Healthy Beginnings

Yarrow, elderberry herbs can help during cold and flu season

Yarrow flowers are seen here; yarrow is known to help reduce fevers and menstrual cramps, among other benefits. Photo: Alexandra Montigny

EDITOR’S NOTE: These herbs can cause reactions to those who are allergic to their properties. Please stop using immediately and consult a doctor if irritation occurs. Women who are pregnant please use caution when starting a new herbal remedy.

Legend has it that the great Achilles would carry ground Yarrow flowers with him onto the battle fields of ancient antiquity to aid in the clotting of his soldiers’ wounds.

This herb grows all throughout the world and can be found in abundance in Europe where Achilles was tramping about, as well as in the Lake Tahoe region. Not only is Yarrow known for its blood clotting abilities — once being called the nosebleed plant — it is also known to help reduce fevers and menstrual cramps due to its capability of breaking up stagnant blood cells.

The leaves and the flowers are the main parts of the plant that are harvested for medicinal use. Since Yarrow is perennial it can virtually be harvested all throughout the year whenever needed.

Growing alongside roadways (avoid harvesting along roadsides as the plant can become littered with exhaust from passing cars), in meadows and along the trail systems of the Sierra, once you know what to look for you will see it flourish everywhere.

There are many ways in which you can use Yarrow as a home remedy. Michelle Stohlgren, Owner and Operator of Garden to Glass, a local mobile mixology company based out of Tahoe, uses the plant to make locally foraged homemade vermouths, teas and tinctures. She likes to couple the bitter flavors that are produced by Yarrow with Elderberry, another ancient herb used for a wide range of medicinal purposes.

“Elderberry has been used in Europe for thousands of years,” says Michelle. “The ancients used it to increase their longevity. Apart from Elderberry being a revered elixir of life, it can also be used to combat colds and influenza.”

Elderberry can help reduce the severity of the flu and the length of one’s illness. Photo: Alexandra Montigny

Studies have shown that those who use Elderberry in some form 3-4 times a day after the onset of the flu notice a reduction in the severity of their symptoms and the length of their illness. Both the berries and the flowers can be used from the Elderberry plant.

“The berries can be toxic when eaten raw,” says Michelle, “and should be cooked before ingesting unless you are infusing them in an alcohol.”

The flowers are white and are in tight clusters, they bloom once a year. The berries are small, black or purple in color. Just like Yarrow, Elderberry can be found in the Sierra in abundance. If you don’t have time to forage this berry, Michelle says that Elderberry in the form of Sambuca syrup can be found in the cold and flu aisle of your local health food store, be sure to read the ingredients to avoid extra additives.

In order to put these plants to use and benefit from their medicinal properties, here are few cocktails you can cook up, complements of Michelle and Garden to Glass Mobile Mixology:

Elderberry and Yarrow Simple Syrup

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup elderberries
  • Handful Yarrow flowers
  • 2 cups local honey or raw sugar

Combine water and berries in a pot and simmer on medium until water turns dark purple (about 15 minutes). Pour mix into a new pot or bowl, while collecting berries in a strainer. Then mash berries back into the purple water, so the strainer collects all berry seeds and skin.

Return purple water to pot, add Yarrow, local honey or raw sugar, and simmer on medium for 5 minutes, occasionally stirring. When ready pour liquid through strainer to catch all flowers and let cool. Store in refrigerator in tightly sealed container, use for up to one month.

Yarrow and Elderberry Tea

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup Elderberry and Yarrow simple syrup
  • 1/2 lemon

Bring water to a boil. Squeeze Lemon and pour simple syrup to a large mug or thermos. Pour in water. Stir and enjoy. Drink to help reduce fever and cold symptoms.

*If you’re looking for a little kick, add 2 ounces bourbon or spiced rum for a hot toddy.

A Nature’s Gin and Tonic, finished product. Photo: Alexandra Montigny

Nature’s Gin and Tonic

  • 1 tbsp Elderflower
  • 1 tbsp Yarrow
  • 1 tbsp mint
  • 1 tbsp local honey

Bring 1 cup water to boil, then turn down to medium heat. Add ingredients and simmer on medium for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain out herbs and let tea cool. This is your herbal tea mixer.

In a glass with ice add:

  • 2 oz botanical gin (Hendrick’s or Uncle Val’s)
  • 1 oz herbal tea mixer
  • Top with Fever Tree Tonic (can purchase at any liquor store)

Stir. Garnish with lemon wedge and fresh Elderberries

If it is hard for you to get out into the woods to forage, you can find the herbs mentioned in this article at mountainroseherbs.com, a business based out of Eugene, Ore., that practices sustainability, water conservation and fair trade.

If you are interested in learning more about local foraging and mixology, contact Garden to Glass at gardentoglassmixology.com.

Alexandra Montigny loves all things Tahoe. She enjoys crafting, reading, acting, and writing in her spare time. She resides in Truckee and makes her way daily to Tahoe City to work at Granlibakken Tahoe as an Account Manager. Visit granlibakken.com to learn more.