Winter Healing From The Elder Mother

When I first moved into the house I live in now, there was an elder sapling in my back garden, brought by birds, and shooting up rebelliously between honeysuckle and philadelphus. The garden was very different then – with only two previous owners, both strong independent women who loved to garden,  it had neat hedges, tidy lawns, and beautifully pruned fruit trees. The elder sapling was clearly not a planned addition.

After an attempt to turn the lawn into a wildflower meadow (not a success), I dug up the grass and planted potatoes, but left the elder to do it’s thing. Almost 18 years later, the landscape of my little plot of land is very different – I’d go so far as to say that it is wild. And just the way I like it. Wild women and wild gardens seem to sit very happily aside one another, for me at least. The honeysuckle and philadelphus are now dwarfed by pear, plum, and apple trees, and growing right through the middle of them, my strong and fruitful elder.

So many people told me to cut it back, chop it down, dig it out – that elder trees are a nuisance, invasive, have no value in the garden. But I remembered drinking elderflower champagne as a child, brewed in a bucket in the back garden by one of our neighbors from foraged flowers. The magical flowery perfume of it’s nose tingling fizz tickling my senses. And somewhere in my dna, a memory of all the mothers before me revering elder’s sacred branches, roots and berries.


In Scotland, Elder, much like Rowan, has always been considered important for it’s protective qualities. Where rowan trees are often found protecting the front of the house, the elder belongs at the back, preventing negative energies from entering the home, and is especially valued where the tree has seeded itself. This year my garden has bloomed. My fruit trees are heavy with fruit for the first time in years. My herbs have all decided to grow once again. The elder tree has given me a saucepan full of berries, enough to make a healing, immune boosting, vit c laden syrup to see us through the dark days of winter, and I am feeling grateful and hopeful and protected by her.

Elderberry Syrup

There are heaps of recipes around for elderberry syrup, some with more of the extra added ingredients than actual elderberries. I like to imagine that the women in my ancestral line would have made this with whatever was to hand – foraged berries, local honey and probably not much more. In this recipe I have added star anise and cardamom for their healing power, ginger for it’s warming diaphoretic qualities, turmeric and cinnamon for their anti inflammatory properties, and all, actually, just because I happen to have them in my pantry. Some recipes include cloves, but I really don’t like the taste of cloves (reminds me of the trauma of tooth pain) so don’t include them. If you like cloves, add a couple. You can, however, make this just as well with only elderberries and honey and still feel the health benefits. My budget didn’t stretch to local honey, but this is the preferred option, as ingesting the local pollen held within regularly, can support your immune system against hayfever the following summer. If you are foraging your elderberries, consider taking them from areas that do not experience high levels of pollution. Make sure the berries you use are black and not green, and that you remove all the stems and stalks before you start.


You will need:

A pan full of freshly picked elderberries. (Frozen ones work just fine too)



(Optional) Ginger, sliced. Turmeric sliced if fresh, sprinkled if not. Cardamom. Cinnamon. Star Anise.


Add berries, water and optional extras to a pan and bring to the boil, then simmer on a very low heat for half an hour or so. Mash it a bit from time to time to get all the juicy goodness out of the berries. Strain ( a muslin is great for this), stir in your honey, summer for another ten minutes or so to reduce the liquid down a bit and then pour into warm, sterilized bottles. If you’re a clarty cook like me, you’ll probably want to use a funnel or at least a spouty pyrex jug to prevent loosing half your syrup all over the kitchen bench, floor, sink. Ah, life lessons, hey?! Seal, and keep in a cool, dark place until you need it, then in the fridge until it’s all been drunk.

And that’s it! Take a spoonful once a day over winter, add to tea, pour over your porridge, drizzle over yogurt and feel the immune supporting goodness. if studies is your thing, read this one about how the humble elderberry can stop flu in it’s tracks…



Elderberry Elixir

This is a work in progress and I’m not entirely sure it will work, but… it occurred to me while making my syrup that the act of heating must effectively destroy the Vitamin C within the berries, and so I started to think about how I could get around that. Elixir can be made by filling a mason jar halfway with berries, then topping up with brandy and honey, sealing, then leaving in the fridge for a month or so. I’m going to experiment with this as I wonder whether it can be done with *just* honey. I have zero tolerance for alcohol, and want a syrup my children can take, so will have a go and update here sometime before Christmas!


I’m so happy that my resident elder tree has provided me with enough fruit this year to create this healing syrup for me and my children. I’m hopeful for a winter season of good health and restful days for us all. Although Autumn is only just beginning to turn the leaves over, I am excited to be feeling my way into my favorite season, in a much healthier, happier place than I was this time last year, in all the ways that matter.

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate. 

2 thoughts on “Winter Healing From The Elder Mother

  1. I did my first syrup this year with the flowers, I wasn’t sure the berries were also edible, but I do use turmeric and ginger for little colds so I might try this as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have a look at Pontac sauce too, a fabulous home made alternative to Worcestershire sauce. We make it every year (and it’s never the same!). We are currently using the 2016 vintage but I am keeping back a little from every year since we started making it in 2010!

    Liked by 1 person

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