Elderberries have been a cornerstone in the medicine bag of traditional healers for hundreds of years. While over the past ten years, the berry has garnered the attention of gourmet cooks and foodies, with its ability to be grown locally, as well as its unique taste.
Despite its current popularity as a novelty food, the berries have a long history of culinary use outside of just healing. Made into wines, jams, pies and preserves, the fruit’s versatility allows people to stave off colds and respiratory illnesses before they occur by including this preventative medicine in their diets. Much like supplemented echinacea, the phytochemicals in the plant fortify the immune system.
Medicine for breakfast
These foods, like preserves made from the other super foods, continue to retain their healing properties. While any source is better fresh, seasonal produce is often available in excess for a few short months of the year, and the excess must be stored in order to be made available later in the year. Luckily, elderberry is well-adapted to a long shelf life in forms like traditional preserves, dried into teas, or reduced into cough syrups.
Recently, the popularity of the plant’s use in medicinal concoctions has attracted the attention of the contemporary medical establishment. While many of the traditional medicines undoubtedly have clear-cut healing value, because plant-based medicines have such a high variability, and therefore less control, contemporary medicine has largely avoided investigating their value.
Ancient remedies under modern scrutiny
However, recently the National Institutes of Health has made a bold foray into uncovering the scientific evidence for the virtues claimed for the fruiting bush. In addition to elderberry, the research will be looking at the healing potential of wild yams, as well as an array of other popular herbal medicines. The studies may provide the elderberry with the validation it needs to gain status as a powerful healer in the opinion of modern science-based medicine. The institute has donated over 37 million to these research projects.
One of the areas of interest is in cancer research. As a powerful anti-oxidant, many researchers believe that the fruit’s reputation as a cancer-fighter warrants a closer inspection. The University of Missouri’s Center for Botanical Interaction Studies is investigating the relationship between elderberry and prostate cancer. The center’s administrator pointed out that the 5000 years of anecdotal evidence is more than enough motivation for the health care industry to view research into the berry’s benefits as a wise investment.
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