Elderberry: More than just a cough syrup

10/09/2019 05:30 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Elderberry, in the wild, is recognized as a cluster of small, round, dark purple-to-black-colored berries that grow along roads, ditches and creeks. They bloom in the spring and berries ripen in the summer. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A mix of elderberry, echinacea, ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise is used to make an elderberry and echinacea syrup for treatment and prevention of cold and flu symptoms. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Elderberry and echinacea syrup can be stored in mason jars and refrigerated for up to six months and taken by dosage to help treat cold and flu symptoms. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
VINITA – Cherokees have been known to utilize several wild plants to create medicines that aid in treating various symptoms. Elderberry is a well-known indigenous berry that’s used to treat or prevent colds and the flu because of its medicinal properties.

The Cherokee word for elderberry is go-ga-sa-gi, pronounced koksagi.

Melissa Lewis, a Cherokee Nation citizen and assistant professor for the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said a study from the University of Maryland found several properties of elderberry to be anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antioxidant, anticancer and helps reduce congestion.

She said, from her own research, that the berry is rich in vitamins A, B and C, contains high amounts of flavonoids and carotenoids, and is high in calcium and iron.

Lewis said in other studies elderberry is found to aid in arthritic conditions, improve respiration and asthma, boost the immune system and stimulate the digestive system.

“There’s one article out there that looks at the history of Cherokees and the Cherokee uses of elderberries and they document a few different things that Cherokees did historically with elderberries,” Lewis said. “Some Cherokee elders had told that Cherokees use the leaves to make poultice to reduce inflammation in your feet or legs. I’ve also been told that people use the roots to make different salves as well.”

For medicinal use, elderberry, along with other plants and ingredients used by Cherokees, can be made into syrup.

“Elderberry is often used for cold and flu symptoms. It helps to reduce the days a person is sick from cold and flu and can be used to help prevent getting sick. So it’s an immune system booster. I believe it’s also used for inflammation,” Feather Smith-Trevino, CN cultural biologist, said.

Mixing elderberry, echinacea, ginger and honey and a few spices, and then straining the mixture makes the syrup.

Echinacea, also known as a coneflower, also has medicinal properties similar to elderberry.

“Elderberry and echinacea together they’ve been found to have a strong relationship in helping colds and flues when they’re together,” Lewis said.

Elderberry generally blooms from late May through July with berries ripening from late July through September. The most common places to find them are along roads, ditches and creeks.

“In the spring look for big bushes with these big white flowers on them. If you get up close, they smell just a wonderful floral smell. Some people say (it smells like) licorice,” Lewis said.

When it ripens, the berries grow in clusters and are small, round and dark purple to black in color with red undertones.

Lewis said they are not to be confused with toxic pokeberries, which are similar but are about three times bigger and grow in a grape-like cluster.

She said elderberry berries do have a small amount of toxins, but are easily removed when cooked.

Aside from medicinal use, elderberry has other uses.

“It’s often used for food. The berries can be made into jams, jellies, syrups, pies, and tea. It should be cooked before eating. It’s not common practice here, but fried elderberry flowers are a known food in the south,” Smith-Trevino said.

Recipe for elderberry and echinacea syrup

4 cups of water
1 cup dried or 3/4 cup of fresh elderberries
1/4 cup dried echinacea
1 inch of ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cloves
2 star anise
1/2 cup (or less) of raw honey

Mix all ingredients, except honey, in a saucepan
Bring to a brief boil and simmer for 45 minutes
Strain mixture using colander and cheesecloth or muslin cloth
Let cool and add honey to taste
Pour into preferred size mason jar with lid
Keep refrigerated (good up to six months)
Dosage: 1-2 tablespoons 3-4 times per day while symptoms last
About the Author
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing ...
lindsey-bark@cherokee.org • 918-772-4223
Lindsey Bark grew up and resides in the Tagg Flats community in Delaware County. She graduated magna cum laude from Northeastern State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, emphasizing ...


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