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Elderberry toxicity and tinctures

 
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  I am trying to find information about the toxin in elderberry seeds, and what effect, if any, tincturing in alcohol has on it. What I have found, seems conflicting. Article after article saying do not eat or use raw elderberries, seeds are toxic, etc. and even one source: https://franklininstituteofwellness.com/proper-elderberry-syrup/ , that suggests the only way to use elderberry is medicinally is by thoroughly cooking it and making a syrup so that “all” toxicity is destroyed, and basically says outright do not make tinctures as the berries (dried or raw) do not get cooked first.
 On the other hand, I see TONS of people advocating tinctures, sharing tincturing recipes, and sometimes even claiming that alcohol denatures the glycoside and makes them safe but I cannot find a single source proving that, only the opposite, actually, that the alcohol would extract and preserve the toxin too. However, I have also not seen a single claim of anyone getting violently sick from using an elderberry tincture, even if those same people can or have been made sick eating the raw berries. So, I’m at a bit of a loss here. If anyone has any experiences or more information to share it would be greatly appreciated!
 
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Every single medicine I get from the doctor says might cause kidney and liver failure. Causes drowsiness don't drive otherwise possible death. Other say it might cause mood swing/suicidal thoughts/depression, weight gain and weight lost, etc, etc. But everyone seems to be taking them and they seems to work enough to make it a biz model.


All that said, elderberry needs to be heat treated (baked/cooked/simmered/etc) or fermented to breakdown the 'bad hombres' before they are eaten in big/regular quantities. Eating a small handful of raw berries or the equivalent as 'raw tincture' is fine, esp if it is topical vs oral.  Do listen to your body and reduce or eliminate any food or medicine that your body tells you is not working for you. I can eat a ton of peanut for some people it is deadly, likewise my doctor also says if the medicine makes me worse stop come in and change the dosage or try another compound.  
 
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Why not press gently to remove the juices and not crush the seeds and then proceed?
 
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I have written a book on foraging and using elderberries (Elderberries: The Beginner's Guide to Foraging, Preserving and Using Elderberries for Health Remedies, Recipes, Drinks & More, and did extensive research on this topic.  The seeds are mildly toxic but that's if they're ingested or (to a lesser extent) crushed.  Toxicity is removed by cooking or even fermenting, and it is negligent in preparations that are made without the seeds like tinctures, liqueurs, or making stovetop elderberry juice where the seeds are strained out for the final product.  The way I advocate making elderberry juice is similar to how you'd process wild grapes -- cover with water and simmer, then lightly mash and strain.  Lab studies have even shown that fermenting gets rid of negative effects of the seeds, too.  I'll see if I can find the study if you like.

High heat destroys many of the most beneficial properties of elderberries.  Even moderate heat does to a lesser extent.  You get the most anti-viral and medicinal effect through alcohol tinctures.  You can also make an oxymel (vinegar based tincture) that is less effective but alcohol-free.  When I make elderberry syrup I do it at a very low simmer.  I find that elderberry tincture is the most powerful of the remedies we make, but elderberry syrup is also wonderful and great for kids.

Hope that helps.
 
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the toxic parts of the blue and black elderberries is primarily in the stems, leaves, and root.

because the berries are so teeny, and the way they grow, it can be difficult to get all those little bits of the stems out of any elderberry preparation.
this confuses the issue i think, as reports of people getting stomach aches to the point of food poisoning  generally involve raw/ or preparations that have other parts of the plants, namely those stems or other chaff.

also RED elderberry is more toxic, and not used as a medicine or food. this i think also confuses the toxicity issues.

so i guess what i am getting at, is many sources err on the side of caution, but maybe dont understand this specific detail, its the leaves and stems and especially the root of elderberry that is toxic, and is usually found in the reported cases of problems....that some leaves/stems were included...especially raw, no other part of the plant is edible beside the berry.
 
Alicia Bayer
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It should be noted that you hear a lot about how toxic other parts of elder are, but there is only one official case of food poisoning by elderberry in US history and that was with a group of people who gathered large amounts of elderberries, stems, branches and leaves and crushed them into a juice that they then served raw during a multi-day religious gathering in the California mountains many years ago.  Even in that case (where some folks were hospitalized) everybody fully recovered very quickly.

The reports that I've read of stomach aches and diarrhea have dealt with the berries, not other parts.  You absolutely can get stomach aches and diarrhea from eating raw elderberries.  You also may not, but I personally wouldn't chance it since raw elderberries don't taste that great anyway and the best ways to use them are other ways.  There are also anecdotal stories of children who got sick making pea shooters out of hollowed elderberry sticks, though they have also been used traditionally for flutes for many years after they were dried. I've never found a confirmed case of anybody being sickened by using elder branches in this way but stories from "the old days" are plentiful.

You also hear a lot about the toxicity of red elderberries.  The USDA warns not to eat *raw* red elderberries, but they were traditionally used as both food and medicine for some Native American tribes.  There are some folks online who have experimented with making things like red elderberry fruit leather but the main drawback of red elderberry is that it just doesn't taste good.  But yes, even more caution should be taken not to eat those raw.

You do not need to worry about tiny bits of stem that are in your elderberries if you'll be cooking them or using them in tinctures.  It is nearly impossible to get every tiny bit and it's not necessary.  People have been cooking elderberry pies and making elderberry syrup, tincture, wine, etc. for centuries and it is generally accepted that there will be some tiny bits of stem in elderberries you use for cooking, wine making, medicine or other uses.  Even dried elderberries from respected herbal companies like Mountain Rose Herbs will contain small bits of stem.  This is fine.

You hear a lot that the best way to de-stem elderberries is to freeze them and then knock off the berries.  We've found that this results in more stems (and mess) in your berries.  We have the best results simply raking them with a fork or even wide mouthed comb (see the photo below of our youngest daughter, Fiona, using a fork to destem elderberries a few years ago).  We then spread them on a cookie sheet and give it a little shake to spread them evenly, and press a finger onto the bits of stem on the cookie sheet to lift them up and get them out.  Tiny bits of stem are left unless we're making pies of muffins, in which case I work at it a bit longer just for aesthetic reasons (nobody wants a chunk of elderberry stem in their pie).  Flash freeze on cookie sheets for a few hours and then bag them up if you're using them for baking, so you have single frozen elderberries that are easy to scoop out.  When you bag them up, you can do another little shake and more stems will have stuck to the pan.  When making juice (covered in water and simmered and strained), you can worry less about bits of stem.  There are many ways to dry them (too many to list right now) but again, just remove the larger bits of stem.

I got into more detail about elderberry toxicity and ways of preserving (freezing, drying, dehydrating, canning, juicing, etc.) and de-stemming them in my elderberry book (affiliate link), along with 70+ recipes for medicinal remedies, baked goods, wine and liqueurs, jellies, desserts, etc. for elderberries and elder flowers.  But the bottom line is that you don't have to overly worry about tiny bits of stem.  :)
elderfork.jpg
[Thumbnail for elderfork.jpg]
 
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Alicia, when you harvest elderberries, do you pick out the green berries?  I do, and I wonder if I’m going to too much trouble.  
 
Alicia Bayer
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Jane Reed wrote:Alicia, when you harvest elderberries, do you pick out the green berries?  I do, and I wonder if I’m going to too much trouble.  



It depends on what I'm using them for.  If I'm using elderberries for medicinal purposes or baking, yes (if you have enough of them you can even pickle them as capers).  If I'm using them for jellies or jams where the pectin in the occasional green berries will help them set and there aren't many, then I dump them in.  You may be harvesting too early if you have green berries though.  There are generally different stages of ripeness on a cluster, but you want most of them to be a nice deep purplish-black and by that stage then even the less ripe ones should be nice and purple.  If you're harvesting early because you only have access to a few and are fighting the birds for them, that might be the best bet.  I'd look for bigger patches where you can afford to wait until they're really ripe though for maximum medicinal value (and best taste).  :)
 
Jane Reed
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Thanks, Alicia.  I guess I just wanted to know if there was a downside to eating the green berries.

I don’t gather my berries in the wild. I have several clumps in my garden, but this year the birds have found them.  My plants are still rather young so production is not too great.
 
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I picked and processed elderberries for the first time this year.
I usually just pick them give them to a friend and get a jar of jelly back.
This year I tried the freeze and shake into a bucket method. This got me elderberries,.. and alot of small stems.

To remove the stems I got my dehydrator screen out.
It's on a 2ft frame.
I'd pour a scoop of frozen berries on the screen and roll them in a circle around the screen.
The frozen berries rolled nice, the tiny stems stuck in the screen or fell through.
By the time they'd circled the screen almost all the stems were separated.
 
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Looks like a great book!
 
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I foraged elderberries last summer for the first time and processed them in a steam juicer, resulting in over a gallon of juice concentrate. I then canned the pure juice to make syrup as needed. But, in the back of mind I was wondering the whole time if processing them at such a high heat, (the juicing then the canning,) was damaging the beneficial properties I was after in the first place. If so, how should I preserve them? Dehydrating I guess? But even then it still has to be made into syrup using heat. Is the juice I made even beneficial or am I fretting over nothing? It seems to me that 212 degrees F is still 212 whether it's steam or a simmer. The syrup tastes divine though! Thick and delicious!
 
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I appreciate people sharing their knowledge about elderberry. I have been frustrated lately about all the misinformation lately.

I will certainly be adding these books to my must buy list.
 
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I've attended a number of elderberry presentations by Terry Durham from River Hills Harvest at the Mid-America Organic Association Conferences. Last year (this year's conference starts this Thursday) he informed us that when they independently tested the American Elder, Sambucus canadensis they found extremely negligible quantities of the pre-cyanide or whatever it's called compounds. Like, less than apple seeds. And if I'm remembering correctly it was also not really present in any parts of the plant, not just the berries. I can't find my notes at the moment or any links to the studies, but what seems to have happened is that there was extensive research on European varieties like S. nigra which are much more toxic, and everyone in North America just assumed our elderberries must be the same.

Please don't go out and start eating American Elder leaves based on this, but I'll keep looking for some citations and maybe I'll get a chance to ask Terry about it this weekend at the conference.
 
Sena Kassim
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Carol, your question got me thinking. I always heat the fresh berries to make the syrup. I love growing the shrubs. I am rather found of Elder and she was one of the first plants I bounded with during herbal training.

Anyways I do some searching and happened across this recipe. It sounds really good! This summer we are going to give it a go.

https://www.cedarmountainherbs.com/the-truth-about-elderberries/

Hope this helps to answer your questions.
 
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I have been making an elderberry/aronia/rosehip glycerite (made with vegetable glycerin) for a few years now. All three grow on our land. I use the sealed simmer method (much like waterbath canning) on each berry/rosehip separately, then strain and combine the fluids for the final tincture.  We have never had toxicity issue and when the flu is going around we take a couple if dropperfuls two or three times a day.  The waterbath never heats the bottled berries/rosehips to boiling and I store the final product in a cool cupboard.
A video
for learning the sealed simmer method (I got mine from The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Easley)   Also http://schoolofmodernherbalmedicine.com/articles/sealed-simmer-glycerites-for-children.html  seems pretty good.
 
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I include the stems, leaves and twigs with my berries when I simmer them. I am experimenting with creating a higher potency antiviral this way as per Steven Buhner and the ideas about elder he lays out in Herbal Antivirals. I did not dig and include root, as he recommends, mostly because fall was just too busy.

I can't say if it's been a lot more effective yet as I anyway favored the baikal-licorice root tincture I made in treating myself and family. That has not been effective as last year. Last year I bought the tincture from an outstanding herbal producer who has a substantial herb farm and grew the Baikal. This year I bought some Baikal root to make the tincture; hers was way higher potency. I started some but it takes at least 4 years to first harvest.

The first round of sickness that came in our house I kept everyone else from catching it using the elder brew. I added stevia leaves while it cooked for extra medicinal value and sweetness. But I haven't replied on it yet as a healer.
 
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Jane Reed wrote:Alicia, when you harvest elderberries, do you pick out the green berries?  I do, and I wonder if I’m going to too much trouble.  



That's my way. I only want the better riper ones.

As far as tincture, I have poisoned the multitude!
But since seeds don't make it in and its not an "aged" tincture, I agree the risks are negligible....seems like in 50 years anyway?

This year I am using pre-processed and if it is steam processed, I wonder more about the weakening of it than the toxins getting through.
 
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I'm an elderberry novice & really can't add much about the toxicity issue. This recipe is from an acquaintance from Switzerland & his family has been safely using it daily for a hundred years or more. My first crop went to the birds but I did eat a few raw ones without any bad side effects. Expecting a much larger crop this year if all the newer plants survive winter.
 
Sena Kassim
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I've eaten the raw elderberries too. Only about a dozen or two or so. I wouldn't eat too many more.

Steven Buhner has many great books. I'll def check out his recipe.

We like to make our syrup potent. We usually just slow simmer on the stove for hours with low heat. it makes our home smell wonderful.

I'm curious to try many ways. It's very beneficial and the heating of the berries rises many questions. Not a whole lot on the internet about it either...
 
Carol Denton
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Sena, what a good article! The tincture recipe for the remedy sounds especially interesting. I still honestly don't know about the heat vs no heat issue, though the link within the article did make a case for not heating it. That is, what parts I could understand without a medical dictionary, lol. I do know that some plants are more beneficial after being cooked because some of the anti-nutrients are broken down. Spinach and broccoli come to mind, as well as mushrooms.
At any rate, I still plan on consuming lots of elderberry and have about 25 cane starts I cut a couple of weeks ago. I don't need that many but I kind of got carried away.  I'm surrounded by elderberry plants but they are all on neighboring properties, not on mine.

Here's a really good video on when and how to cut and propagate elderberry starts. The time to cut them is right now while they are dormant.


 
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Good information! I have not tried making a tincture yet! I am definitely going to try.
 
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I just probably ruined my first elderberry juice by pressure-cooking it for 45 minutes because I followed something I read on the internet. And now I'm wondering if anyone has used sous vide to process elderberries to preserve more of the good stuff. If so, what temperature did you find worked best and for how long? I'm off to try to find a sous vide book devoted to herbal medicine making and download Alicia’s book.
 
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I'd be interested in any sous vide elderberry syrup recipes as well.
 
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Hi there! I have foraged a bunch of elderberries (I am in upstate New York). The plant has black berries and I am certain that it is an elderberry bush, but it is unclear to me as to which variety it is. I start to make a tincture with it but then read online that some elderberries are poisonous if not cooked. The tincture recipe is lemon peel, vodka, and raw elderberries left to sit for a few months. I was hoping to drink this a Christmas, but am now worried that I will poison my whole family. Will this be safe to drink? Also, can I consume jam made with these forraged berries? Thank you for your help!!
 
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I harvested black elders and after rinsing, left in colander on the counter for 24 hours while figuring out the best way to make tincture. They got a little slimy. Have they started to ferment? Are they still safe to use? It was a warm day (high 80s) they are refrigerated now. Plan on making tincture with ever clear and water tomorrow.
 
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