Amid the glory of early summer, have a care for the winter cold: Home Medicine Cycle 11

The Home Medicine Cycle isn't just a collection of herbal remedies. And it certainly isn't a shopping list. I started with and continually find myself returning to the key element in this practice of "taking back your health." That is growing or gathering and making your own herbal medicines. 

Why grow or gather your own?

  1. The fresher the herbs the more medicinally potent they are.
  2. You know where you got them and have at least a chance to ensure they aren't full of pesticides or heavy metals pollution. 
  3. You can keep processing to a minimum to preserve the medicinal potency.
  4. You know every ingredient and screen out allergens. 
  5. The process of growing and making your own medicinals is a powerful way to connect you to natural rhythms and the earth.
  6. Some herbal medicinals are specifically more effective if they are locally grown.
  7. You can be a part of local, sustainable habitat and community development.
Elderflower - Creative commons image by J. M. Garg

Elderflower - Creative commons image by J. M. Garg

This week I have an herbal tip that is often easy to gather and you may not need to grow it. It is also a perfect example of an herb that will root you in natural rhythms and cycles of the earth and sun. That's elder flowers.

I know you can make elderberry wine and syrup later in the season and these have their own medicinal qualities and significant vitamin content. But I want to spotlight elder flowers because they bloom for only two or three short weeks each year in May or June, depending on where you live. And they are so essential to the home medicine cabinet.

The primary way we use elder flowers is in tinctures and teas to treat colds, sniffles and sinus problems. Elder flower is the single most effective herbal cold medicine I know of and it often works almost uncannily well, drying up serious congestion in a couple of hours with the rapidity usually reserved for unhealthy pharmaceuticals that block the body's production of mucus. Elder flower has a much gentler mechanism with better long-term effects. Sometimes it isn't as dramatic but it should be helpful with colds and sinus problems unless you are actually allergic to elder flower pollen.

Elder flower - Creative commons image by Kurt Stuber

Elder flower - Creative commons image by Kurt Stuber

Some people are allergic, so I recommend caution if you suffer from pollen allergies. I do know people who actually treat pollen allergies with elder flower tincture effectively, but due to their allergies they have to have a friend or family member process the elder flower for them and make it into a tincture with all the pollen and petals filtered out. This is likely to be one case in which the local origin of the herb will be an aid in allergy mitigation. 

Here is a link to the instructions on tincture making. You can use that recipe to make elder flower tincture and bottle a little bit of the June sunshine for next fall and winter when the inevitable sniffles will come around. 

I also recommend drying some elder flower blossoms for tea. The flower can be very effective for children too, but it can be difficult to give children tincture without exposing them to alcohol. 

Elder flower - Creative commons image by Hardyplants at Wikipedia

Elder flower - Creative commons image by Hardyplants at Wikipedia

It may be difficult to get motivated to go out and search for elder flower to treat colds that are unlikely to strike for another six months. This is why it's such a good herb to connect us with natural rhythms and remind us that we are in the cycle of the earth's seasons. Now is the time for gathering and producing food and herbs. The time of need will come soon enough.

Wild elder trees often  grow in empty lots and on the edges of towns in thick bushy clumps, Look for elder flowers in areas that aren't sprayed with pesticides on vacant land or along the edges of forests.

However, if you need a little added motivation, there are ways to make elder flower into a delicious and healthy summer drink, in fact an excellent replacement for pop and other over-sweetened drinks. I posted this recipe last year. Look here for the post on how to make a delicious drink concentrate with elder flowers.