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November 8, 2012 / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

Green Your Holidays: Herbal Gifts for the Holidays

There are poisonous elderberry lookalikes, so consult an expert before harvesting from the wild. (Actual elderberries pictured here.)

The new Green American should be hitting your mailboxes any day now, and as promised in that issue, the Green America editors will be blogging about our favorite green holiday traditions every Thursday from now through December. However, before I get to that, I want to encourage you to visit the website of our latest campaign, GMO Inside–just launched today! Through this major campaign, we’re going after big biotech like a green cannonball (just ask Hershey), until these companies stop hiding the health and environmental risks of genetically modified organisms and get these dangerous substances out of our food and farm fields.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog….

I have a black thumb when it comes to gardening. A couple of years ago, I interviewed PBS host Patti Moreno, aka “The Garden Girl,” and she assured me that even I could grow herbs. So last year, I finally bought some seedlings from a local organic herb farm and planted them. After a Master Gardener friend told me that herbs “thrive on terrible soil and neglect,” I figured they just might be my kind of plants.

To my everlasting surprise, my summer herb garden flourished despite my best inadvertent efforts to kill it, and I’ve finally discovered the joys of cooking with freshly snipped oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and cilantro. Herbs also have a bewildering variety of other uses. Ergo, I’ve also started making my own herbal aromatherapy body care products, which will make up many of my holiday gifts this season.

I’m getting an earlier-than-usual start this year on my DIY holiday gifts, because the latest issue of the Green American focuses on how to “Go Green for the Holidays,” and working on it served as good reminder to get on those projects sooner rather than later.

Last year, with help from my friend Deb Doubek, owner of the Peterman Brook Herb Farm in northern Wisconsin, I gave handmade organic lavender soap to family members for the holidays. This year, thanks to the fact that Deb is very generous with her herbal knowledge and her recipes, I’m planning on mixing up some lavender-chamomile face/body moisturizer and bergamot-neroli lip balm.

I’m also giving bottles of elderberry syrup, which Deb just taught me how to make.

Elderberries have long had a reputation in the herbal world as being immune-system boosters and effective at staving off a cold or the flu. While I’m not a doctor or a naturopath, I can say that a 2004 study out of the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem found that flu patients who received 15 ml of elderberry syrup four times a day for five days got better an average of four days earlier than flu patients who only received a placebo. Elderberries also have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help relieve cold and flu symptoms. In addition, elderberries contain cancer-fighting antioxidants.

This Elderberry Syrup, included courtesy of Deb Doubek, is rather soothing on a sore throat. It also smells and tastes lovely, which is why a pretty glass bottleful makes a great stocking stuffer.

Elderberry Syrup

1 cup fresh or ½ cup dried elderberries
3 cups of water
1 cup regular or creamed honey
2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger or 1 Tbsp. dried ginger
Cloves, cinnamon sticks, and star anise, as desired.

Place elderberries, ginger, water, and other spices in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Crush the berries and then strain through cheesecloth. Add honey and bottle syrup. Store in refrigerator for up to three months (it gets yummier with age).

DOSAGE:  Child: 1 tsp. per waking hour at the onset of cold or flu symptoms.  Adult: 1 Tbsp. per waking hour at onset of symptoms.

WARNINGS: This syrup is not to be used for children under the age of 1. If your symptoms are severe, please consult a medical professional. Also, there is an elderberry lookalike shrub that is poisonous, so before you harvest what you think are elderberries, be sure to have an expert  (herbalist, botanist, etc.) ensure you have true elderberries.

If you don’t have your own stash of elderberries, you can get dried organic herbs and organic essential and carrier oils from several Green America Green Business Network™ members, including the San Francisco Herb Co., Frontier Natural Products Co-op, and Mountain Rose Herbs. (As of this writing, San Francisco Herb Co. is the only one who has them in stock.) Mountain Rose also sells glass bottles in which to package your herbal concoctions.

Do you have any favorite winter wellness tips? How about any favorite DIY holiday gift ideas? 

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