Two species of elderberry grow wild in New Mexico: Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa).
Spanish: Baya del sauco. Family: Adoxaceae (Moschatel famil). Genus and Species: Sambucus nigra.
Elderberry is a shrub that grows 8-30 feet tall and is in the Adoxaceae family. Formerly, elderberry was considered to be a member of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). It is one of the earliest plants cultivated by human beings and has been used for food, medicinal, and cosmetic purposes since the Stone Age. The Romans believed that anyone who grew elderberry would die of old age instead of illness.
Two species of elderberry grow wild in New Mexico: Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa). When using elderberry for food or medicine, it is best to avoid red elderberry as this species is high enough in hydrocyanic acid and sambucine to cause symptoms of poisoning that include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. The seeds and bark of both species should be avoided. Only red elderberry is found in Northern New Mexico, while black elderberry grows wild in Central and Southern New Mexico.
Historical use of black elderberry as medicine included the treatment of colds, flu, and coughs, while the intensely blue color of the pigments in the berries has been and still is used as a dye for textiles. The berries contain large amounts of Vitamin C and the bioflavonoids rutin and anthocyanin. It is the presence of the purple pigment anthocyanin that has been the subject of modern-day research that suggests that elderberry has antiviral properties that may help prevent or shorten the duration of the flu. Research in Israel has shown that these anthocyanins increase the body’s production of antibodies that destroy viruses and bacteria and interfere with a virus’ ability to enter our cells in order to manufacture more viruses.
Use of black elderberry as food includes preserves, jam, and wine, but it is important to remove the seeds from the berries prior to cooking them due to the presence of hydrocyanic acid and sambucine.
Elderberry is available as a syrup or elixir and is safe for anyone to consume, but if you are taking prescription medication, especially blood thinning drugs, consult your healthcare practitioner.
Always consult your healthcare practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are pregnant, taking prescription medication, or administering herbs to children.
Rob Hawley is co-owner of Taos Herb Company. Find out more at (575) 758-1991 or www.taosherb.com
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