Elderberry Tincture: Poor Man’s (Woman’s) Medicine

September 9th, 2012 § 35 comments

Still life. Elderberries and thyme.

Summer is starting to wane and the chill of fall is causing me to curl up in on myself like a leaf before it falls to the earth. So before fall takes hold and we get set to embrace its rusty hues and hearty dishes, we must share together this last gift of summer that will keep us through the fall.


I have vivid memories of elderberries. Ok, not the elderberry itself, but of elderberry pies. Mmmm. Every year, my grandfather (and lovely Nona when she was here with us) makes a pie, or two, for my uncles and my sisters and I happily partake with a little vanilla ice cream on the side.  We savor the bite of these tiny berries as they contrast the smooth flavor of the vanilla and bind us together around our little table.  We have grown to have an affinity for these unappreciated little berries.  And unappreciated they are.

This year, my grandpa was unable to obtain elderberries from his “source.”  The way he says it makes it sounds like some secret Chicago mafia side deal, money and fruit exchanged in an unmarked paper bag. But really, it is some gardener dude who has an unruly amount of elderberry growing in his backyard and knows my papa loves them.  Forgive me;  I digress.

So I set off in search at my local farmer’s market (a success one week) and my food co-op (also an intermittent success) to garner enough to make him a pie and conduct some side “experiments” in natural remedies myself.

Elderberries? Unappreciated? Oh yes, padwan.  The sambucus nigra or “black elderberry” is not just tasty when pied, jammed, or its flowers cordialed,  but it is quite the medicinal tonic.  Once you painstakingly de-stem these little buggers, you have a natural medicine ingredient at the ready.

These gorgeous teeny-tiny berries are held to the main stem with hair-like threads.

What are the benefits of the elderberry?

  • The Native Americans used the elderberry blossom in making a decoction that was used externally for sprains, bruises, as an antiseptic wash and for open wounds on their animals.  They indicate it was also a successful remedy for stomach issues. This may be an indicator as to why the anise-flavored and elderflower infused Sambuca is such a popular digestivo around Italy.
  • A recent study (2004) in The Journal of International Medical Research concluded that elderberry extract relieved patients suffering from Influenza A & B.  They were relieved of their symptoms four days earlier than those of the placebo group. Elderberry proved to inhibit replication of the virus in subjects. Sambucol was one of the brands used in the study (a standardized extract) and it can be found in many natural foods stores if you are wary of making your own.
  • Elderberry extract was shown in a 2009 study to further support this theory, showing elderberry to surpass the effects of Tamiflu on Influenza A strain H1N1 and Influenza A strain H5N1 as well.
  • Elderberries also possess good amounts of Vitamins E and C in addition to many flavonoids, presumable making them good at sickness prevention as well.
Concerns and Complications
  • There seems to be some debate as to whether pregnant women should take elderberry syrup/tincture. So can you take elderberry tincture if pregnant? If you lean on the conservative side, it might be best to avoid this.  Many pregnant or breastfeeding women cite this as no big deal, including Shoshanna, my long-time trusted source at Bulk Herb Store.  The complication may arise in the strength of the dosage rather than the fruit itself IF it is an issue. Choose wisely and for yourself.
  • There are some internet debates as to issues of elderberry extract (or tincture) further replicating one strain of flu, possibly causing it to worsen. it seems perhaps if you have an auto-immune disorder the elderberry tincture may cause the immune system into overdrive and while this is good when you are ill, it may not be good if you have a disorder.  Let me know if you have a good source supporting or negating this.
  • Do not eat raw elderberries. They must be cooked or extracted or tummy aches will ensue.  So I have heard.
  • Red elderberries=toxic too.

Elderberry tincture in the wait.

Personally, I find the notion of preparing one’s own health tonics (though UNSTANDARDIZED) a frugal and possibly more beneficial long-term than relying on medicine that is pushed by companies whose sole purpose is to make a profit, regardless of harm to humans.  When looking for studies, remember it is in the drug companies best interest to discredit herbal remedies as they are certainly bad for business.  Care should be taken in administering natural remedies as if they are working, that means you can hurt oneself with careless use.

What did I craft? Elderberry tincture at a fraction of the cost of Sambucol.

Elderberry Tincture Recipe

  • A glass bottle
  • A dark place
  • Elderberries to fill the bottle halfway.  Fresh or dried will do.
  • Clear alcohol such as vodka
Mash de-stemmed berries into the bottle. Pour alcohol over the berries. Shake. Place in a dark cabinet for two to three months. Strain. Rebottle in small glass containers with a dropper.
Folkloric dosage indications say that 10-30 drops of elderberry tincture are to be administered up to three times a day for adults.  Ten drops once a day are what I take for prevention and I take 30 drops three times a day of elderberry tincture when feeling something come on. I prefer to place them in a cup of water so I do not taste the burn but they may be administered under the tongue for better absorption.

Children may benefit from this tincture at a reduced dose (7-10) drops or be given an elderberry syrup or extraction in glycerin.  This is what most herbal sources I have read seem to say.  I do not have children yet, however, so this remains to be untested.  Personally, I would not recommend administering this to children under 2.  In regards to administering the alcohol tincture to children….your call.  It really is minute.  The main reason for consideration here is that alcohol is a much better solvent than glycerin or sugar water so it is more likely going to have all the components in the berry  and at a stronger concentration to nurture the immune system.  Only you know your children best!!!

Elderberries:  Poor Man's (Woman's) Medicine on Punk Domestics
Good luck with your fall immunity boosting.  Please share any tips or trials you have had with the elderberry in medicinal usage!!!
P.S. Check this site out for more elderberry recipes from Deb (the Aussie over in France)!  She has crafted some syrups and cordials using this medicinal/culinary gem that many of you may enjoy. Cheers!


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