Natural Health
Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

Elderberry Syrup to Build Immunity

elderberry ingredients 

As a follow-up to my previous article on ‘Master Tonic’ {also known as Fire Cider}, below is my go-to recipe for Elderberry Syrup. A proven elixir of elderberries, spices and often, raw honey, to help fight off the cold and flu.  Also known as ‘Sambucus’, many people swear by elderberry syrup during the winter months, either as a preventative measure when germs are flying around or to lessen the duration and severity of an existing infection.

Are you looking this season to try out more herbal remedies and want to start with a recipe that is simple to prepare? This is a great place to start, quick, easy and effective.

According to, elderberries are full of antioxidants and bioflavonoids that destroy the ability of certain viruses to infect healthy cells. They also contain tannins, carotenoids, rutin, viburnic acid, anthocyanins, quercetin, vitamins A, B and high amounts of vitamin C. In addition to being helpful for colds and flu, elderberry has also been shown to lower cholesterol, improve cardiovascular health, improve vision, act as a laxative, a diuretic, a diaphoretic, be antibacterial and antiviral.

Elderberries grow wild and are common throughout North America and Europe. If you are foraging for elderberry in the wild, it is important to know that many uncooked berries, unripe berries and other plant parts of certain varieties may be poisonous. Always pick ripe berries and cook them in a recipe such as this. Sambucus nigra, or commonly known as Black Elderberry, is the only variety known to be non-toxic when used raw, which may be helpful information should you decide to cultivate your own elderberry patch.

If you are not foraging for your own berries, there are many quality dried elderberry options available online to make your own syrup for a fraction of the cost that you will pay at a health food store. We are all about DIY here at Flicker Farm whenever we can, and this recipe is too quick and too easy to not cook up some of your own medicine. I have also found this syrup to be very kid friendly!


3/4 cup organic elderberries
3 cups of water
1 organic cinnamon stick
1 tsp organic ground ginger
4 organic whole cloves {optional}
1 cup of raw and unfiltered honey**


1. Add water, elderberries, cinnamon stick, ground ginger and cloves to a pot over medium-high heat. As soon as the mixture begins to boil, lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer this mixture for about 30 minutes or until dark in color and reduced or thickened.

2. Set the reduced syrup aside to cool. You want it to cool down before adding the raw honey so that you don't kill off any of the natural enzymes found in raw honey- warm is fine, hot is not. Once the syrup is cooled, strain the solids and add 1 cup of the raw and unfiltered honey to the syrup and mix to combine. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

Eldreberry ingredients

Take 1 tablespoon daily though the winter months, or as needed as a preventative measure. If you are currently sick, try 1 tablespoon, 3-4 times per day until you are feeling healthy again. You can drink the syrup straight or mix into smoothies, warm tea, water, or juice.

**If you are on a low/no sugar diet, you could omit the honey and use an alternative natural sweetener such as stevia. It should be said though, that raw honey has its own healing properties that may aid in recovery.

This recipe makes approximately 18 oz of elderberry syrup. Cheers to health!

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Master Tonic and Natural Remedies

Master Tonic

It’s the perfect time of year to get your Master Tonic brewing for the season ahead! 'Master Tonic' is a natural anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic tonic to take through the fall and winter months of cold and flu season when you are surrounded by coughing, sneezing and contagious people, or whenever you're feeling under the weather.

Also known as 'Fire Cider', Master Tonic is made with raw garlic, horseradish, turmeric, ginger, onions, hot peppers, lemon and apple cider vinegar. These raw ingredients have pretty amazing medicinal properties on their own, and combined they give you a potent natural medicine!

There are many, many recipes online for this, some with less ingredients and some with more. I've tried finding the real history of this recipe and where it began, but no such luck so far. Many people believe that Master Tonic should be made with the moon cycles- make the tonic on the new moon and let it infuse until the full moon.  If you aren't following the moon cycles, letting the tonic steep and brew for 4-6 weeks will do the trick!

When selecting ingredients, choose the best hight quality organic you can find. Choosing organic ingredients ensures that no GMO’s or pesticides will end up in your healing brew. Bonus if you grow some of the ingredients yourself!

Master Tonic Recipe


1/2 cup chopped and peeled fresh ginger
1/2 cup chopped and peeled fresh turmeric
1/2 cup chopped and peeled fresh horseradish
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup chopped HOT peppers {jalapeños, habaneros...go as hot as you can tolerate}
zest and juice of 2 lemons
apple cider vinegar {organic, with the 'mother'}


1. Add all of your chopped ingredients into a glass jar. I used a 1 gallon mason jar and it was about half full.

2. Cover well with apple cider vinegar by an inch or two. Some of the pieces will float to the top- use a plate, a fermenting weight or a large cabbage leaf...something to hold the bits under the apple cider vinegar to prevent any spoilage. The chunky ingredients will also absorb some liquid and expand, making sure to cover with an extra inch or two will account for this.

3. Let this tonic sit in a dark area such as a cabinet, at room temperature for 4-6 weeks to infuse. If you want to shake it up during this time and you are using a metal lid- make sure you have a barrier between the vinegar and the metal such as wax or parchment paper to avoid corrosion to the metal lid and contaminating your tonic.

4. After the Master Tonic has infused for at least 4 weeks, strain out the veggies and herbs and store tonic in a glass container. This will store indefinitely at room temperature.

5. The leftover chopped herbs and veggies can be used in other dishes to add flavor, composted, or I fed mine to our chickens hoping they get an immunity boost too!

Master Tonic

Will you be surrounded by sick kids, office mates or a sneezing spouse? Or you just want to keep your immunity in tip top shape? Preventative use of 1 tablespoon a day is a commonly used amount. If you're already feeling under the weather, take 1 tablespoon 3-4 times a day until you are back to your healthy self. You can drink this straight up as a Master Tonic shot, or add to hot water as you would a tea, for a toned down version. You can also add raw, local honey or a bit of stevia to taste if you need some sweetness. One thing is for sure, this tart and spicy drink will clear your sinuses and warm you up!

If you are looking to add even more natural remedies to your medicine cabinet this cold and flu season, in addition to your homemade Master Tonic, our favorites include oregano essential oil and colloidal silver. Both make great natural additions that may just get you through the season with no sick days!

Pour your Master Tonic and bottoms's to a healthy 'sick season'!

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Mullein: a Gift From the Birds

Occasionally I find I have random plants popping up in my flower beds. These plants make an appearance despite me not planting them there. I call these my “gifts from the birds.” Let’s face it, seeds migrate. There’s evidence of plants moving across entire continents. Windblows seeds. Waterways carry seeds. Seeds can cling to animal fur. Birds eat the seeds and sometimes they leave droppings with still viable seeds in it.

Once of the summer gifts from the birds that I am overjoyed to see in the side ditches this summer is mullein. This is a distinctive plant that makes its presence known. It is described as growing one to two feet in height in most informational sources, but I have seen them taller than me. So, they have gotten over five foot three inches tall. They have one stem and around this stem fuzzy, broad leaves grow in a whorled pattern. The single flower stalk is home to the small balls from which the little yellow flowers bloom. They are native to Asia and Europe, but have made their way west to North America. It grows readily in the midwest and eastern states. Here in Ohio I get to enjoy this plant often.

The yellow flowers of mullein

Mullein is sometimes referred to Kings Lantern. Its Latin name is Verbascum thapsus, but there are a ton of different plants that belong to the Verbascum species. Mullein is listed in many herbals as being especially beneficial for the lungs and respiratory system. Through the ages, the fuzzy leaves were used to line the insides of shoes to insulate against the cold. There are wives’ tales about this being enough to help remedy lung congestion.

The flowers can be boiled in olive oil to produce an oil many people use to alleviate the pain associated with ear aches. Boil these same flowers in honey and you get a delicious syrup which is said to relieve cough and chest congestion. The leaves and roots can be dried, powdered and encapsulated. These capsules are then ingested to aid with a host of discomforts. It has emollient and astringent properties, so it can soothe irritated tissues, including skin.

Mullein is a treasured gift from the birds.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Cannabis: Not Just About Getting High


I grow many different things on our farm, but one of my favorites is cannabis. A little under two years ago, I purchased my first plants and haven't looked back. Since my first harvest, I have not used any NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen for any reason. I much prefer skipping all of the possible side effects of pharmaceuticals and rely on the medicinal uses of cannabis instead. My favorite way to harness the healing powers of the cannabis plant is in tincture or salve form. Topical applications will not cause a psychoactive response.

So let’s talk basics and why cannabis might be for you. Cannabis actually decreases inflammation in the body to reduce pain, where medications such as NSAIDs or narcotics/opioids only mask the pain and inflammation temporarily. Cannabinoids, like THC or CBD, are the chemical compounds that provide relief from pain, inflammation or nausea by communicating with our endocannabinoid system.

Our endocannabinoid system affects our homeostasis, appetite, mood, memory and pain. Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, and supplementing with a cannabis tincture or salve can bring immense relief. Terpenes, which give cannabis its characteristic smell, also have a medicinal effect when used in conjunction with cannabinoids. Which is why I prefer using the whole plant, both flowers and trim, to get the full range of compounds rather than using a one note product that singles out just THC or just CBD. Whole plant products hit more receptors within the body and in turn are more effective. 

Luckily, society is starting to change their opinion of cannabis users from “always altered, unproductive members of society” to accepting the idea that people from all walks of life are reaping the benefits of cannabis in many different forms. 


So let’s talk salve. There are many different recipes online for making your own salve. Most are some combination of oils like coconut and olive, beeswax and finely chopped cannabis. They can be infused on the stove in a double boiler, or my favorite way, in my slow cooker. You want to keep the oils warm so that the compounds from the plant matter infuse into the oil, creating a potent topical medication. After infusing the oils until they are dark in color and fragrant, you strain out the plant matter, mix the infusion with beeswax to give you a solid product and store in a jar for future use. This salve can be used to rub into sore muscles, cramps, localized swelling and pain, bruises, massaged into the neck for tension, rashes, bug bites, acne...and the list goes on. Sometimes I even use it as a facial moisturizer!



A tincture is an extract of plant matter typically using alcohol as the solvent, which dissolves the medicinal compounds from the plant into the alcohol. As with salve, there are many different recipes online for making tinctures. All you need to make a cannabis tincture is finely chopped cannabis and high proof alcohol such as vodka or Everclear. You can do this two ways: 1. with decarboxylated cannabis, decarboxylating (or heating) converts THCA into THC and can provide a psychoactive effect, if that is what you are after or 2. with un-decarboxylated cannabis which retains the THCA compound and will not give you a psychoactive effect, but will still be medically beneficial.

You then combine your cannabis with your alcohol into a glass jar, shake and place in the freezer for five days up to a couple of weeks. Daily shaking of the jar will aid in the dissolving of the compounds into the tincture. The longer it infuses, the stronger your tincture will be. Once it becomes dark green in color and has infused for the appointed time you will then strain the plant matter out and bottle your finished tincture. You will want to choose a dark dropper bottle and store your tincture in a dark cool place such as the refrigerator or a cabinet. When you need relief, place a few drops (start with small doses and adjust as needed) under your tongue for conditions like headache, nausea and anxiety.  There are other tincture methods such as the ‘Traditional Warm Method’ and ‘Hot Method/Green Dragon’, but the cold method mentioned above is what I use and have had success with. Pick whichever method works for you.

So get out there and grow some of your own medicine! It’s fun, easy and I bet you’ll be glad you did.

As always, please check your state laws and requirements when you begin your cannabis journey. I do hope you are lucky enough to have access to cannabis either through a medicinal use card or recreational dispensaries.

Photos by author.

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Regaining Balance by Making a Garden Peace Pole, Part 1

Man Sanding Wooden Peace Pole 

Seems I’ve always been a gardener. My earliest garden memory: building rock gardens with Mom when I was a wee one as my two older sisters went off to school.  Warm spring days found the two of us collecting pebbles, stones and rocks to add to our backyard “garden.”

Mom always had a vegetable or flower garden, or both.  And she was often found “piddlin’ around” in one or the other, clothed from head to toe in order to ward off the array of pests found in the Connecticut landscape. Even as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis nagged her, she found respite toiling away on her hands and knees. She would often say, “If I can’t work in my garden, I might as well be dead.” She continued to work that New England soil up until her death from cancer at 79.

Gardening is in my blood. So, when hip issues, ultimately leading to a hip replacement, sidelined me for two years, I felt I was missing out on an important part of life — losing my balance in more ways than one. Luckily, my husband, Bill, discovered his green thumb and worked steadily to keep our yard in bloom while I watched from the front porch.

In order to add my touch to the garden and to get my creative juices flowing during this “downtime,” I set about making a peace pole to be placed amongst the flowers. I’d seen many prefabricated garden poles which I’d admired. However, I felt that if I painted my own, I could include inspiring words and paint designs from nature...all in the hopes of bringing the gift of peace, love and joy to my garden.

Peace Pole For Garden Decoration

Prepping the Garden Poles

A friend in town just happened to find three beautifully turned, antique newel posts in her barn. Chunks of white paint were embedded in their grain, and they seemed to have survived a fire, as indicated by the deep, black scorch marks. These three posts were survivors, and my friend and I made a deal that, if I prepared them all for painting, I could keep one for my own.

Bill and his electric sander provided much of the muscle needed to sand off the soot and chunks of paint. This was just the beginning of the prep process. Being able to stand and move a bit at three months post-surgery, I took over from here, filling in the deep gouges with putty and then re-sanding. Once the gaping trenches of grain were as smooth as possible, it was time to whitewash each pole with many coats of white primer.

Finding Balance

Throughout this preparation process, I pondered the fact that we are all creatives — whether we're creating art, a story, a new recipe. Maybe we're planning a garden, growing food from a seed, building a shed, or creating an ornament for the garden. Whatever we create can be a pathway to balance as long as we're mindful of the process.

So often, we go about our daily business, no matter what it may be, without realizing that we are actually creating.  As I became more mindful to what I was making, I began to re-find my balance. I was in the flow. Not only that, but I was immersed in nature and dreaming of the future, to a time when I would get back on my hands and knees and toil in the soil just like Mom.

The whitewashed pole became my blank canvas. It was time to begin collecting words and ideas as inspirations for this garden pole.  I hope you’ll check back soon for Part 2 of my report on this project. I spent five months getting this pole painted and ready for the garden, where it proudly stands today.

Whitewashed Wooden Pole Garden Decoration

What Do You Create?

Have you caught yourself in mindfulness during the process?  I'd love to hear about it.

Barbara Hengstenberg is the founding artist at WildesArt and North Carolina Arts Incubator Board Member. When she’s not in her garden, Barbara writes a monthly “Let's Create!” column for Southern Neighbor Newspaper. Connect with her on, her website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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Plogging: Eco-Friendly Fitness

plogging jogger trash 

Plogging – picking up litter while jogging – has become a popular new eco-friendly fitness craze. This common pastime began in Sweden as an organized activity and has recently begun catching on in other countries across the world. The word plogging fuses ‘plocka’ and ‘jogga’, meaning ‘picking (up)’ and ‘jogging’ in Swedish. The founder of this spontaneous movement is said to be the 57-year-old Swede Erik Ahlström. Moving back to Stockholm after having lived in the north of Sweden, Erik felt that there was a lot more litter on the streets than he previously remembered. Thus, he began his initiative to clean his community that caught on rapidly.

plogging close up

Not only does this new pastime combine jogging with picking up litter, but it also turns it into a community event or a social gathering. Therefore, plogging has many added health benefits, including overall fitness, social wellbeing, and improved environmental quality. It can even be a more effective form of exercise than jogging alone. As a workout, it involves variations in body movement, such as bending, squatting, and stretching in addition to the main act of running. According to data from the fitness app Lifesum, one hour of plogging burns 288 calories on average compared to 235 calories on average for plain old jogging. So by plogging not only will participants get an excellent workout, but also the added benefit that their local communities are simultaneously being cleaned.

Plogging has also become increasingly popular in social media, with many participants posting their collected trash and litter. Numerous ploggers are shocked at just how much trash can be collected in a short run, and even more post mid-run to encourage others to come join in. In Instagram alone, the exercise has been tagged in over 3,000 posts and many communities are creating Facebook groups dedicated to the organized activity. In fact, the Keep America Beautiful organization has begun promoting plogging to its affiliates and discovered that several had already created similar programs, such as the Trashercize program in Tennessee.

Most people do not have to look far to find areas that could use a good clean up, but if scenery is a concern, then consider visiting one of your local State Parks to do a good deed. Pack a picnic, bring a trash bag and some gloves and make a day out of it. There are plenty of trails to visit, and even the main roads could use some good litter removal. Bring some friends or your kids along, organize a community group, partner with the park’s Friends Group, or find a local Keep Tennessee Beautiful group to get involved. With June 2nd approaching, now would be an excellent time to honor National Trails Day and participate in a trail clean up run. Visit here to find your trail for National Trail Day, or here to find the closest park to you.

With so many opportunities to improve your health and your home, there is no reason not to torch some calories and tidy up the planet. So next time you are out on a jog or visiting your local park, try picking up some trash while you are at it. It will really pay off for both your body and the environment.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Ways to Dry Herbs


Whether you have some leftover store-bought rosemary from yesterday’s meal of roasted veggies, a garden overflowing with lemon balm, or a large backyard patch of wild stinging nettle, drying herbs is a great option for preserving this abundance for a year-round supply of cooking spices and herbal preparations.

Drying herbs effectively is a key step in getting the most out of your wildcrafting experience! Find five ways to dry herbs below, an excerpt from the online Botany & Wildcrafting Course, which takes students on a captivating voyage through the science of botanical identification and the art of wildcrafting edible and herbal botanicals.

A Guide to Drying your Herbal Harvest

Drying methods depend on many factors, including the herb(s) in question, the plant part(s) to be dried, the temperature and humidity of your drying space, the equipment available, and how the herb(s) will ultimately be used (i.e., home use versus commercial distribution).

Most herbalists will dry their herbs in one or more of the following ways:

Herb Drying Method 1: Outdoors on a clean surface, shaded from direct sunlight

Spread fresh herbs on a tarp, cloth, or other clean surface on the ground. To keep plant material out of direct sunlight, choose a naturally shaded area or create shade with a canopy, shade frame, or hoop house.

Herb Drying Method 2: In layers on drying frames or screens

This method maximizes available space much like an urban skyrise: spread herbs on screens or drying racks that can be stacked on top of each other in a frame. If your drying room is small enough, use a dehumidifier to speed up the drying process (this applies to any indoor drying method, including the next method below).

Herb Drying Method 3: Bunched for hanging or drying in paper bags

Collect herbs into small, loose bundles, and hang from nails or a string (much like a clothesline) in an out-of-the way location away from light. Bundles may be tied with string, twist-ties, or rubber bands (the last option keeps individual stems from slipping out of the bundles as they shrink with drying). Alternatively, bundles may be placed in paper bags to prevent contamination by dust or other particulate matter. When drying herbs in paper bags, the bags should be left open or have holes cut into them to allow air to circulate.

Herb Drying Method 4: In dehydrators

Layer herbs on racks in an appliance designed to maintain air flow and control temperature. Dehydrators range from standard home food dehydrators (choose one with an adjustable thermostat) to larger, specially designed cabinets.

Herb Drying Method 5: In an oven at a very low temperature

Spread herbs on trays or oven sheets, and place in an oven that can be set to a temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (gas ovens can be kept off with only the pilot light lit; the light bulb in some ovens may provide enough heat), and monitor for dryness. If needed, the oven door can be left ajar to increase air circulation and ensure that the temperature doesn’t rise too high.

Next time you’ve got an overabundance of fresh herbs on your hands, give one of these herb drying methods a try! And for more details on drying and the pros and cons of each drying method, along with a wealth of information on plant biology and ecology, botanical terminology, field identification, wildcrafting techniques, and more, sign up for the Botany & Wildcrafting Course, curated by the Herbal Academy’s team of expert herbalists and botanists.

Learn more and register for the Botany & Wildcrafting Course.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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