This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
From the well-known purplish-black berries of the Elder (Sambucus nigra) is made Elderberry wine, which when combined as to its composition with raisins, sugar, and spices, may well pass for Frontignac; or, if well brewed, and three years old, for English Port. This wine has curative powers of established repute, particularly as a pleasant domestic remedy for promoting perspiration on the access of a catarrh, with shivering, soreness of throat, aching limbs, and general depression: under which conditions a jorum of hot steaming cordial Elderberry wine taken at bedtime proves famously preventive of further ills. "A cup of mulled Elder Wine, served with nutmeg, and sippets of toast, just before going to bed on a cold wintry night, is a thing," as Cobbett said, "to be run for".
Again, the inspissated juice, or "rob," extracted from crushed Elderberries, and simmered with white sugar, is cordial, laxative, and diuretic. One or two tablespoonfuls are to be taken with a tumblerful of very hot water. To make this, five pounds of the fresh berries should be used, with one pound of loaf sugar, and the juice should be evaporated to the thickness of honey. Chemically, the berries furnish viburnic acid, with an odorous oil, combined with malates of potash, and lime. Elder-flower tea is also excellent for inducing free perspiration. "The recent Rob of the Elder, if spread thick upon a slice of bread, and eaten before other dishes, is our wives' domestick medicine, which they use likewise on their infants and children, whose bellies are stopt longer than ordinary: for, this juice is most pleasant, and familiar to children: or, drink a draught of the wine at your breakfast to loosen the belly" (1760). In Germany the Elder tree is regarded with great respect. "From its leaves a fever-drink is made; from its berries a sour preserve, and a wonder-working electuary; whilst the moon-shaped clusters of its aromatic flowers are narcotic, and are used in baking small cakes." Our English summer is not here until the Elder is fully in flower, and it ends when the berries are ripe.
Douglas Jerrold, once at a well-known tavern, ordered a bottle of Port Wine, "which should be old, but not Elder".
As a recipe for making Elderberry Wine: "Strip the berries (which must be quite ripe) into a dry jar, and pour two gallons of boiling water over three gallons of the berries, cover, and leave in a warm place for twenty-four hours; then strain, pressing the juice well out. Measure it, and allow three pounds of sugar, half an ounce of ginger, and a quarter of an ounce of cloves to each gallon. Boil slowly for twenty minutes: then strain it into a cask, and ferment it whilst lukewarm. Let it remain until it has become still before bunging, and bottle it in six months. If a weaker wine is preferred, use four gallons of water to the above quantity of berries, and leave for two days before straining. Some stone jars will serve the purpose instead of a cask. Or, in another way, to every three gallons of water allow one peck of Elderberries; to every gallon of juice allow three pounds of sugar, half an ounce of ground ginger, six cloves, one pound of good Turkey raisins; and a quarter of a pint of brandy to every gallon of wine.
Then for working the wine, add three or four table-spoonfuls of fresh yeast from the brewery to every nine gallons of the wine." Elderberry juice contains a considerable proportion of the principle necessary for a vigorous fermentation, but it is deficient in sweetness.
German writers declare that the Elder contains within itself an entire magazine of physic, and a complete chest of homely medicaments. Likewise John Evelyn (Sylva, 1664), has written concerning the Elder: "If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark, and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countrymen could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge, either for sickness, or wounds." And again, "the buds boiled in water-gruel have effected wonders in a fever; the spring buds are excellently wholesome in pottage; and small ale in which Elder flowers have been infused is esteemed by many so salubrious that this is to be had in most of the eating-houses about town" (1680). The great Boerhaave (1720) always took off his hat through respect when passing an Elder bush. Nevertheless this exhales an unpleasant soporific smell which is said to impair the health of persons sleeping under its shade. "They do make tooth-pickers, and spoons of Elder-wood, to which they attribute much in preservation from the pain of toothache." Curiously enough an old English proverb ran to this effect: "Laurel for a garland, Elder for a disgrace".
Sir Thomas Browne has told among his Vulgar Errors (1646), "that Elderberries are poisonous (as we are taught by tradition) experience will unteach us." At the Christmas Party, Dingley Dell, graphically described in Pickwick: "Long after the ladies had retired to bed did the hot Elder wine, well qualified with brandy and spice, go round, and round, and round again: and sound was the sleep, and pleasant were the dreams that followed'.
'Formerly the creamy Elder blossoms were beaten up in the batter of flannel cakes, and muffins, to which they gave a more delicate texture. They were also boiled in gruel as a fever-drink, and were added to the posset of the Christening feast. In Anatomie of the Elder (1655), it is stated: "the common people keep as a great secret in curing wounds the leaves of the Elder (which they have gathered the last day of April). Likewise make powder of the flowers of Elder gathered on a Midsummer day, being first well dryed, and use a spoonful thereof in a good draught of Borage water, morning and evening, first and last for the space of a month, and it will make you seem young a great while".
From Elder flowers a gently stimulating ointment may be prepared with lard, for dressing burns and scalds; also another such ointment concocted from green Elderberries with camphor and lard, has been formerly ordered by the London College of Surgeons for the relief of piles. Thus "the leaves of Elder boiled soft, with a little linseed oil added thereto, if then laid upon a piece of scarlet, or red cloth, and applied to the piles as hot as this can be suffered, being removed when cold, and replaced by one such cloth after another upon the diseased part, by the space of an hour, and in the end some bound to the place, and the patient put then to bed; this hath not yet failed at the first dressing to cure the disease, but if the patient be dressed twice therewith it must needs cure them if the first fail." "It were likewise profitable for the scabby if they made a sallet of those young elder-flower buds, which at the beginning of the Spring doe bud forth; as also for those outbreakings of the skin, or pustules, which by the singular favour of nature are contemporaneous; these buds being macerated a little in hot water may be sometimes eaten together with oyle, salt, and vinegar".
The following is a "grandmothers' recipe for Elderberry Syrup." "Stew the berries gently with a little water until all the juice is extracted; then press them through a hair sieve, or squeeze them in a coarse cloth, so as to obtain all the viscid juice. To each pint of this add one pound of preserving sugar, and three (bruised) cloves; then boil it until of a syrupy consistence. Afterwards bottle, and cork well; it will keep for years. When using the syrup take a tablespoonful in a tumblerful of water; boiling water if for a cold, so as to afford relief by prompt perspiration." "Elderberry wine made hot, and into which a little cinnamon is mixed, is one of the best preventives known against the advance of influenza, or the ill effects of a chill." None the less we read in Cranford, "Not all the Elder wine that ever was mulled could wash out the remembrance of a domestic difference between Miss Pole, the spinster, and her hostess, Mrs. Forrester, who had protested that ghosts were part of her religion".