Wellness Wonders

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.

Wellness Wonders – Fish Oils

In honor of heart health month, our Wellness Wonder spotlight for February shines on fish oils!  While taking a fish oil supplement is no substitute for the wealth of nutrients you get from eating fish as a regular part of your diet, fish oil supplements can come in handy for those who either don’t enjoy eating fish or simply find it challenging to incorporate fish into their diet. Fish oils are lauded for their abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, which are considered “essential” nutrients meaning that we must obtain them from the foods that we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids play important roles in brain function, normal growth and development, and inflammation. Deficiencies have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, mood disorders, arthritis, and more. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are also important to consume in order to achieve a healthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Western diets tend to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns were established. Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects. In short, a lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies

In addition to providing a healthy dose of Omega-3s, fish oils also supply our bodies with vitamin A and vitamin D. These vitamins are essential for growth, healthy bones, proper brain development, and a healthy nervous system. Vitamin A is critical for helping our bodies access and utilize water-soluble vitamins and they also act as an antioxidant, protecting the body from pollutants and free radicals. Vitamin A also stimulates the secretion of gastric juices needed for protein digestion, plays a vital role in building strong bones and rich blood, contributes to the production of RNA.  The body manufactures Vitamin D3 from cholesterol in the presence of sunlight and, while those living in southern climates can obtain all of the vitamin D they need from daily sun exposure, those of us in northern climes must consume diets rich in vitamin D containing foods, including marine oils and seafood.     

Here at the Co-op, we carry a wide range of sustainably harvested fish oil products from Carlson, Nordic Naturals, Wiley’s Finest, Spectrum, New Chapter, and an in-house brand.  If you have questions about fish oils, please don’t hesitate to ask a member of our Wellness team. They would love to help you select the perfect fish oil for your needs!                             

 

Wellness Wonders: Oxymels

What is an oxymel?

The term oxymel comes from the Greek word oxymeli, which translates to “acid and honey” and generally refers to an herbal extraction of vinegar and raw honey. While some traditional oxymel recipes have as much as a 5 to 1 ratio of honey to vinegar, most modern oxymel recipes call for an equal balance of the two. The vinegar most often used in oxymels is raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, which boasts a host of healthful properties on its own. Bringing together the probiotic qualities of raw apple cider vinegar with the beneficial enzymes of raw honey is a fantastic way to get the benefits of both, while also extracting and ingesting supportive herbs, particularly pungent ones that aren’t always pleasant to take on their own. One very popular example of an oxymel that you may be familiar with is fire cider, which was popularized by the esteemed herbalist (and Vermonter) Rosemary Gladstar. 

What health benefits do oxymels offer?

According to a recent Mountain Rose Herbs blog post on the topic of oxymels, both apple cider vinegar and honey have been used for millennia to help boost the immune system, soothe dry throats, and temper digestive issues. Organic apple cider vinegar is high in acetic acid, and when you use the raw, unfiltered version, you are also getting “mother” strands of proteins, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria (similar to what one might enjoy in kombucha). Meanwhile, the honey brings soothing qualities and provides germ-fighting properties. So, these two ingredients alone are beneficial to the body, and when you add herbs, you have an incredibly effective method of getting extra herbal support as well.

 

Does the Co-op carry oxymels?

The Co-op is proud to offer a local oxymel from our friends at Valley Clayplain Forest Farm. Mark and Ammy make this potent herbal preparation with raw apple cider vinegar, local honey, and juice pressed from fruits grown right on their farm in New Haven. Their Black Currant Oxymel features the tart, yet sweet flavor of this potent superfood that has four times the Vitamin C of an equivalent amount of oranges and double the antioxidants found in blueberries. They suggest taking it by the tablespoon, diluting it with water for a refreshing fruit drink, using it as a marinade, combining it with oil to make a salad dressing, or pouring it over yogurt or pancakes. 

We carry another fantastic local oxymel called Honey Lemon Master Tonic from our friends at The Yerbary in Charlotte, Vermont. This powerful herbal ally is a traditional fire cider made with organic apple cider vinegar, organic onion, organic garlic, organic ginger, organic horseradish root, organic lemon, organic raw honey, organic turmeric, organic habanero pepper. The Yerbary founder Michaela Grubbs says that this tonic will keep your systems resilient and boost your body’s defenses in a powerful yet sweet way!

Want to try making an oxymel at home?

Making your own oxymel may be much easier than you think. Some common dried herbs that make great oxymels include dandelion, elderberries, lemon balm, nettle, tulsi, rosehips, turmeric, basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Check out this recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs for making an oxymel with some of your favorite dried healing herbs:

  1. Fill a pint jar 1/4 full of your choice of herbs.
  2. Cover with equal parts apple cider vinegar and honey to fill jar.
  3. Stir to incorporate.
  4. Wipe any liquid off the rim and top with a tight-fitting plastic lid. Alternatively, place a piece of parchment paper under a metal canning lid and ring to keep the vinegar from touching the metal.
  5. Shake jar until thoroughly mixed.
  6. Store jar in a cool, dark place to extract for two weeks. Shake jar at least twice a week to assist in extraction.
  7. Strain out herbs through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the herbs to release as much liquid as possible, retaining liquid and setting herbs aside to compost.
  8. Pour strained oxymel into glass storage jars or bottles.
  9. Label and date.
  10. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to use. When stored properly, shelf life is approximately 6 months.

 

Wellness Wonders: Oxymels

What is an oxymel?

The term oxymel comes from the Greek word oxymeli, which translates to “acid and honey” and generally refers to an herbal extraction of vinegar and raw honey. While some traditional oxymel recipes have as much as a 5 to 1 ratio of honey to vinegar, most modern oxymel recipes call for an equal balance of the two. The vinegar most often used in oxymels is raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, which boasts a host of healthful properties on its own. Bringing together the probiotic qualities of raw apple cider vinegar with the beneficial enzymes of raw honey is a fantastic way to get the benefits of both, while also extracting and ingesting supportive herbs, particularly pungent ones that aren’t always pleasant to take on their own. One very popular example of an oxymel that you may be familiar with is fire cider, which was popularized by the esteemed herbalist (and Vermonter) Rosemary Gladstar. 

What health benefits do oxymels offer?

According to a recent Mountain Rose Herbs blog post on the topic of oxymels, both apple cider vinegar and honey have been used for millennia to help boost the immune system, soothe dry throats, and temper digestive issues. Organic apple cider vinegar is high in acetic acid, and when you use the raw, unfiltered version, you are also getting “mother” strands of proteins, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria (similar to what one might enjoy in kombucha). Meanwhile, the honey brings soothing qualities and provides germ-fighting properties. So, these two ingredients alone are beneficial to the body, and when you add herbs, you have an incredibly effective method of getting extra herbal support as well.

 

Does the Co-op carry oxymels?

The Co-op is proud to offer a local oxymel from our friends at Valley Clayplain Forest Farm. Mark and Ammy make this potent herbal preparation with raw apple cider vinegar, local honey, and juice pressed from fruits grown right on their farm in New Haven. Their Black Currant Oxymel features the tart, yet sweet flavor of this potent superfood that has four times the Vitamin C of an equivalent amount of oranges and double the antioxidants found in blueberries. They suggest taking it by the tablespoon, diluting it with water for a refreshing fruit drink, using it as a marinade, combining it with oil to make a salad dressing, or pouring it over yogurt or pancakes. 

We carry another fantastic local oxymel called Honey Lemon Master Tonic from our friends at The Yerbary in Charlotte, Vermont. This powerful herbal ally is a traditional fire cider made with organic apple cider vinegar, organic onion, organic garlic, organic ginger, organic horseradish root, organic lemon, organic raw honey, organic turmeric, organic habanero pepper. The Yerbary founder Michaela Grubbs says that this tonic will keep your systems resilient and boost your body’s defenses in a powerful yet sweet way!

Want to try making an oxymel at home?

Making your own oxymel may be much easier than you think. Some common dried herbs that make great oxymels include dandelion, elderberries, lemon balm, nettle, tulsi, rosehips, turmeric, basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Check out this recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs for making an oxymel with some of your favorite dried healing herbs:

  1. Fill a pint jar 1/4 full of your choice of herbs.
  2. Cover with equal parts apple cider vinegar and honey to fill jar.
  3. Stir to incorporate.
  4. Wipe any liquid off the rim and top with a tight-fitting plastic lid. Alternatively, place a piece of parchment paper under a metal canning lid and ring to keep the vinegar from touching the metal.
  5. Shake jar until thoroughly mixed.
  6. Store jar in a cool, dark place to extract for two weeks. Shake jar at least twice a week to assist in extraction.
  7. Strain out herbs through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the herbs to release as much liquid as possible, retaining liquid and setting herbs aside to compost.
  8. Pour strained oxymel into glass storage jars or bottles.
  9. Label and date.
  10. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to use. When stored properly, shelf life is approximately 6 months.

 

© Copyright 2021 - Middlebury Food Co-op