There's help in the hedgerows for winter ailments

Autumn is staggeringly lovely with leaves turning golden, rich and red, morning mists and lovely sunsets but beauty aside, the wonder of autumn lies in that fruitfulness. The autumn harvest is abundant with hedgerow herbs, fruits and nuts that will help you stay healthy through the winter, although it is no bad thing to do simple things like going for a walk to keep your lungs perky (and thus all the better to deal with marauding bugs).

On Apple Island we have been picking the elderberries, dark, lucious, ripe and glistening on the trees. They grow everywhere, so keep your eyes peeled and a carrier ready so that you can pounce when you go for a walk or a visit to the park.  Elderberries are astonishingly good anti-virals, full of vitamins that boost the immune system and help both to prevent and cure nasty colds and flu. If there are none left on the trees by the time you get out there, try buying dried ones – still very much worthwhile. 

Every autumn, we make our winter medicine with elderberries at its heart. This year there are deliciously fat rosehips too, and the odd crab apple, simply because they are both plentiful and will add their health-giving, immune boosting vitamins to the mix.  

Give them all a quick rinse and set them in a pan of water, just covering the fruits – about a kilo of each (berries and hips). Add to this the juice of a couple of lemons, two inches of ginger root, a large sprig of rosemary, and a few cloves if you like them - they will certainly add strength to the brew. Bring to the boil, simmer for 40mins, then leave to cool for a couple of hours or overnight. Strain and for every 500ml of liquid, add 350ml of raw brown sugar. Bring to the boil again, and simmer for 10 mins. If you can find it, use raw local honey – and miss out that last boil altogether.  Either way, decant into clean, warmed bottles. 

It should last a few months but you can freeze it or even pasteurise it.  To do the latter place the jars, with the lids half screwed on, in a large pan of cold water, rising to about halfway up the jars. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat to a simmer and keep it going for 20 mins.  Then let it all cool before removing the jars, screwing the lids tight, and storing.  When winter cold starts to set in, take a spoonful or two every morning. It should help boost your immune system - which is what we all need these days - and it tastes absolutely delicious.