Urban sprawl…in ancient times it’s where we found commerce–these days, stardom. Whatever draws you to these concrete jungles, never forget your connection to the soil buried below. Changes in the environment seem to encourage people slowly waking from their slumber to recognize that we only have this one planet. The possibility of you having enough money to beat the next billionaire to a seat out of this place when it’s about to blow, is slim to none.
I see us scrambling for ways to find a new connection to earth. Eating organic has become elitist, the market for natural products is on the rise and schools for natural medicine are popping up throughout the country. Human history is only as long as a blink in the eye of a star, and not so long ago, before natural living became big business, we all lived this way.
Are you one of those people still not convinced of the benefits of the “natural” or “green” movement? Every element that makes up the human body are the same ones that make up the earth. Every mineral and nutrient the human body needs for its survival can be found in the vegetation of the earth (yes, including protein), so why would it be so far fetched that we also find our healing in this same place? Even the discovery that led to aspirin came from a plant in the rain forest. I offer you an opportunity to find how dear our mother Earth is to us. After all, she is not only the ground we walk upon, she is our grounding and the more we take care of her–connect with her–she will help to keep us whole.
What is this strange earth magic I speak of? With it being the heart of cold season, I think “The Elder”, more formally known as Elderberry, is a great plant ally to know.
NOT A BLUEBERRY, NOT A HUCKLEBERRY
Elderberry has multiple varieties. All varieties grow as a tree, but you will hear them often referred to as a shrub or bush. It grows nice large green leaves, almond shaped and they seem to flop over themselves and grow into what botanist referred to as compound leaves. The tree is characterized mostly by its fiery red, almost fuchsia branches. The branch color is the main distinction that could save your life, as elderberry has an “evil twin.” There is another tree that looks very similar, growing berries the same color but the berries are not the same small round shape,and the leaves are narrow and tend to fold, versus the flop of the full grown elderberry leaf. Don’t confuse the elderberry with blueberry or the other common huckleberry; they all enjoy the same climate. Blueberries are true blue versus an elderberry which is more deep purple or black. Huckleberroes and blueberries produce a larger berry. However, the elder joins blueberry in being scientifically proven to be true “brain food”, known to be restorative for people who have experienced brain damage. Elderberry will blossom with small white flowers no matter the variety. While the Elder produces three different colors of berry (red, white, purplish black) none of these should be eaten raw. Only the deep purple/black (sambucus nigra) variety are used in cooking and medicinal preparations, as it is safe to eat once cooked. The Elder is harvested like most berries in the warmer months, but is easy to find at your natural food store or ordered online dried. Fortunately, the Pacific Northwest is the ideal climate for Elderberry, so don’t be surprised to find it growing in your neighbor’s yard. Seattle provides us with ample hunting ground. In the north end of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, in lush Interlaken park, you are likely to find the Elder. I spotted a real beauty walking by an apartment in a West Seattle neighborhood.
WHY EAT THIS STUFF?
Elderberry has historically been used crushed to heal burns, made into teas and to make wine. Elderberry can be used in cooking like any other berry. It’s great in pies or perfect for jellies and jams. The elder is high in vitamin C. Although not quite as high as the C content, the elder also provides vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamins B6 and B12. One of the most common uses is for curing cold and flu.. The elder is anti inflammatory, anti rheumatic, and is a diuretic with a laxative agent. These properties make it comparable to cranberry for urinary tract health. Its anti inflammatory properties teamed with the mild laxative agent make it a great candidate in a tea for digestive health.
Want to make your own cough medicine for this winter? Cook down your fresh elderberries in water (dried also work just fine). Strain out the pulp, then add fresh lemon, cinnamon, star anise and honey. Let this mixture cook down until it reaches a thick syrupy consistency. Strain again to remove the lemon or any larger pieces from your spices. Take two tablespoons once every hour until you see your symptoms begin to lessen. The sooner the better–start taking your preparation at the first sign of illness.