Summertime Freshness: Elderflower Cordial


Now is the time when elderflowers bloom. The creamy, fragrant blossoms of sambucus nigra are famous for their medicinal uses in teas and cough syrups. The blue-black berries are also chock full of vitamins and anti-oxidants that have proven activity against bacteria and the viruses that cause influenza and common cold. For your reference, the following study demonstrates the effect of a standardized extract on gram positive and negative bacteria, as well as a strain of influenza (Krawitz et al, 2011, BMC Complement. Alt. Medicine).

But more on the berries later. And more on the medicines later. Today, we are making something good for the soul: elderflower cordial.

I am almost sure you have seen the elderflower bush at least once in your life. They are a garden staple, growing into large shrubs that can reach up to 20 feet tall. The leaves are a vibrant green with a pointed end. Flowers are a creamy white with a tiny yellow center and give off a warm, sweet scent. The flowers can be expected in late Spring to early Summer (ours came a bit later this year due to a very unexpected snowfall). Berries, which are nearly black in color (hence the name sambucus nigra), will usually begin to appear in the late fall.

S. nigra in bloom. Picture courtesy of By Willow – Own work, CC BY 2.5,

I should point out that there are many varieties of elder, but the specific strain of Sambucus nigra is the kind that is used both for medicine and for the gorgeous beverage I am about to introduce to you.

Elderflower cordial is a very traditional party drink in Europe. It was quite popular with Victorians, though evidence of its use has been found dating back to Ancient Rome! A “cordial,” more broadly,” is a soft drink. It typically starts with a syrup that is diluted with seltzer, champagne, or pure water. Our cordial uses the seltzter, but by ALL means try the champagne! Whatever you choose, it lends the liquid a beautiful, floral-citrus taste with a hint of sweetness.




(makes six cups of syrup)

12-15 fresh elderflower heads

2.5 lbs of sugar (5 cups)

1 lemon

1.5 oz citric acid (3 tablespoons)

6.5 cups of filtered water



First, trim the stems of your elderflower heads back as much as you can. You want mostly flower, and not too much stem. Next, gently rinse your elderflowers in some cold water to remove anyIMG_1856 dirt or little insects. Let them sit on a paper towel until ready to use. In a large pot, simmer the sugar and water on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. While this is happening, peel your lemon with a vegetable peeler (but don’t discard the peels!) and cut into slices. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the liquid to a boil. When it reaches a boil, remove the pot from the heat. Put your lemon slices, peels, and citric acid into the syrup and stir well. Now place the elderflower heads face down into the mixture. Cover the pot, and let influse for at least 8 hours (overnight) or up to 24 hours.

After it is done infusing, strain the syrup through a fine cloth into a sterilized jar or bottle. This will keep for up to six weeks refrigerated. You can also freeze the portion of the mixture you do not intend to use right away, and it will keep for several months.

To use: add 2-3 tsp of syrup (depending on how sweet you like it) to a glass filled with ice. Pour seltzer or club soda to the top. Garnish with sliced lemon. Enjoy!


A UTI Tincture Starring Uva Ursi

A close-up of Uva Ursi and one of its red berries. Found at Mount Falcon Western Trailhead. The leaves of this specimen are less-than-ideal. I am using it to show the berry. Use only vibrant green leaves with no brown spots and minimal insect damage.

I love finding an herb spontaneously. Just as I was getting used to the sad thought that I shall have to wait until Spring to collect any more herbs, I came across one I’d been looking for all summer but had yet to find. I took my son and my momma’s little dog for a hike to Mount Falcon Trail last week and came upon some Uva ursi growing happily and abundantly on the rocks.

Uva Ursi is a woody, ground-covering shrub that likes to cling to rocks in mountainous regions. It is a lovely plant for beginners, since both its location (clinging to rocks in the mountains) and appearance (waxy, oblong leaves, round, bright red berries, evergreen nature) make it easy to spot. The name translates to “grape of the bear,” which describes its red berries. It is known commonly as bearberry; here in Colorado and other parts of the West, we also call it “kinnikinnick,” which is Algonquin for “mixture.” This is due to the fact that the leaves of the shrub feature prominently in many Native American smoking mixtures.

Uva Ursi’s medicinal offering has to do with the urinary tract. It has been used for centuries to cure and soothe bladder infections, and there is abundant clinical documentation to support its use in this domain. In particular, the therapeutic use of U. ursi  has been shown to “exert a prophylactic effect on recurrent cystitis” (B. Larson et al, 1993). “Cystitis” is another word that describes an infection of the urinary tract. The results of the study indicated that women who had more than three infections per year showed a marked decrease in instances of sickness when taking the herb as a supplement for one month. There were no side effects.

For those of us who suffer from UTIs, that last sentence is particularly intriguing. The typical treatment for cystitis is antibiotics, which brings its own set of uncomfortable side-effects (diarrhea, nausea, YEAST). Sometimes, these side effects are even worse than the bladder infection! So a natural remedy that you can take that is effective and poses no side effects seems almost too good to be true.

At this point, I should like to remind you that UTIs, though common, can be very dangerous. I encourage you to try this natural remedy as both a preventive measure and to treat an infection that is coming on. However, if you have had symptoms for more than a couple of days or are experiencing signs of severe infection (fever, chills, nausea, blood in urine, pain in mid-back), don’t skip the Western medicine. In this case, the infection has spread to your kidneys and will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Now, on to the remedy! This tincture is a combined extract. That is, it includes our star U. ursi as well as a few other herbs that are used in UTIs. These are: corn silk, horsetail, yarrow, and echinacea. Here’s a grief breakdown of what each does:

corn silk (Zea mays)-a mild diuretic shown in small studies to alleviate symptoms of patients with UTI symptoms (Sahib et al, 2012)

horsetail (Equisetum arvense)-a strong diuretic which helps to irrigate the urinary tract

yarrow (Achillea millefolium)-a wonderful multi-purpose herb whose constituents include proazulenes (anti-inflammatory) and essential oils (antimicrobial)

echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)an herb famous for its use in fighting infections. It is an established immuno-modulator, causing an increase in white blood cell production and enhancing the body’s capacity for phagocytosis, a process involving the cellular ingestion of bacteria (from The American Botanical Council: The Complete German Commission E Monographs Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines; Blumenthal et al, 1998).

You can purchase all of the above herbs here.

UTI TinctureIMG_1034.JPG


1 large jar
Dried corn silk
Dried horsetail herb
Dried yarrow herb
Dried Echinacea purpurea herb (as you can see, mine is from Mountain Rose Herbs)
Dried Uva ursi leaves
Mortar and pestle (optional)
80 proof ethanol (Vodka)


The amount of each herb will depend on the size of your jar. You want to fill it approximately halfway with your dried herbs, with each herb in equal amounts. It’s a little like making sand art. If it helps, you can draw a line at the halfway mark of your jar, and then divide that into five sections. But it’s really just as easy to eyeball it. Here is what mine looked like before adding the alcohol:

The layered herbs before adding the vodka. The herbs, starting from the bottom, are the U. ursi, horsetail, cornsilk, echinacea, and yarrow. But you can layer them however you like.

I like to grind the herbs a bit in my mortar and pestle before putting them in to tincture, but that is optional. Next, fill the jar to the very top with your alcohol. I prefer to use Vodka. It is cheap, tasteless, and extracts beautifully. Label your jar with its contents and that day’s date, as well as a date six weeks from the day you made the tincture. Store your brew in a cool, dark place. When your six-week date has arrived, strain the herbs through cheesecloth into tinted glass dropper bottles, like these.

I sincerely hope, from one UTI-sufferer to another, that this remedy helps you. Take it as a prophylactic or at the soonest possibly moment you feel an infection coming on. An effective dose will be 1-2 dropperfuls three to four times per day, while drinking plenty of water (at least one full glass every hour). Please remember, though, to seek medical treatment if you are not getting better fairly quickly. These infections are no joke!

Winter Prep: Homemade Cough Drops



White Horehound is an odd-looking plant with an odd-sounding name. It is a member of the mint family, along with many other familiar herbs such as thyme, lavender, basil, and marjoram. Its signature look and unique smell make it another ideal herb for a beginner to forage.

Horehound, a.k.a. Marrubiam vulgare, has an ancient tradition as a remedy for respiratory ailments. A record of its use exists as early as 1 B.C. in the encyclopedia De Medecina by the Roman Aulus Cornelius Celsus. This, by the way, makes for fascinating reading and is available for to read in translation by Bill Thayer here.

Horehound grows wild here in Colorado. I found some hiking this summer with my son in an open space near Chatfield reservoir. It really is unmistakable–it has a Dr. Seuss-y quality, with its clusters of flowers hanging onto the stem like little green puff balls. Here is a picture I took for your reference:

Marrubiam vulgare, found in South Valley near Chatfield, Colorado. Those green balls are the flower heads, which become sticky like burs when they’ve gone to seed.
Horehound has traditionally been made into a candy or lozenge for medicinal use. It has also been used in teas and even in beer. It is an acquired taste-bitter and, yes, medicinal. It is what gives a certain famous herbal cough drop its peculiar and recognizable taste.

If you were to reference any herbal, you would find a long list of herbs dedicated to something called respiratory catarrh. That is fancy, herbalist jargon for mucus build-up associated with a chest cold, cough, phlegm, inflammation, or basically whatever ails your respiratory tract. That being said, there are very few herbs actually proven to help catarrh. Horehound, incidentally, has been proven to show “potent antimicrobial activity against some Gram (+) pathogenic behavior” (Zarai et al, 2011). In the realm of respiratory infections, this would be particularly useful in a case of bacterial pneumonia, which is typically caused by the gram positive bacterium streptococcus pneumonia.

We are going to make our very own herbal cough drops. You can certainly make these with just the horehound-it is the star, after all. However, there are plenty of other herbs you can add that have proven actions against cold and flu symptoms. Here is a short list:

Herbs for Chest Colds

  1. Sage-antibacterial, treats inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose and throat
  2. Eucalpytus-expectorant and antispasmodic, excellent for chest colds
  3. Mullein flower-expectorant and anti-irritant, ideal for dry or unproductive coughs
  4. Peppermint-cooling, antispasmodic, decongestant
  5. Plantain-astringent, antibacterial
  6. Thyme-bronchoantispasmodic, expectorant, antibacterial, ideal relief of bronchitis
  7. Elder flower-increases bronchial secretion, good for dry cough

Now on to our recipe, without further ado! I have used bee balm in place of thyme, since it actually contains more of the active ingredient thymol. You can read about this wonderful herb in my previous post Colorado’s Own Oregano: A Recipe for Bee Balm Mouthwash. I have also added some lemon balm for taste and for its calming properties. Once again, you can add any herbs you like. We are just going for about 1.5 cups of dry herbs total. You can find a great selection of organic herbs here.

Homemade Herbal Cough Drops

Makes about 4 dozen lozenges fullsizerender-1


1/2 cup dried horehound
1/2 cup dried mullein leaf and flower
1/8 cup dried peppermint
1/8 cup dried bee balm
1/8 cup dried lemon balm
1/8 cup dried sage


First, prepare a small baking pan (I used a square, 8×8 stainless steel pan) with butter or anti-stick spray. You will want to have this ready because your sugar mixture is HOT and time-sensitive.

Next, add all ingredients to a saucepan and cover with 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and steep for twenty minutes. Strain out herbs. Reserve one cup of your herb tea (the extra half cup is to accommodate for any boil-off or absorption by the herbs, FYI). Return the one cup of liquid to a LARGE pot* (such as a stock pot) and stir in the 2.5 cups of brown sugar. Bring to a boil and boil until sugar mixture has reached 300 degrees Fahrenheit (hard-crack stage on a candy thermometer). Immediately pour the mixture into your prepared baking pan. Let cool for about 15 minutes, or until edges hold their shape.

Now, you have some options for shaping. You can simply cut the candy into squares with a knife, which is the fastest and most convenient way. If you want them to be a more traditional shape, however, you will need a friend. This candy hardens fast. Have him or her help portion out small pieces while you mold the portions into the shapes you want. Place them on a clean, cool surface to dry completely.

When the candy has completely cooled, dust the pieces with powdered sugar. This will help keep the lozenges from sticking to one another in their storage container**. Alternately, you could wrap each on in a piece of wax paper. But…who has time for that?!

*You want a larger pan than you think you might need because the sugar mixture will EXPAND when boiling and can easily spill over and THEORETICALLY burn on your stovetop and THEORETICALLY catch fire and HYPOTHETICALLY turn your house into a smoke-filled inferno while you hustle your one-year-old out the door and fan odd, burnt-herby-smelling smoke out the open windows and sob because you have to start all over. Again, hypothetically.

**Store your candy in the fridge for longevity and for an added cooling effect when it comes time to use them.



Immunity Boost: Spiced Rosehip Tea

Rosehips are the fruit of the rose bush. If you’re like me, you are probably surprised to hear that roses even produce fruit. But indeed, they do. Also known as “haws” and “heps,” rose hips are orange-red, somewhat oblong, and about the size of a grape. 

Rosehips ripen in late summer through autumn. They can be consumed fresh, but have traditionally been used dried for teas. The fruit is one of nature’s highest sources of Vitamin C, though the C content can vary extensively from species to species. Nevertheless, the presence of Vitamin C and antioxidants make rosehips a delightful way to boost immunity during cold and flu season.

The hips I have were foraged from Deer Creek Canyon, with the help of my husband and brother. They are “wild rose hips,” also known as Rosa woodsii. This species is incredibly fragrant, smelling very much like sweet apples. I will say these are another good herb for beginners. The fruits themselves are easy to identify, given their color and fragrance. And the shrubs themselves have the tell-tale thorns on the stems and the leaflets have little teeth. Here is a botanical as compared to the actual rosehips for your reference:

It takes a little grunt work to prepare the hips for drying, since each is filled with furry little seeds. After rinsing them, you’ll need to cut each hip in half, scoop out the seeds, and then let the hips dry flat for a few days in a warm, sunny spot. Alternatively, you can purchase rose hips here

Anyway, it occurs to me than an an apple-flavored herbal tea is begging for some spice. So the recipe calls for a bit of cinnamon, as well as a little hibiscus for added antioxidants and honey for sweetness. It tastes like a lovely, mellow apple cider. 

Spiced Rosehip Tea

Makes 1 serving


     1 tsp dried rosehips

     2-3 cinnamon chips

     1 small dried hibiscus         petal

     8 oz boiling water

     Honey to taste


     Steep all ingredients in boiling water for ten minutes. Strain. Add honey to taste. 

Recipe: Lavender Rose Bath Fizzies

FullSizeRender (1)

Who doesn’t love a bath? A sudsy, fragrant soak is my cure-all for virtually every ailment, from flu to a bad bruise.

Baths have the remarkable ability to be both relaxing and energizing. They are an ancient, world-wide remedy for aches and pains of every sort: the Egyptians enjoyed baths with flowers and essential oils as a luxury and a remedy; the Romans were famous for their public baths; Japanese citizens were (and still are) advised to soak in natural hot springs for good health…and today, still, we acknowledge the healing powers of the bath. In fact, baths are so popular as a natural remedy that there is a word for it: balneology. Cool, right?

There are two features of the bath that lend it its healing properties:

1) Heat

2) Mineral/Herbal/Oil Infusion

While the first may seem obvious, the reason may not be as apparent. Heat, on its own, has remarkable healing properties. Fifteen minutes of heat will increase circulation to an area of tension, allowing the muscles to relax and regain elasticity and flexibility. A hot bath is, therefore, the ideal treatment for tired, sore muscles. Furthermore, heat creates steamSteam opens pores and clears nasal passages. A combination of hot water on the chest and steam inhalation provides exceptional relief for chest colds and congestion.

The mineral/herbal infusion is where the bath becomes a true hero. Already we have seen how plain, hot water has its own healing properties. But there are myriad ways to augment those properties, simply by adding herbs, salts, and oils to the water. The following are just a few ideas of what you can put in your bath for added benefit:


1) Lavender-add 10 drops for relaxation
2) Eucalyptus-10 drops for congestion
3) Jasmine-10 drops for anxiety
4) Rose-10 drops for healthy skin
5) Peppermint-10 drops for energy


1) Epsom Salts-add 1 cup to bath for sore muscles and bruising
2) Baking soda-add 1/2 cup to a shallow bath for urinary tract infections
3) Apple cider vinegar-add 1/2 to shallow bath for yeast/fungal infections


1) Calendula petals for yeast infection, eczema, and itching
2) Rose petals/lavender petals for relaxation
3) Rosemary for circulation and sore muscles

You can mix and match any of the above, too! A nice, compact way to get your oils, minerals, and herbs into the bath all in one go is through bath fizzies, which are SUPER easy to make and lots of fun in the bathtub. Most of the ingredients you can easily find at your grocery store. The more obscure stuff, like the rose petals and citric acid, are linked to websites where you can buy them for a good deal. Here is the recipe:


(Makes 6 fizzies)

1/2 cup baking soda
1/4 cup Epsom salt
1/4 cup citric acid
1/4 cup corn starch
1 1/4 tsp coconut oil

1 1/2 tsp to 1 tablespoon water
10 drops lavender oil
2 drops red food coloring
1/2 cup dried red rose petals


In a medium bowl, whisk together the baking soda, Epsom salt, citric acid, and corn starch. In a separate bowl (or Pyrex liquid measuring cup for controlled pouring), whisk together coconut oil, water (start with 1.5 tsp), food coloring, and lavender oil. Slowly pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, whisking as you go. Go slowly to avoid reacting all the baking soda. Some bubbling will occur, but don’t let it bubble too much–if you let the chemical reaction complete, you’ll get no fizzing in the bathtub, which is SO sad.

If your ingredients are wet enough, they should clump together in your hand like damp sand. If they don’t, add an additional 1 1/2 tsp of water. That should do the trick.

There are a few options for molding the fizzies. They make special “bath bomb” molds if you want to have the spherical ones. I don’t have one of those, so I use a cupcake pan. I sprinkle the rose petals into the bottom of the tins, then portion out the fizzy mixture into each space until it is nearly full and press it down. I let it dry for 4 hours. They pop out easily enough: just flip over the pan and lightly tap on each space containing the mixture. Or make it even easier on yourself and use paper cupcake liners. They make pretty little ridges on the outside.


I love to give these as presents. (Walmart sells little gift bags with cardboard disk that fit in the bottom that are perfect for these). You can make all sorts of them too: experiment with different herbs and fragrances. You really can’t go wrong.

Now go enjoy a relaxing, healing bath.