Health food of the month - Elderberries October 2010
HEALTH FOOD OF THE MONTH -
Elderberries are a common plant found throughout the UK. They have also been used as a natural health food and medicine for centuries. This is because they are full of natural goodness such as Vitamins A, B and C and also contain strong antioxidant properties.
There are many reports of specific benefits from the elderberry; it is said to help lower cholesterol, to improve vision and to boost the immune system. Bioflavonoids in the juice can help to destroy the abilities of cold and flu viruses to infect cells – elderberry juice was even used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in the 1990s.
The Latin name for this plant is sambucus. There are various species of elderberry and the plants can be found across the world, although it is more common in the northern hemisphere. In spring elderberries bear large clusers of small white or cream coloured flowers, and then these are followed later by clusters of small black, blue-back and sometimes red berries.
The berries which appear later are used for a range of delicious drinks and jam and can be used to enhance the flavour of various pies and other dishes. However, when using the berries it is imperative you take some precautions. First avoid picking green or green purple berries as these are unripe and can contain traces of cyanide which can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and worse. Ripe berries will be hanging downwards in big clusters and will be plump and soft.
But be aware that even in ripe fruit, some people can react violently to any traces of toxic compounds that may be in the berries. Cooking removes this problem which is why it is advised to always cook elderberries before using in any recipe.
To emphasize this point, it is worth noting that the leaves and bark of the elderberry tree should never be used; they contain a high level of toxic compounds to the extent that they are often used as a natural insecticide.
Don’t let this put you off though. Elderberries grow in abundance in the UK so are a wonderful source of free Vitamin C and other goodness. Their subtle flavour is a top favourite with many people and they are very easy to cook with. Just search for elderberry recipes on the net or in cookery books and you may find some lovely new ideas for this traditional British berry.