Tag Archives: Colds

Elderflower Tea

Following on from my recent post about Elder, here’s how to make Elderflower tea.

It is very easy to make fresh Elderflower tea and there should be some Elder close to your home.  When the shrub is in full bloom (May/June here in Western Europe) and on a warm dry day find an Elder away from polluting roads.  Check you like the smell of the flowers, the scent of Elderflower varies from shrub to shrub and it is not always fragrant!  Ask permission of the plant, in some way, to harvest flowers. Most countries have lots of  folk lore about being especially respectful of the Elder and if you are not of the superstitious kind then do remember that Elder berries are important to wildlife later in the year – less flowers, less berries.

Select only healthy looking flower heads (umbels) which have creamy-yellow stamens as shown in the photo.  Pick them carefully as they are very easily damaged, I tend to collect them into a paper bag to avoid squashing the umbels on the way home.

Don’t wash the umbels before use but do snip off any thick stemy parts and shake off any insects and unwanted bits.  If possible return the insects and bits to the plant soon afterwards.  After gently shaking, it helps to lay the umbels on some white paper for a few minutes. The tiny insects then tend to crawl out or at least may be easily spotted and removed.

Use one or two big umbels per cup of tea.  You can use the actual flowers alone (although its a bit fiddly to separate them when fresh) or the entire umbels.  I simply place whole umbels (sort of folded up) in a small tea pot, add boiled water, cover and infuse or 5 – 10 minutes.  If making it in a cup, do cover with a saucer whilst it infuses.

If you would like to harvest Elder flowers to dry and store then collect them just before the shrubs are in full bloom (May/June).  Harvest as above, lay out on paper to dry in a warm, well ventilated place. When thoroughly dry the little flowers can be rubbed off the umbels and stored in jam jars, in a dark place, for up to a year.  You would use about 1 heaped teaspoon of dried herb per cup of tea.

It is well worth keeping some dried Elderflower in stock over the cold and flu months. Herbals generally recommend that it is freely taken for a few days during a cold or flu (up to 8 cups daily) and up to a few cups per day at other times.  Refer to the post about Elder for a little more information about the properties and uses of this wonderful plant.

The Sap is Rising…

I like winter, it’s a good time to retreat into oneself  and listen to what the darkness has to teach but I am always happy when I can see signs life reappearing in the plants around me.  This week I can smell and see that happening as the sap starts to slowly rise in many plants.  One of the most useful and familiar of herbs is certainly showing those signs at the moment.  Elder (Sambucus nigra, NL:Vlier) is thankfully so common that there is most likely a modest specimen growing quite close to where you live.  Perhaps you use it wisely already or perhaps you would recognise its flowers or berries.

I remember a very resilient old Elder which hung over my family’s driveway as a child. We didn’t know how to work with Elder at that time but the local birds evidently did.  Each year our car would become covered with staining purple droppings as the birds gorged themselves on its ripe berries.  The shrub was severely pruned each year to limit the damage and each year it bounced back, absolutely thriving in the clay soil and sunshine.

Elder has so many uses in traditional medicine that it is really worth getting to know.  I shall post in detail about Elder one day soon, when I feel spring’s energies flowing through my own veins again.  Until then I wanted to share with you one remedy which I used a few weeks ago with success.

Elder (in winter) for fever.
Sambucus nigra is known, among other things, as a traditional fever remedy.  It is effective at inducing perspiration which in turn lowers the bodies temperature yet is reputedly mild enough to be used for childhood fevers, when they are not extreme. Generally the flowers are used to treat fever and the berries to reduce the severity and longevity of cold and flu.  Recently I felt a cold or flu creeping up on me and wanted to self treat with Elder however in late December neither fresh berries or flowers were available to me here in Amsterdam.  A tea, using dried organic flowers from a healthfood shop, might have been an option but I wanted to experiment with a local Elder.

It is said that one should always ask permission of the Elder before harvesting from her so I sought out a strong Elder shrub in my nearby park and mentally asked to harvest enough material to treat myself. The bark and leaves of Elder also contain some of the fever reducing agents found in the flowers and berries.

I harvested a few healthy (and budding) young twigs and small branches (about 2 feet long in total and mostly second year growth).

  • I cleaned them a little with water and scraped the outer and inner bark from the branches and broke up the twigs which were too small to scrape.  The remaining Elder material was kept aside.
  • The twigs and bark were placed in a small heavy pan.
  • I added about 700ml filtered and freshly boiled water to the pan and covered with a heavy lid.
  • This infusion was left at a fairly cool room temperature for 48 hours.
  • As time progressed I checked the infusion a few times and the smell of Elder became increasingly intense and the liquid became slightly gelatinous.  It smelled fresh and tasted smooth, soothing and slightly sweet.
  • After 48 hours the infusion was strained and the spent plant material was kept aside with the unused material.
  • I drank the infusion over the following 4 hours, rested and wrapped up comfortably warm. I sweated more than usual and noticed a feeling of being cleansed and nourished.  The threatening cold/flu came to nothing more than a few hours of feeling tired and hot with a slight headache.  Of course this may or may not have been thanks to the Elder infusion but I will happily try it again when I feel a cold or flu trying to take hold.
  • The used Elder material was returned with thanks to the foot of the shrub from whence it came.  One small branch was not used at all and is currently rooting easily in a vase of water on my kitchen windowsill. It has several healthy new leaves. 
  • Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm, NL:Citroenmelisse)

    I love the uplifting citrus scent of fresh Lemon Balm (Melissa). In the spring and summer it smells and tastes magical; I eat leaves straight from the plant whilst gardening on the roof, add them to salads and ice cubes and frequently drink it as a tea. Lemon balm tastes great alone or in combination with other herbs, particularly mints. In the autumn and winter I use it dried, it smells good but quite different and has several really useful applications. I made a lip balm containing Melissa this weekend, to help fight off cold sores. I find it works a treat and thought it was time to share a few of this herb’s properties and uses.

    The Latin name Melissa means honeybee and this herb is very attractive to bees. It has been planted near beehives since the time of ancient Greece as it encourages bees to return home.  The herb is a member of the mint family and has long been associated with love, friendship, health, healing, success and good cheer. It was the main ingredient in Carmelite water and has a reputation for relieving symptoms of mild depression.

    Lemon Balm grows very well in almost any soil, does well in pots and can be divided to make extra plants throughout spring, summer and early autumn.  It is a hardy herbaceous perennial, a pretty variagated variety is available and it makes a great urban herb.

    Melissa can be used to:

    • Cool. It can induce a mild perspiration so is sometimes useful taken as a tea when feverish with colds or flu.  In hot weather its cooling properties are also welcomed.
    • Scent. The fresh lemon odour makes Melissa valuable dried in potpourri, as a breath freshener and when the leaves are bruised it can really lift spirits.
    • Flavour. The lemony fresh leaves can be chopped into salads, ice cubes, mayonnaise, white sauces, sauerkraut, custards, jellies, fruit drinks and wine cups.
      Lemon balm can also be used to create wonderfully aromatic vinegars, alone or in combination with herbs such as Tarragon.  They can be used in delicious salad dressings, marinades and sauces.
    • Relieve cold sores.  Some commercial cold sore preparations contain lemon balm but it is easy and cheap to make your own balm.  Recent scientific research has also found that preparations containing Melissa can reduce recurrence of cold sores and can shorten the duration of attacks.
    • Calm and soothe. Lemon balm may be helpful to those suffering from grief, mild depression, anxiety, tension and sleeplessness. It can help digestive problems caused by these issues and many find it works as a relaxing tonic.  Recent scientific research has also found it to be useful in managing agitation in Alzheimer’s patients.
    • Relieve headaches. A tasty remedy for simple tension headaches it to soak a handful of freshly picked leaves in a glass of wine for an hour, or drink a tea made from the dried leaves.
    • Relieve chronic bronchial catarrh. Lemon balm tea can help to ease symptoms.

    How to make Cold Sore fighting lip balm

    • Follow my instructions about How To Make Salves, Ointments and Lip Balms using a 50:50 mix of Calendula and Melissa heat infused oils.
    • Warm very gently as you dissolve the grated beeswax, I stir with a clean finger to check that the temperature remains really low.
    • Ensure you test the consistency and adjust it accordingly, with more wax or more oil, before pouring into small pots.  Lip balm for cold sores shouldn’t be too firm as application may be painful.
    • When I use a pot of balm to treat a cold sore, I tend to throw away any remainder when the sore is healed. This reduces the risk of using contaminated balm once the skin is healed.