Heading up into the San Juans to collect Elder flower is a cherished June ritual for welcoming the summer as well as a practical expedition for stocking the apothecary for the year. Elder is a beauty, topped with creamy white blooms in June, followed by clusters of shiny red berries here in the San Juans, or blue or dark purple berries in other locales with other species. One can easily spot blooming Elders a football field away while zooming by on the highway. I don’t use the red berries in clinical practice, though many folks do eat them after cooking them and removing the seeds.
This is one of the plants that actually gets used up in my small clinical practice, finding it’s way, not surprisingly, into cold and flu formulas as well as formulas for seasonal allergies. I like to combine tinctures of berry and flower for both respiratory infection and allergies. And while Elder is phenomenal medicine, my favorite use is in cocktails. Elderberry is a great addition to gin and tonics and other “traditional” gin and vodka-based cocktails. Not too much, just a bit for flavor. The berry tincture is a better option than the syrup if you don’t want it overly sweet. I like Elderflower tincture (too cheap to buy St. Germain) in sparkling water with a bit of Camapri, lime juice, Cointreau and the tiniest bit of Lavender (tincture for those who aren’t sweet tooths or simple syrup for those who are).
This is a magical plant even for us left-brained Spock types. One of the best things about Elder — even more than it’s respiratory, immune, cardiovascular and metabolic support and amenability to cocktail-making — is the folklore and magic surrounding it. That if you mindlessly harvest the wood, the Elder Mother residing in the tree is reputed to open up a can of whoop-*ss on you. Or that if you sit beneath an Elder at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve, you’ll see fairies, or the Elder Queen, or the Elder King, or all of the above depending on which book you read. I had a Black Elder in my garden, so I gave this latter one a try. I couldn’t quite fit under the small shrub but did my best to sidle up next to it. As midnight arrived, I didn’t see any fairies or royalty, but the International Space Station did go by overhead. Later, I realized I had the date wrong…the Solstice (June 21) instead of Midsummer’s Eve (June 23). Doh!