One trip to the grocery store, and I was sure our entire nation was focused on health and wellness in the new year, at least based on the first items I saw when I walked in the door.
It is no longer surprising to see hand sanitizer, disposable masks and vitamins lining the aisles. Watching fellow masked shoppers grab tissues and disinfectant wipes as they traverse to various sections of the store is admittedly almost normal to me now.
I did spend some time looking at the vitamins and one particular bottle caught my attention. It was purple and covered with a picture of tiny berry clusters. The bottle contained Elderberry gummies. The label advertised year-round support for immune health. It also said they tasted great, but I think that must be due to the evaporated cane juice and tapioca syrup listed in the ingredients.
The selection of elderberry products was not limited to gummies. I was overwhelmed with my elderberry choices filling the shelves: lozenges, effervescent tablets, extract pills, syrup and even 64x concentrated capsules.
When we put in the driveway on our property, a single elderberry bush stood in between a cornfield, a drainage ditch and our new entrance. It stood out like a lamppost and was the first glimpse of natural landscaping in our yard. Tiny white clusters of flowers bloomed in the spring and turned into deep bluish black berries in the summer.
I was enthusiastic about harvesting the tiny berries to make decadent sweets. However, I was very naive about the work involved in harvesting the berries. The first year I picked the berries one by one. I think a snail had crossed the driveway and meandered into the cornfield by the time I was done.
Then, I tried cutting off the clusters and freezing them in bunches. It was a method recommended by a friend. The thought behind the method was that the frozen berries would easily fall off the branches when gently scraped along a screen. It ended with a juicy mess of thin plant fibers and berry mush. Luckily for me, my mother-in-law provided an elderberry pie. The most I was ever able to make was a spoonful of syrup.
However, according to advertisements, just a spoonful is liquid gold for my immune system. Elderberries contain vitamin C and antioxidants that fight off free radicals and support immune health. Researchers have found that consumption of elderberries shortens the length of the common cold.
Additionally, consuming elderberries is also thought to increase cardiovascular wellness. The compound that creates the blue tint in the berry decreases inflammation. The same blue compound in Elderberry juice color is also permissible by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration as an organic food coloring.
The recent increase in popularity makes consumption of elderberry products seem like a fad. However, people have been using elderberries for medicinal purposes throughout history. From ancient Egyptians using elderberries to heal burns and diminish scars to Native Americans using the flowers to treat fevers, elderberry use is consistently noted. Elderberries can also be found in folklore and modern literature.
Favorite for animals
Our first bush did not survive; I blame deer that eat the stem along with the foliage. Thanks to many birds that eat the berries, there are other elderberry bushes throughout the woods. Songbirds feast on the tiny berries in the summer and often use the bush for nesting. Other animals like squirrels, rodents, and game birds eat the berries as well as the foliage.
The American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, grows wild in fields and meadows and reaches heights of 10-12 feet. European or black elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is another common variety. It is grown for ornamental use and commercially in Europe. It looks more like a tree than a bush and can reach a taller height of 20 feet.
It is important to note that while there are many health benefits to ripe elderberries, unripened berries are toxic.
As I was waiting in the checkout line, I cringed as I felt a dry spot catch my breath in my throat. I knew it was going to start a coughing spasm, much to the dismay of my fellow shoppers. Other people visibly cringed away from me and I wished I had grabbed the elderberry lozenges.
Once the coughing stopped, I also had time to think about future entrepreneurial pursuits. Maybe instead of a lemonade stand, my kids could sell elderberry syrup. If only I could convince them to spend hours picking the berries, the plan might work.
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