By Louise Ayer
My friend Priscilla and I have a great fondness for foraging. We love to pick the wild fruits, wine berries, black berries, wild grapes, beach plums, and elderberries. We will drive half an hour to an abandoned train track because Priscilla might have seen a cache of elderberries on a previous drive to visit her son. We chat and pick, full of that childlike wonder of the many gifts that Mother Nature provides that we have been enjoying since we both were kids. We always feel an immediate connection to the land and to the previous generations who taught us where and how to pick these wild treasures and what to do with them. We fill our bags with millions of tiny, dark purple fruits.
We covet elderberries, even though they are a nightmare to remove from their stems, because they are such a boost to the immune system with high levels of vitamins C and A and antioxidants. We are always extremely careful not to pick all the berries so there will be plenty from which to grow more next year. We bring them home, remove the berries from their stems, boil and strain the juice and make the jelly or syrup together. We make sure to pick the berries free of their stems because the rest of the plant is toxic. The wild honey that we infuse into our elderberry syrup is also an immune booster and full of antioxidants.
Throughout 2020, in the middle of the COVID crisis, my husband Ramani and I faithfully drank a spoonful of elderberry syrup that I made from the elderberries that grow where we live on Cape Cod. We pour our spoonful into tiny Waterford cordial glasses that we received as a wedding present 42 years ago, and drink to each other’s health, an elegant tradition worthy of this precious nectar.
3 ½ cups water
⅔ cup dried black elderberries (1 ⅓ cups of fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom (ground)
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup raw honey
Pour the water into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the elderberries, ginger, ground cardamom, and cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the liquid is reduced by almost half. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the mixture cool until you can handle it. Mash the berries using a spoon or other flat utensil. Pour the liquid through a strainer into a bowl. Discard the elderberries and let the liquid cool to lukewarm. At that point add the honey and stir until completely incorporated. Pour the syrup into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store the syrup in the fridge for up to two months.
Take 1 teaspoon of syrup per day to boost your immune system. Some people say to take it Monday through Friday, but skip the weekend to maintain an effective support for the immune system.
Add 1 tablespoon of peppermint leaves right before straining it. This version of the concoction not only fights bacteria and viruses, but it will open your airways, soothe digestion, and calm your sinuses.