Elderberries Throughout History

Elderberries Throughout History

We’ve all had to take history lessons and sit through hours of talks on the ancient Romans, the Aztecs, World Wars I and II and more. But how come nobody ever does history lessons on the important things, like the elderberry? It’s a vexing question and one without a simple and compelling answer, especially for those of us at Rocky Mountain Soda whose vegan and kosher Evergreen Elderberry soda is one of our top-sellers. In order to correct this grave injustice we’ve decided to compose this brief history of the elderberry.

The Elderberry Through Time

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates didn’t know about our natural soda, but he was one of the first historical figures to praise elderberries (scientific name “sambucus”) way back in 400 BC. He came to refer to it as his “medicine chest” due to the variety of ways he found to put it to use on his patients. While the berries (along with the roots, leaves and twigs) of the sambucus plant contain toxins, any toxic effects are quickly neutralized by cooking the berries.

Hippocrates found that once the toxic threat was neutralized elderberries could be used to treat a variety of maladies stemming from inflammation. He also used elderberry to bolster the immune system, reduce stress, protect the cardiovascular system, relieve constipation and reduce cold and flu symptoms. You can begin to see why he referred to it as his medicine chest.

Many people today still use elderberry to treat all of those conditions and more. For instance, while less convincing evidence exists to suggest sambucus can be used to treat infections, sciatica, dental pain and nerve damage, many people use elderberry supplements for those purposes anyway. But back to the history.

The Early Modern Era

While Hippocrates himself didn’t live to see the modern era his championing of the elderberry did not go unnoticed and was not forgotten. During the 1700s doctors throughout Europe continued to encourage the use of elderberry as an effective treatment for constipation, cold and flu symptoms and even heart disease. One English medical text of the day noted that elderberry could be used as an effective treatment for edema (fluid retention) and might be useful in treating patients with congestive heart failure.

In the 19th century a guide to medicinal plants entitled “The King’s American Dispensatory” listed sambucus as a well-known plant with multiple medical applications that was in widespread use throughout North America.

The 20th Century

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the emergent field of laboratory science sought to distance itself from traditional herbalist practices in an attempt to free medical knowledge from local superstitions, traditions and politics and make it universal. Thereafter, only things that could be scientifically proven beyond a doubt would be accepted as medical canon.

As a result, the elderberry, along with a host of other plants were relegated to the “alternative” category of medicine and their influence diminished. Nonetheless the fact that US consumers spent nearly $300 million on elderberry supplements last year suggests that, while the plant has fallen out of favor with the medical elite, it has not been forgotten by the people.

Out of the Doctor’s Office and Into the Kitchen

Even though the elderberry fell out of favor with the Western medical establishment it did not lose any of its luster when it came to the culinary sphere. Elderberry wine, for instance, has been produced for centuries and first appeared in northern Europe where it was too cold and dark to support the growing of grapes, but not too cold and dark for elderberry.

Elderberry pie is still a big favorite in many places in Europe and North America and you can buy elderberry syrup through countless online retailers including Amazon, Whole Foods and more. Elderberry jelly still enjoys modest popularity in the US and Europe and can be made at home. And let’s not forget the realm of soda pop where our very own Evergreen Elderberry natural soda is leading the charge in making elderberry a popular soft drink flavor.

Try Rocky Mountain Evergreen Elderberry Today

One thing our all natural elderberry soda has in common with traditional elderberry recipes is that it is free of artificial ingredients and contains no GMOs. What you get is the pure, unadulterated flavor of the elderberry shining through in a refreshing gluten free concoction that’s destined to dazzle your taste buds.