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The elderberry is a member of the honeysuckle family. Also called Black or Common Elder, the European Elder, or Sambucus nigra, is found throughout warmer parts of North America and areas of Europe. The berries, which are used most often in recipes for elderberry syrup, range in color from dark blue to black. Elderberry syrup is used to treat people with upper respiratory problems, including congestion and cough.
This bushy plant is found quite commonly in the wild, where it produces big heads filled with tiny white flowers in the spring. These are replaced with heavy bunches of elderberries in the fall, when they are harvested by humans and animals alike. The berries are used in many recipes for jams, jellies, and medicinal syrups.
A study was performed in 1995 that compared the benefits of using elderberry syrup against a placebo for people with the influenza. The study found that the duration of the flu was cut in half for those who took the syrup. Elderberries inhibit neuraminidase, an enzyme that viruses use in order to be able to spread from one cell to another, potentially helping viruses to die out more quickly and enhance healing.
Many people keep elderberry syrup on hand to take if they catch a cold or the flu. Some believe that the syrup assists in minimizing the production of mucus, making it helpful for keeping airways clear. Since the syrup is mild, without significant side effects and with a very good flavor, it is a good choice to give to children at the first sign of illness. Elderberry syrup is also believed to boost the immune system, and it is common to find people taking this liquid for all illnesses, and not just those involving the respiratory system.
Elderberry syrup may be used as a preventative medicine as well. People take a small dose every day, usually about 1 to 2 teaspoons. They feel that this helps to keep their immune systems strong and allows their bodies to fight off many illnesses. Typically, the syrup can be purchased from such places as health food stores and places that carry natural medicines, though it can also be made at home.
There are many different methods for making the syrup, but in general the berries must be smashed and cooked. Next, the juice is strained to remove all traces of pulp or other debris. Finally, the juice is boiled until it thickens, and a sweetener such as sugar or honey is added to complete the process.