From the perch of my bed, I like to watch a family of ravens that hang out atop a cypress tree that's about a block away. Last week, when a storm came through the city, my husband and I sat and watched as one brave raven continued to sit on his perch, facing into the wind, despite the constant battering. He was a brave bird. When it comes to flu season, I feel a lot like that bird. There's a constant battering going on: of commercials for flu products (honestly, taking a bunch of pills to suppress your symptoms and get back to work really isn't the answer!), of commercials for flu shots, of germs flying around, of everyone around me getting sick, and I'm just doing what I can to cling on to my health and sanity.
I read once, in a book by the herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner, about herbal 'antibiotics' and why they're so much more effective than chemical ones. Viruses mutate. Its a fact of life. You know what else mutates? Plants. Fact. So just as a virus can psychically pass on all its viral information to other viruses (and by the way, can we please learn to communicate like that more?), plants do the same. So some guy in a lab coat extracts one chemical from one plant that reportedly kills X virus but its only a matter of time before the virus figures out the chemical and mutates so that it is no longer affected by it. Kinda like people, who, under duress for long enough will mutate to accept those circumstances as normal. So there's this chase-and-catch up thing where people try to manufacture things that kill viruses and then the viruses mutate and then another chemical needs to be made, and its a frantic, circular dance. But then you have plants, some of which have over a hundred chemicals in them. A HUNDRED*! In one little plant! One hundred chemicals are a good adversary for a nasty virus because its too complicated a code to crack. And even if the virus does manage to mutate, plants are clever. There's a whole conversation going on out there in nature that we're not privy to, and I trust it to carry on in the same way its been carrying on for millennia.
My point being that there are things out there that are perfectly suited to helping our bodies not get sick, or dramatically reduce the length of a sickness. Elderberry is one of them, and its probably in my top-ten-most-used list. While it isn't one of those clever things that kills viruses (garlic, anybody?), it does help your immune system quite dramatically. This is my recipe for elderberry elixir: the same one I sell in my shop and thus have had hundreds of people report back on its efficacy over the years. Give it a try. If you make it now you'll be able to use it soon, and given reports on the nasty flus flying around this year, it's a good thing to have on hand.
On ingredients: Elderberries are really abundant in nature, and I really recommend you get out there and find some local bushes. But its the middle of winter and you're unlikely to find any right now unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere, so you can order them, and everything else on the list, from Mountain Rose Herbs.
On flu season: There's some nasty flu bugs going around right now. I know this because I've caught at least two of them, and because we herbalists are like a mycelial network, passing information back and forth. Make or buy some elderberry elixir. Make some fire cider. Take your Vitamin D daily (for reals).
*I don't know if this is an accurate number and I haven't looked it up. The part of my brain that remembered this number is also the part that says 'I'll be five minutes' when it is in fact an hour…
Elderberry Immune Elixir
Quantities are for a quart jar, and using dried ingredients. If you use fresh, reduce the volume by half please. Dosage is for adults over the age of 21 as it contains alcohol.
1 cup dried elderberries.
1/2 cup dried elderflowers.
1/4 cup dried mullein leaf
1/4 cup dried boneset
1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
peel of 1/2 lemon
Alcohol of your choice- I love brandy, but you can use vodka, whisky, tequila, everclear or gin too.
Honey. Raw and local if possible, but whatever you have works.
Ok, this is the easy part. Once you have all your ingredients, put them all in the jar, then fill a third of the way with honey. This will take a while as the honey is thick. Don't worry, just pour it, and come back every 20 minutes to re-pour until its a third of the way up. You can also heat the honey before pouring to make it easier, I just don't like to do this as it destroys some of the lovely things that are in the honey. After the honey's in the jar, top it up with your alcohol. Voila. Done. Now, screw the lid on the top, and this is the most important part: LABEL IT: "Elderberry elixir, , and what its for if you're forgetful." Give it a good shake, and leave it somewhere prominent that you can shake it once a day or so. After six weeks, its ready. Strain it out and pour it into a pretty bottle. Its shelf-stable for a couple of years.
Dosage: upon first sign of getting sick, start taking about a quarter teaspoon every couple of hours. Take it until all signs of sickness are gone. If you do actually get sick (which is rare, but with these bugs going around right now, its happening), keep taking it as often as you can muster. You'll be better long before those people who aren't taking it, promise.