Tis’ the season for Elderberries here in New England. The lacy flowers have fallen, meaning the small green berries that form are starting to plump up and turn dark blue to black. The flowers are the reproductive organs and therefore will turn to fruit when pollinated. Elder, to me, marks the change of the seasons. Here in the northeast the wise Elder begins to flower in mid to late June, she’s one of the few flowering plants during this time so it’s easy to spot. It’s also a good time to take note where she stands so you can find the berries later in the summer. The flowers can most definitely be gathered for teas and tinctures, however with every umbel gone that many fewer berries will grow! By mid to late July the flowers drop and the berries begin to ripen mid August to mid September. You’ll want to venture out and gather what you need and leave the rest for the birds (and in my case bears).
Not sure you’re looking at Elder?
She can stand quite tall (30 ft), displays opposite pinnately shaped leaves with an odd number of opposite leaflets, creamy white umbel-shaped clusters of flowers that turn into clumps of dark berries. I typically find Elder standing in moist soil, along roadsides, nestled among other shrubs, trees, and plants. She’s a gal that likes company!
Elder leaves are pinnately shaped with an odd number of opposite leaflets
Cream colored flowers form in umbel-shaped clusters
Green berries form in clusters and give way to dark blue to almost black berries
The flowers and berries are most commonly used for their antiviral and immunomodulating properties. Cold and influenza season, she’s got you covered! I typically make large batches of Elderberry Syrup every year to get through the dark, cold, sickly months of winter. Seriously, I need to move to Hawaii. This year I’ll be making Elderberry Tincture too!
What is a tincture?
Tinctures are concentrated extracts of herbs made with alcohol as the primary solvent. If you’re using vinegar, glycerin, or water you’re making an extract. So technical, right? I prefer a neutral alcohol like vodka so I can taste the herbs. The amount of herbs used varies depending on the herbal material and whether it’s fresh or dried. I’m a folk herbalist, so there’s no real measuring, it’s all just eyeballing the amounts. The maceration period, the time when it sits and draws out the plants goodness, can take up to 6 weeks or longer. The material is then strained from the liquid and bottled. Tinctures can last for many years if stored in a cool, dark place.
Here’s some technical stuff
Dried Herbs – 80-90 proof vodka (40%-50%)
High Moisture Herbs (berries, aromatic roots) – 50:50 80 proof vodka: 190 proof grain alcohol (67.5%-70%)
Gums & Resins – 190 proof grain alcohol (85% – 95%)
This year I have fresh Elderberries to work with but in the past I’ve used dried.
Here’s a little guide on how much herb to use:
Fresh Roots/Barks/Berries – 1/3 – 1/ 2 plant material
Dried Roots/Barks/Berries – 1/ 4 – 1/3 plant material
Fresh Leaves & Flowers – 2/3 – 3/ 4 plant material
Dried Leaves & Flowers –1/ 2 – 3/ 4 plant material
Let’s get to tincture making!
- Use finely cut dried herbal material or finely chop/grind fresh clean herbs. The chopping or grinding helps release juices
- Fill a clean glass jar with herbs using the estimated amounts listed above
- Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar, covering the plants completely
- The herbs should fill the jar but move freely
- Keep in mind dried material will expand, especially berries and bark!
- Store in a cool dark place for at least 6 weeks, shake every few days
- Strain the liquid and store in a clean and labeled glass jar
- Tinctures will keep for several years