm a dork.


    PS. My Grandmother always made elderberry tincture. And wine, too.

  10. Wow, what fun to read about everything you have brewing in your kitchen. And lots of interesting lore about elderberry. Wish someone would give me part of their bushel! Sounds like you are making some wonderful herbal goodies. And thanks for the plug about my mullein article.
    Thanks for such a fun and inspiring post! Want to run outside and harvest some rosemary right now!


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Preparing small batch natural, additive free products for beauty, health and home right here in our kitchen since 1991 from herbs grown organically in our garden, wild crafted in nearby meadows and woodlands or purchased from reputable, like-minded companies. Dried everlasting wreaths, arrangements and potpourri. Herbal salves, tinctures, soaps, teas and more.