How to Make Your Own Cold and Flu Fighter with Fresh Elderberries

For the past couple of years, whenever my family has felt a tickle in their throat or seemed a little run-down, we knew that a virus was likely stalking us.  We took the threat seriously, and took a little of my Mom's homemade elderberry tincture.  The tincture, a berry-infused liquid, didn't taste that great, but I am convinced it lessened the severity and duration of most common illnesses.

Driving along the Nebraska countryside, the ditches are full of these dark-purple berry bearing plants!  We even found one elderberry tree growing in our backyard!  I didn't hesitate to harvest some berries so that I could show you how easy it is to make your own DIY elderberry tincture.

Start by harvesting ripe berries. I know some people store frozen berries or have dried ones. This recipe can use them, as well, but my experience has been with fresh berries.  Pick the stems with the berry clusters on them, and then remove the berries from the stems by pulling a fork downward along the stems. The berries will fall right off into a bowl.

Rinse the berries by running cool water over them.  Fill the bowl midway, and allow the less ripe berries to float the top. Skim them off, and drain the water from the berries.

Put the clean berries into clean glass canning jars; I use the pint or smaller.  Pour your choice of liquor over them (more on that below) so that the berries are completely covered by a half inch or more.

Allow the berries to stay in the jar, covered with a lid and in a cool, dry place, for up to 6 weeks.  You'll have to shake the berries once a day to encourage the liquor to get evenly disbursed.  You can also lightly "Mash" the berries with a fork or end of a wooden handled spoon once a week or so.

After 6 weeks, strain the liquor from the berries and place into a separate jar.  This can store for up to 2 years in a cool, dry place. If you ever see or smell mold in your tincture, toss it out!

This year, I added some dried nettles to the mixture.  Since nettles are known for their immunity properties (especially against respiratory and allergy-inducing ailments), this packs an extra punch for those stubborn winter colds.

How do you administer the tincture?  We give one teaspoon as you would a normal cough or cold medicine (once a day or no more than every 10 hours or so).  With little ones, remember that this is alcohol; use caution and seek the advice of an herbalist for guidance. (Herblore has some very useful info.) Or choose one of the alternative solvents below:

Do I have to use alcohol? You can also make tinctures with vinegar. Instructions for that method is shown here. It is also acceptable to use glycerin.

What alcohol can I use? It is recommended to use 100% vodka (80 proof) as it is the perfect combo of alcohol and water. If I don't have that on hand, I'll use a weaker brandy or even rum. Stronger vodka extracts more of the plant essence, but most "strong" liquors will work in a pinch (and is a good way to use up stuff in your liquor cabinet.)

Need more ideas for using herbs and berries? Check out Rosemary Gladstar's Medicine Herbs