Have you ever been standing in the aisle of a store making eyes at some cute, healthy looking kid when she opens her mouth and lets out the nastiest cough? The cough sounds like cross between the cry of a hawk, the call of a whale and the death rattle of a dragon. Well that was my kid about 10 days ago.

Our whole family caught a late summer cold. It started with a sore throat, which ascended, like a slow moving balloon, into the head and then deflated down into the lungs. The end result wasn’t very severe but it was lingering. My daughter was fine after about 2 days– back to racing around the house in plastic high heals with a bag lady’s worth of totes on one arm. But a couple of times a day she’d issue a horrendous rattle from her depths. I’d wince every time I heard it.

Where some moms might run off to the local Walgreens and buy something shiny but I have to admit that approach eludes me. Not so much because I judge shiny box medicine (okay maybe just a little) but more because I didn’t even try an antihistamine until I was 38. In other words I did not grow up with any of the conventional cold remedies. In my childhood home eucalyptus was our Vics Vapor Rub, white willow bark was our aspirin, lemon-ginger-honey tea was our Theraflu and slippery elm lozenges were our Halls cough drops. That is what is in the anti-establishment hippie mom’s medicine box.

As an adult if some sort of calamity hits our family the first place I go is to the garden- for the ingredients to make soup- and the second place is my tidy herb cabinet. My remedy of choice for toddler cough– elderberry syrup.

I wish I could say I grew the elderberries in my garden but I didn’t. My elderberry tree (or bush depending on your viewpoint) was planted just this past spring. I set her roots in a sunny bare spot in the backyard. And although she has doubled in size, she is still a child –not yet budding. So for now I get my elderberries at the Downtown Grower’s Market from Dory and Nerissa of Red Tractor Farm. They harvest theirs from an old lady of a tree, gnarled but gentle, at the far corner of their south valley property. I buy them from them fresh (which I freeze) and dried.

Their grandmother tree makes loads of luscious bb pellet sized berries, that cluster by the hundreds on delicate branches. They are grape colored with a misty haze of white across their surface. Like all good hazes it vanishes when you touch it. And although it might be tempting to pop one in your mouth they should never be eaten raw- otherwise you might suffer from intense stomach upset.

Cooked is where the berries render their magic. Making the syrup is easy– my toddler pulls up her dinged up stool and we pour and stir our way to a remedy. It is basically water plus elderberries, heat, simmer, strain, add honey, refrigerate. About as easy as making mac and cheese from a box. The end result is a mason jar of immune enhancing, anti-inflammatory, vitamin C filled magic that also eases coughs and lung congestion. The syrup is sweet so there is no problem getting kids to down a tablespoon or two. This time of year our morning ritual is get dressed, eat breakfast, take syrup…. and then head off to germ-fest (school).

We’ve got quite a stockpile right now. In fact I think I’ll set up a elderberry stand in front of Walgreens. Fifty cents a swig. Heck, I might make a mint off hacking kids.


 Elderberry syrup recipe from Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health
1 cup fresh or ½ cup dried Elderberries
3 cups Water
1 cup Honey

1. Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes.
2. Smash the berries. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and add 1 cup of honey, or adjust to taste.
3. Bottle the syrup and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 2 to 3 months.

Caution: Use only blue/black elderberries; the red ones are potentially toxic. Don’t eat elderberries that have not been cooked first.

If you want to read more about the medicinal qualities of elderberries here is a blog post by Kiva Rose, a NM herbalist. http://bearmedicineherbals.com/into-the-forest-exploring-elderberry.html

Elderberry bush


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elderberry bush in foreground



Natural Walgreens,  jars with dried elderberry top right, dried artichoke leaves next to them 



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