Monday, January 21, 2013

Meatless Monday: The Mighty Elderberry

Recent archaeological finds indicate that as far back as prehistoric times, the Europeans have revered the Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) for its healing properties. Known by many common names including: Elder, Elderberry, Black Elder, and European Black Elderberry, the Black Elder is a deciduous shrub or small tree, native to most of Europe and western Asia, which thrives in sunny locations in a variety of conditions from wet to dry, and is both cultivated and found in the wild.

Hippocrates is said to have described the elderberry as his “medicine chest.” Over the centuries the elderberry has been used to treat a wide range of maladies from cold and flu to wounds and toothache. In fact, the proven ability of elderberry extract to lessen the duration of colds and flu was the subject of my post on Saturday

Native Americans have a long tradition of using a closely related plant, the American Elder (Sambucus canadensis), for medicinal uses, particularly for curing fever and rheumatism. 

Native to the eastern and central sections of North America from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Montana and Texas, the American Elder blooms from June-July and bears dark purple or black berries. [Note: The plant can sometimes be confused with the red-berried elder (S. racemosa Michx. or S. pubens Michx.) which overlap territory but blooms earlier and produces bright red berries. These berries are toxic and should not be eaten.]

Why does the elderberry have such power? Black Elderberries are rich in the phytochemicals known as flavonoids. Among all fruits, elderberries are the most concentrated source of anthocyanins, a class of flavonoids, that act as antioxidants, protecting the body’s cells and boosting its immune system. Black Elderberries have almost five times as many anthocyanins as blueberries and twice the overall antioxidant capability of cranberries

Many of the elderberry remedies (including Sambucol®) now come from Europe. Should current research continue to confirm the health benefits of this crop, there is tremendous economic potential for growers.

Demand for this crop may soon exceed supply as ever-growing numbers of “foodies” covet its berries for pies and jam, and artisanal spirit-makers on both the East Coast and the West seek fruit for distilling into cordials. 

Missouri has a plan. With the largest acreage of elderberries in the US, the state aims to stay in the lead, and has set the objective to “fast-track the growth of Missouri’s elderberry industry by organizing and hosting the First International Elderberry Symposium, linked with a concurrent elderberry producer workshop in Columbia, MO, in June, 2013… This international Symposium and producer workshop will place Missouri at the forefront of elderberry research and development, and will profoundly influence the competitiveness of the Missouri elderberry industry.” It looks like the citizens of the “Show Me State” will be ready to go, and to grow.

Happy Monday. Have a great week.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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