We have had such an amazing summer this year, despite the stresses of great heat and little moisture (until this last week!), or perhaps because of them, the hedgerows are currently heaving with fruits. I was stopped in my tracks yesterday by one of my dear beloved plant allies elder (Sambucus nigra). The bush in front of me was bent over with the weight of all the fruit it was carrying. I felt invited to harvest some for the winter.
Elderberries carry incredible medicine. Being antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and offering pain relief (amongst their other properties) they are a great hedgerow fruit to harvest and preserve at this time of year. You can then use the tincture at the onset of a cold, flu or virus to support your body as it clears out the infection.
I only collected a few bunches as pictured above, this is plenty for my needs and will provide enough tincture to get me and my husband through any winter colds, flu or virus and I will also have enough to gift a bottle to a friend I will be visiting in a few weeks time.
To make the tincture simply strip the ripe black berries off the stalks into a clear glass jar and cover with either vodka or brandy (40% vol minimum) and then leave for two weeks shaking every day. At the end of the process strain the mixture through a sieve lined with muslin or cheesecloth (to ensure no plants bits remain in the liquid) and then bottle up with a label on (of course!) ready to use. Dosage is 1-3ml, 3 times daily (most dropper bottles dropper capacity is 1ml).
It is however really important to me that I always connect with the plant before working in any way with it, rather than in typically human fashion just bulldozing in and taking what I want. So I stood a while, admiring the plant and its beauty. I asked if I was welcome to gather, although I already knew the answer was yes as the elder had called me to it with the berries as an offering. But as I asked I was shown which bunches I had been offered. My head got involved after I had gathered as I wondered for a moment whether I had enough. So I approached the plant again, but this time it was a clear no, I had enough. I had taken so little, when looking at the bush you could not even tell I had taken any – this is always how it should be when you gather, be humble, don’t be greedy!
Now that the berries are infusing in the vodka I will be talking to them, loving them, thanking them each time I shake the two jars I have made. This keeps the medicine alive, keeps your relationship with the living plant alive, and makes for a more potent, more personal remedy.
When it comes to tasting the medicine, first it is really important to go back in your heart and mind to the plant, give it your love once again, and ask the spirit of Elder to share its medicine with you. Invite it into your body and thank. I always recommend starting with just a few drops on the tip of your tongue, then shutting your eyes and feeling the tincture as it travels through your body. How does it feel? Where does it go? Is it the right medicine for you? Your body is infinitely wise and will tell you all these things if you just take the time to listen.
It is so important when working with plants to acknowledge their livingness, to not just talk to them, but to wait, to listen, for their response. Plants don’t speak in the same language as humans so it can be easy to disregard their livingness, to treat them almost as if they are inanimate, that is how our culture has it. But once you know better and can take it deeper, acting with the permission, love and respect of the plant, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities 🙂 ❤
So happy harvesting, medicine making and entry into the wonderful world that is dark sweet generous Elder.
Cautions & Contraindications: Avoid during pregnancy and breast feeding.