People respond to headlines like this one: “Elderberry helps cold and flu symptoms.” Certainly, elderberry has a long history and quite a bit of clinical data to support its use as a natural remedy for upper respiratory symptoms. Yet this is only part of the story. Not all elderberries are the same.
The purity, quality, and potency of herbs can vary significantly due to the quality of the soil, seasonal conditions, and the location in which they are grown. All herbs of the same name are not equivalent. For instance, the herbs Mab & Stoke selects are not grown with pesticides — all are certified organic, sustainably wildcrafted, or ecologically cultivated. This matters a great deal. Beyond that, Mab & Stoke takes a significant extra step. We use plants with specific percentages of phytochemical compounds. The concentration of active compounds makes a big difference. Concentration also comes up when comparing the form of elderberry that’s used. Elderberry juice power is not as strong as Elderberry extract in terms of potency.
Okay, so those are some key basics to help you tell the difference, but here’s the fun part of our story. Mab & Stoke uses Austrian black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) of the “Haschberg” subspecies. The berries come from the Styrian region of Austria, known for its magnesium rich soil due to previous volcanic activity. All of the elderberries are grown within a farming co-op consisting of roughly 450 growers, all family-owned farms. The trees aren’t particularly tall. One can reach them on tiptoe. The berries are hand-harvested with clippers or snapped by hand between mid-August and mid-September. They start harvesting at sun-up and go until noon before it gets too hot. Sun and heat allow unripe berries to ripen fully.
It’s a sustainable endeavor. After harvesting, the ripe berries are placed in orange totes and loaded onto a pallet, which takes them by tractor to the closest collection point, where they are then weighed and viewed. The farmers are then paid. From the collection point, the manufacturing partner in Italy picks up and stores the berries in 5 different freezers to last all year. Nothing is wasted. Discarded stems and skins are used to power the plant or as compost or feed for animals.
We’re lucky to be working with the team at Artemis International, our sourcing partners for the special concentrated elderberry extract that goes into our Mab Tabs. All the great photos and details on the farming co-op harvesting the Haschberg variety come from our interview February 2020 interview with Matt Brown of Artemis. Thanks Matt!