Elderberry Tonic: What is it?
In Western Herbalism, any herb that is a “tonic” is strengthening and revitalizing for a particular body system. Elderberries are a fabulous tonic for our immune system. Elderberries happen to ripen at the end of summer, just before warm days give way to Autumn snuggles and sniffles. Isn’t nature so wise? She knows just when to offer her medicine, right when we need it!
Elderberries are a nutrient powerhouse. They contain compounds that we know to be beneficial to the healing process: flavonoids, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, anthocyanocides, and more. Just look at those deep, dark berries — don’t they speak volumes?
Because of the medicinal properties (long heralded in folklore as well), the berries of the Elder plant have been made into a tonic for keeping our immune systems resilient and supporting the healing process. This tonic would be Elderberry Syrup or Elderberry Tonic! This traditional herbal recipe is one each of us can easily make in our own home. But for those without easy access to ingredients or time, we’ve got you covered! Town Farm Tonics’ Elderberry Tonic recipe is simple, delicious, effective. And, the process is one we are proud of. Let’s tell you a bit more!
Our process of making Elderberry Syrup begins with sourcing. At Town Farm Tonics, we thoughtfully source every ingredient. We purchase only organic ingredients. Otherwise, we buy directly from farmers who go “beyond organic” with regenerative practices. As our businesses grows, we will invest herb by herb into more local and direct sourcing. We are excited this summer to start trialing Elderberry varieties ourselves at a nearby farm in Dartmouth, MA! There are a number of Elder varieties, so this process will allow us to better understand the ones which grow best here in our coastal New England climate.
The first step that takes us into the kitchen is simmering. For us, that means heating up water in a 40-gallon pot (!) with our hearty “simmering” herbs. These are: Elderberries, Rose Hips, Cinnamon, and Ginger. These warming, circulatory-supporting, and immune-boosting roots, barks, and berries require a long simmer to extract their beneficial compounds and delicious flavors. We don’t skimp here. We simmer our ingredients for over an hour, reducing this “decoction” quite a bit. The result is potent! Luckily, we work out of the local food incubator Hope & Main, where we have access to the big kettles needed to properly simmer and steep our Elderberry tonic!
Next up is stirring in the “aerial” parts of the herbs (flowers and leaves)! The aerial parts lend flavor and nutrition would be lost in simmering. So, these ingredients are added post-simmer. We stir in our Nettles and Elderflower, cover up that big kettle, and let it all steep for another hour. We added these wild New England plants for their anti-inflammatory & anti-histamine properties, and because we know that our bodies need trace minerals for our immune systems to function. Essentially, in this step we are making a nourishing herbal infusion! You know we’re all about herbal infusions. Bet you didn’t know that your Elderberry Syrup is essentially a concentrated one, did you?
Post-steep comes one of the toughest steps: pressing every ounce of plant matter in our giant “tincture press”. This simple machine is also known as a fruit press. It has big holes through which we strain every drop of goodness from our juicy plant matter. We’ve recorded that at minimum 15% of our Elderberry decoction comes from this step of pressing. We’ve also noticed that this pressed juice has a gorgeous iridescence to it. This likely comes from the oils and compounds in the skin and pulp that we get solely from pressing. By pressing our pulp, instead of simply straining like most others, we likely retain compounds like antioxidants, acids, sugars, tannins, and minerals that we don’t want to lose!
Ahhh, the last step in the cooking portion of our process: preservation. We choose to preserve our Elderberry Syrup with local wildflower honey and organic apple cider vinegar. (Some use alcohol, but we’d prefer our tonic to be sober-friendly.) Apple cider vinegar supports digestion and gives our tonic a uniquely tangy flavor. We choose local wildflower honey because of the health and economic benefits. Local honey contains pollen that can help our bodies adjust when allergy season comes around. And we all likely know by now about the local multiplier effect. When we spend our money locally, more of it stays within our community. The rising tide lifts all boats! As a business invested in making a positive impact, that’s something we will always get behind.
That’s our process!
From there, we move on to bottling our delicious Elderberry tonic so that it is shelf-stable. That makes it easy to store, ship, or shelf at local shops... while it waits for YOU!
While Town Farm Tonics may have scaled up a bit from concocting tonics in our home kitchen for family and friends, maintaining the integrity and quality of home herbalism was crucial to us. Our process is no different than it was back then. Now, we simply make more, utilizing a sanitary and beautiful commercial kitchen to do so! After sampling and perfecting our Elderberry Syrup for years, we are delighted and honored to share our creation with you. While I’m not about to give away our particular recipe that is sweet-tangy-herbal perfection, we ARE all about herbal empowerment. So, we hope that this peek into our process has inspired you to get creative with Elderberries yourself!