Foraging for immune boosting autumn berries

Qualified medical herbalist, Susan Goldsmith, writes for Bioregion Birmingham

As autumn descends and the beautiful scenery changes its décor, we say farewell to the greens and welcome in the fiery reds and oranges. The forest floor gets layered with nature’s litter, the puffballs swell, and the berries blush. It is my favourite time of year; it is such a sensory delight. It is a season of giving and Nature is generous in her offerings. If you go down in the woods today you’ll likely bump into foragers, excited at the prospect of their next meal.

With the decreasing temperatures winter is around the corner, but to get us smoothly into the chilly months is the season of autumn. It serves as a transition period designed to give us time to prepare and acclimatise. Just like the squirrels we should be getting into the gathering and stock piling fervour ready for a long hibernation. But modern living does not allow for a winter rest and recuperation, instead we plough through with the same determination and expect our bodies to follow suit.

However, if you’re one of the many who will not be heading to a comfy sleep zone until spring, it might be wise to let some berries take centre stage in your life right now. Provided free of charge from Nature’s "farmacy" are an array of plants and trees heaving with spectacular coloured berries; offering immunity and shining winter health. With foraging for health in mind, let us consider the humble Elderberry and Rosehip.

The edible Elderberry

ElderberriesTo keep colds and flu at bay this season stock up on natural vitamin supplementation in the form of elderberries (Sambucus nigra). They taste tart and sweet, and as a syrup they are the go-to medicine for a child of any age. Their naturally occurring bioflavonoids help to enhance the absorption of their high vitamin C content. There are also important antioxidants, phosphorus and potassium, and altogether they form a powerful virus-fighting combination. The berries have much the same properties as the flowers, which in themselves can be regarded as a complete medicine cabinet. But the berries bring with them the unique aspect of being a fantastic tonic. It is therefore safe to take as a long term preventative but also if the bugs strike: scientific studies show that the humble elderberry kills many kinds of flu viruses.

The ripe Rosehip

Rose hips

The hips of the wild rose (Rosa canina) will likely taste sweet and sour, with a hint of astringency. But don’t go picking and popping straight away as the hairs on the inside are an irritant. Some preparation is required beforehand. The purpose of the autumn rosehip is to provide nutrients before the bleak months set in. It is probably most noted for its outstanding amount of vitamin C - more, in fact, than any citrus fruit - and that sits alongside vitamin A, B, E and K as well as lycopene and bioflavonoids. All in all it’s a treasure trove of healthy goodness. It was even rationed in World War 1 to increase resistance against infection in children. So, if you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen there is much that can be made from the ripe rosehip: jams, jellies, wine, fruit leather, syrup, chutney… only your imagination is the limit.

Immune boosting berry tonic

As part of the commitment to healthy winter immunity, it is important not to consume foods that will undo any of your hard work, and so the recipe below has been chosen for its complete lack of sugar. The two berries can be sourced from the tree and dried.


¼ cup organic dried elderberries
¼ cup organic dried rose hips
1 litre filtered water


1. Bring 1 litre of filtered water to a boil in a saucepan. Add your dried berries, reduce heat to a low setting, and cover with a lid.

2. Simmer on low for 20-30 minutes and then remove from the heat.

3. Strain off the berries, cool and store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to a week.

4. Try to drink a little each day. You could even mix it with other teas, smoothies, or beverages if you don't like the taste of the tonic on its own.


Susan GoldsmithSusan Goldsmith BSc(Hons) BA(Hons) MNMH is a Medical Herbalist and Well-being Coach based in Leamington Spa & Coventry. She specialises in mental illness, emotional imbalances, and spiritual crisis, and is frequently found basking in the wisdom and serenity of trees in Britain and beyond. For more information go to or find her at

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