EOS Botanicals

Wellness Wonders: Elderberry!

Our Wellness Wonders Spotlight for March shines brightly on a tiny but potent little berry with an extensive history of use and folklore in traditional western practices – the elderberry! For centuries, elderberries have been used to make culinary and medicinal preparations, including preserves, wines, cordials, teas, herbal infusions, and syrups. Ancient texts from Hippocrates (460 – 370BC), Dioscorides (40 – 90 AD), and Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD) include information about elder, indicating its longstanding value in herbal medicine, and elder has often been referred to as the “medicine chest of the common people.”

Elderberries are fruits of a hardy perennial shrub that can withstand less than ideal growing conditions. It grows in full or partial sun, tolerates the cold, and can withstand wet, clay soils. Here in Vermont, you may even see the native Sambucus canadensis growing in roadside drainage ditches, along rivers, or in wet fields. Its cousin, Sambucus nigra (black elderberry), is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. The berries of both S. canadensis and S. nigra can be used for culinary and medicinal purposes, however, the seeds within the raw fruit contain a component called sambunigrin which can cause intestinal distress if ingested in large quantities, so it’s ideal to cook, tincture, ferment, or otherwise prepare the berries prior to consumption. It’s also important to note that the stems and leaves of the elder plant are toxic and should be removed prior to making an elderberry or elderflower preparation.


A bottle of homemade elderberry syrup on a wooden table, with fresh elderberries in the background

The berries, flowers, and bark of the elder (Sambucus) plant have long been prized by herbalists across the globe, and modern studies have also substantiated the berries’ ability to help maintain normal, healthy functioning of our immune system. This makes elderberry an excellent plant ally to promote resilience during times when our body’s systems are particularly stressed. While elderberry is most famous for being a cold and flu herb, its gifts extend well beyond sniffle season, promoting strong bones and healthy hair, protecting the heart and eyes, and supporting digestion, according to herbalist Emily Han of Learning Herbs.

Whole elderberries are typically prepared as teas, tinctures, syrups, wine, and cordials. They can also be used much like other berries in various recipes, including scones, pies, cakes, muffins, jellies, and vinegars. Beyond their medicinal properties, the berries pack a nutritious punch, as they are rich in flavonoids, boast a high anti-oxidant count, and are quality sources of vitamin C, vitamin A, bioflavonoids, beta-carotene, iron, and potassium, according to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. You can find excellent tips and recipes for preparing elderberries here, here, and here. And a staff favorite fermented elderberry honey recipe can be found here

In addition to providing nutritious medicinal berries, the elder shrub produces beautiful white flowers that bees and butterflies love. According to Herbal Academy, the flowers have has been used since ancient Egyptian times for both medicinal purposes and as a beauty aid, as they were believed to help reduce wrinkles and age spots. A stronger infusion was often used to help heal skin rashes, eczema, measles, chapped skin, and sunburns; and flowers steeped in oil were often used to alleviate diaper rashes. The flowers have many wonderful culinary uses, as well. On a hot summer day, an elderflower cordial makes a most fragrant and refreshing treat. Click here for more elderflower recipes. 

Here at the Co-op, we offer an extensive lineup of elderberry products. There are local options from Eos Botanicals, McFarline Apiaries, New Chapter, and Maple Medicine, along with some of our favorites from trusted brands beyond Vermont’s borders. If you’re wondering which elderberry product is right for you, don’t hesitate to ask a member of our Wellness team! They’d be happy to help you select a product to suit your needs.

Herbalist in the Aisle

Have you ever found yourself wandering the aisles of the Wellness Department wishing that an expert Herbalist would magically appear to help you choose the perfect remedy for what ails you? You’re in luck! Thanks to a partnership we’ve dubbed “Herbalist in the Aisle”, local Herbalist Julie Mitchell of EOS Botanicals will be on hand to answer your burning herbal wellness questions! 

Julie Mitchell is an educator, gardener, and herbalist who lives in New Haven, VT. She is the founder and owner of EOS Botanicals. The art and the science of being an herbalist has been a compelling force in her life for over 30 years. Motivation to engage in this path centers on the intention of being of service to her community.  She has been a volunteer herbalist for free clinics both here in Vermont and Nicaragua and an herbal educator for all levels and all ages. We have been lucky to have her teach workshops for the Co-op as part of our Co-op Classes at the Hannaford Career Center, including this exciting class on Topical Herbal Hydrotherapy coming up on April 17th! She is a gardener, wild-crafter, artist, editor, herbal product manufacturer, and herbal/health consultant, all with the intention to further both the health of the individual,  as well as the health of the environment.

Julie considers her scope of practice to be inclusive to many challenges to our well being. A more focal interest has been working with systemic inflammatory concerns with the emphasis on digestive health, the many aspects of healthy aging, tick-borne diseases and women’s reproductive health. She holds both a BSc, MSc degree in Herbal Medicine from the University of Wales, U.K., and is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild. 

If you’d love to chat with Julie, here are the dates that you can find her in the Wellness department: