Posts Tagged ‘elderberry’

Immune Boosting Herbal & Fruit Vinegars

So, I’ve got a bit of a cold and, being a good herbalist, I’ve neglected to look after myself properly and have only just remembered the bottles and bottles of soothing Elderberry Vinegar that are sitting in the spare / herbal room. Elderberries are full of Vitamin C and a great immune booster, they’re also conveniently in season in the Autumn, about the time the first colds are starting with the return to school and university and increased exposure to everyone else’s germs. I’m guessing this might also explain my current cold, everyone’s back to Glasgow with new and interesting bugs after far-flung festivities.

I’ve recently taken to calling the sweetened Elderberry Vinegar a “Shrub” as some people find the idea of drinking vinegar a bit off-putting. The basic recipe for any Fruit Vinegar is here.  Although it’s a bit late for foraged fruits here in Glasgow, you can also use shop-bought Raspberries or even Blackberries if you don’t mind the food miles. A more seasonal type of medicinal vinegar, which you can make now is the pungent, garlicky, herby Four Thieves’ Vinegar. Even better, although for maximum potency, your vinegar should stew for 2 weeks – the components of Four Thieves’ Vinegar are so strong, you’ll get some medicinal effects if you drink it with only a couple of hours of stewing.

A couple of quick notes about making vinegars. I often get asked which vinegar is best to use as the base to a medicinal vinegar or shrub. I usually go for Apple Cider Vinegar for stronger flavours like the garlicky Four Thieves’ Vinegar and/or if the vinegar isn’t going to be heated. White Wine Vinegar is best if the vinegar is going to be heated as part of the recipe, particularly to add sugar, as with the Fruit Vinegars. The direct heat denatures some of the ACV goodness and the blandness of White Wine Vinegar suits sweetening. It’s not essential to stick to these though, if you’re in a hurry and happen to have only one vinegar to hand, just use that.

Another common question is around adding sugar and sugar subsititutes. The basic Fruit Vinegar recipe does add a lot of sugar and this isn’t essential for preservation, but does bring out the flavour of the Elderberries and Blackberries in particular. So, if you’re going to use your Fruit Vinegar as a culinary, Balsamic-like dressing, sweetening is really a must. If you’re going for a medicinal Fruit Vinegar, you could leave out the sugar in the initial recipe and then add sugar or honey to your warmed vinegar drink. Some people have suggested adding honey to the basic recipe, but I wonder if prolonged heat is good for honey and think adding it as you drink would be better. I’ve yet to experiment with using natural plant sweeteners like Stevia and would definitely avoid artificial sweeteners.

Bramble Vinegar

Elder, Fennel and Violet – Tales from Battlefield Gardens

Medicinal plants have been part of the storytelling tradition for centuries – from fairytales to Shakespeare. Amanda Edmiston of Botanica Fabula has written a wonderful new story about two brothers for the Battlefield Community Gardens, with appearances from 3 medicinal plants – Elder, Fennel and Violet. Amanda’s tale reminds us of the tortoise and the hare, with the tortoise-like brother tending and collecting plants along his journey. The plants then form a part in his proving how the quest ended. You can add your own moral, I like to think if we look after the plants, they’ll look after us.

Elder Tree     Sambucus nigra

The Elder tree gives us two different medicines – from the flowers in Spring and berries in Autumn. The sweet, heady flowers can be used to make cordial or champagne or if you want to have maximum berries later in the year, just pick a few heads of flowers and make an Elderflower sugar. Elderflower tea is perfect for colds, ‘flu’ and allergies – with Nettle and Plantain they make a great hayfever tea, add Eyebright if streaming or irritated eyes are a problem.

Elderberry is full of anti-oxidant vitamins and is a great anti-viral. You can make a syrup for coughs and colds or a culinary vinegar for salad dressings and marinades. You will know that your Elderberries are ready for picking when the purple berries hang heavy from the branches – you may also see pigeons happily munching away at the top of the tree. Elderberry seeds can be slightly irritating to your stomach, so do be careful if you’re eating any of them raw – just try a couple to check you have tasty, ripe berries, then make sure to process the rest well to remove the seeds or dry and use as a tea.

 

Violet    Viola spp.

Sweet, cooling violets make a great syrup for coughs and colds, especially for children. The cooling character is great for fevers and also the emotional heat of anger. For hot, angry skin conditions, Violet tea can be taken, with a Violet cream to soothe and protect.

 

Fennel    Foeniculum vulgare

With a familiar kick of Liquorice-like aniseed flavour,  Fennel is used as gripe water for babies to ease disrupted digestion and by mothers to help milk production.

Fennel Flower

Fennel is a very portable medicinal plant – the tiny flowers and seeds are especially strong and pungent and can be nibbled to ease the stomach or the lungs – aiding clear breathing and good digestion to keep a traveller strong and nourished. If you’ve missed the flowers, the rest of the plant is also edible and medicinal and can be chopped to make a tea.

 

Look out for more Tales of Medicinal Plants as the Battlefield Community Garden develops.

 

 

 

Autumn Foraging – Berries & Brambles

Autumn is upon us, the nights are drawing in, which means there are lots of plants to forage before the Winter cold really hits. I’ve been out and about gathering for the Neilston Food Trail and this week found the Brambles (Rubus fructicosus or Blackberries, they’re definitely brambly here) have just started to ripen.

Bramble / Blackberry foraging is extremely satisfying, you can try as you pick, get purple dyed fingers and you don’t really have to process them if you don’t want to / can’t be bothered. There are dozens of recipes for sweet bramble treats like jam, crumble and muffins – so I decided to take a more savoury angle this year and try some bramble vinegar.

Bramble Vinegar Recipe

This is a really simple recipe, which just needs a bit of time. It also works well with raspberries – a couple of late ones sneaked their way into this batch.

Soak 450g washed brambles in 600ml white wine vinegar for 3-5 days.

Strain the mixture through a muslin or jelly bag for up to 12 hours – get out all the juices but none of the pulp.

Heat the liquid with ½ lb sugar to every ½ pint of liquid until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes, cool and store in clean bottles.

Use in salad dressings, with honey as a marinade for meat or with hot water as a drink for colds.

Other berries coming up this month include Elderberry; Hawthorn berry; Rosehip & Juniper with the Ground Elder having a re-growth as we speak and loads of roots to take advantage of – they’ll have stored up goodness for the plant for Winter and as long as you do it responsibly and with permission, you can pick a few here and there. Ask someone if you can dispose of a few of their Dandelions or if you’re lucky, find someone with first year Burdock.

Rowan Cottage Visit

Two days spent in Aberdeenshire with my Hands on Herbal Tent buddy Clare and Erica Hollis of Rowancott Herbs – garden tour provided by Sally the dog, outdoor root cleaning and indoor berry spearing. Note for next time not to be too greedy though, that Elderberry takes some pruning and leads to very purple fingers.