Superfood Spotlight: Elderberry

elderberry bouquet in the garden

The Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is steeped in history and has long been associated with folklore, superstition and magic. Native throughout North America and Europe and with a lengthy summer harvest season this little superberry has a few secrets to tell. 

The Elder is sacred to many goddess traditions, particularly the myth of the Elder Mother: a spirit who inhabits the tree and has the power to work magic. The leaves and branches are often hung from doors and windows to stave away bad spirits, and it is said that should you fashion a flute from her branches you can call her from the spirit world to protect you..

Technically all parts of the plant are toxic, including the rich berries and flowers. They contain chemicals that when eaten metabolize into cyanide. However, if prepared correctly the toxins are neutralized and the plant's incredible nutrition becomes available to us. 

This superberry has become so popular that entire farms dedicated to growing this tree commercially are popping up to satisfy demand. Even in today's advanced manufacturing climate both the flowers (which are often used to flavor cordials and wines) and the berries have to be hand-picked and processed to provide food-grade produce. 

elderberry berries leaves and jam

What is so super about Elderberry?

First and foremost, the Elderberry flavor is very agreeable; they have a distinctive musky, slightly sweet taste which is intensified when used to make ever-popular jellies and syrups.

Their rich dark purple color comes from a special antioxidant flavonoid called anthocyanin which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

The berries are also incredible sources of vitamins and minerals. They contain ten times more vitamin A than Blueberries--which is good for skin and eyes--and are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is an important immune booster. Elderberry minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron support red blood cell and bone production.

How can we incorporate it into our diets?

If you are harvesting your own berries--they’re a hardy garden plant, and are often found along hedgerows in the wild!--you must ensure they are cooked through as they are toxic when eaten raw. Because they can be slightly tart, they benefit from the addition of a little sugar. However, if you are unable to collect your own there are many commercially-available syrups available in health food stores.

Aside from supplementing with a spoonful of syrup a day there are many different ways you can incorporate this superberry into your diet; most popular is to incorporate elderberry into drinks, from elderberry cordial and refreshing spritzers to infused vodka or gin.

There are also many recipes online for the most delicious elderberry pies and tarts, and they can even be poached with pears for a guilt-free dessert.

It just shows how this little berry with its rich long history across many cultures can be a truly magical addition to the superfood family.

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