Elderberry (Čháŋ phuté hú) Harvest

Elderberries are one of my favorite medicinal berries. They are one of the only antiviral medicines that are effective in shortening the length of flu viruses, as well as the severity. Elderberry syrup is also an excellent cough medicine, and can help to nip a cold or other winter illness in the bud. And this is the time of year to get them.

Elderberries are getting ripe this time of year on Standing Rock, and the Human vs. Bird race to harvest them is on!

This year, I had at least moderate success in finding some berries before the birds did. Here’s a bush at a friend’s place in Akíčita Háŋska district that I harvested with permission:

As you can see, not all berries on a bush — or even in the same cluster — ripen at the same time, so harvesting by hand can be a bit challenging.

Here is what they look like when they turn purple and are ready to harvest:
One beautiful characteristic of this plant is that the stems turn purple-red as well.

I harvested these in order to make elderberry syrup, an antiviral and cough medicine.

There are two kinds of edible elderberries in North America: Sambucus nigra (European Elderberry) and Sambucus canadensis (American Elderberry). I am not sure how to tell them apart because I don’t frequently encounter Sambucus nigra bushes, but all of the pictures above are of Sambucus canadensis. I have seen a lot of debate about whether Sambucus canadensis is as effective medicinally as Sambucus nigra. I have seen strong arguments both for and against. From what I can tell, there has been no definitive conclusions one way or another. All I can say for certain is that the North American plant (Sambucus canadensis) has worked for me, and the syrup I have made in the past has worked for others, too.

If you don’t have locally available bushes and want to make elderberry syrup, I strongly recommend finding a source (there are high quality dried elderberries available online, both S. nigra and S. canadensis) and ordering them ASAP. Two trustworthy companies I have ordered from before are Mountain Rose Herbs (S. nigra) and Sacred Blossom Farm (S. canadensis). In general, websites that sell Elderberries in any form tend to sell out very early in the season, especially during bad flu years, because people recognize their medicinal value. So get them while you can!

There are lots of great elderberry syrup recipes online. The one I use, I got from a mentor, so I cannot share it without permission — but the main ingredients a person needs are elderberries and honey (ideally, local raw honey).

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