Monday, November 22, 2010

Elderberry harvest is almost here

It’s almost time to take the family up to the mountains and pick elderberries.  We’ve never made wine but make lots of jam and also use the berries just as we would blueberries in pancakes and muffins.  There is more to the elderberry than jam, wine, and pancakes.

I was looking at a book an acquaintance of mine wrote called Medicinal Plants Used by Native American Tribes in Southern California.    The book lists almost three dozen plants used by Native Americans.  There are nice color photos so you know exactly what the plant looks like.  More than that, it provides specific information about each listed plant.

Let’s take the elderberry.  Another common name is Blue elder.  The book provides the names many of the tribes called it, if that interests you, and also provides the family and scientific names.  The book tells you where you can find the plant and also the harvest time.  I’m not too thrilled about the harvest time listed for elderberry though.  It says flowers often can be found at various locations.  What?  If you are picking berries, they may look ripe in the early fall but they don’t taste good.  The berries don’t sweeten up until after the first few frosts.  But hurry if you plan on picking them.  The deer and other animals will beat you to them if you wait too long.

The best part of the book is the listings of parts used and traditional knowledge, including which tribe provides this knowledge.  They also provide the references they used so you can research this more if you wish.  I’ll list some of what’s written:
Blossom…. Contains aspirin and used for fever, aches, pains, blood thinner.
Blossom…. Poultice used to rub aching joints and limbs for rheumatism
Blossom…. Infusion taken for upset stomachs
Flower….Used for female complaints
Root….Decoction taken for flu
Root…. Tea used as strong laxative
Wood…. Used as splints for broken bones
Berry…. Eaten fresh or dried for storage and later consumption, when they are boiled like raisins
Stem….Juice used as black dye
Stem….Hollow stems used for containers, flutes, splint-stick rattles, fire drills, various tools

There is also a listing of western medicinal information and precautions and contraindications between sources. 

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