Elderberry elixir: the cure for what ails us?

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A co-worker of mine from the early 1980s sent me an intriguing email the other day. I hadn’t heard from him for years, but he remembered my Minnesota connection and sent me a copy of an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune he knew would grab my attention.

The story talked about Minnesotans on the hunt for highly sought-after elderberry syrup. It noted a growing number of parents are turning to elderberry syrup as an elixir for their children’s good health, especially during a particularly hard flu season this year.

The syrup is rather elusive, though. Star Tribune reporter Aimee Blanchette told how a woman with a minivan sporting an “Elderberry Queen” bumper sticker would be in various parking lots in the north metro area, peddling her homemade concoction of elderberries, species, raw honey and apple cider vinegar. The woman told the Star Tribune she has five boys who used to be sick every fall and winter until she started doling out her berry potion.

A health co-op manager told the reporter elderberry syrup is so “insanely popular” she has a very hard time keeping it in stock. “Elderberry Queen” made and sold 500 bottles of elderberry syrup last year and already has sold 3,000 bottles this year. She told the newspaper “I’m making a 10-gallon batch every day and I can’t keep up with demand.”

While elderberries are said to be high in antioxidants and some studies show the extract can help with cold and flu symptoms, the article also notes some doctors aren’t convinced the syrup is a true antidote for keeping sickness at bay.

I read the entire article with great interest because I have a stash of elderberry syrup we made a couple of years ago that’s quite frankly been gathering dust. It’s not my favorite berry flavor.

My husband has access to elderberry bushes where he works, and has harvested them in past years not necessarily to make syrup or even jelly, but for elderberry wine. It’s an interesting recipe that allows the elderberries to steep for months with lemons, raisins and I forget what else. It’s powerful stuff that tastes more like brandy than wine. He and his friends have highly enjoyed it. I’m not much of a homemade alcohol drinker.

There’s unlikely any study out there declaring the benefits of elderberry booze, but other hard liquors have been touted for curing any number of ills. My folks, both teetotalers, kept a bottle of blackberry brandy in the cupboard for “medicinal” purposes.

My elderberry inventory suddenly seems more valuable, especially since I now know Minnesotans are desperate for the stuff. We Minnesotans inherently know what’s good for us.

I’ve avoided the flu so far this season, but nevertheless I just might start sipping a little of this precious syrup as a pre-emptive measure. Minnesotans would never steer me wrong, right?

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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