Homemade immune support- bone broth, kraut and elderberry syrup

Greetings Sierra Gardeners!

Amanda here.  If you’re anything like our family, you have been beating back sickness all winter.  With this weather all over the place, it’s hard for our bodies to keep up!  Now this topic may seem a little tangential to having your own garden, but in the spirit of self sufficiency that having a garden inspires- it’s also empowering to make your own preventive foods and medicines from real ingredients.

A few things I keep on hand to support our health in this season and throughout the year are as follows:

  • Bone Broth
  • Sauerkraut
  • Elderberry Syrup

These are things you can buy at the store, but they are also extremely satisfying (and easy) to make!  As you will see, I don’t do a lot of measuring.  In my experience, things like this don’t need to be precise in order to work well.  If you’d prefer recipes with actual amounts, there are plenty out there.



Let’s start with bone broth (if you are vegetarian, probably best to skip this part).  Bone broth is essentially a long cooked broth that has vinegar in it. The vinegar helps to break down the bones so that their minerals, gelatin and acids are more readily available to you.  Pair this base with veggies and herbs and you’ve got magic on the stove.  When you’re not feeling so good- a cup of real chicken soup has actual healing powers.

Like everything these days, a quick google search will bring you more information than you ever thought possible!  To go directly to the source- check out what the Weston A Price Foundation has to say about broth.

Here’s my version:

  • 1-2 chicken carcasses (pasture raised, organic if possible)
  • If I only have one carcass- I add a bag of “chicken paws” from the Briar Patch frozen area (over by the bulk coffee)- these are definitely a little terrifying to look at, but they are filled with gut healing gelatin!  Any time you can get heads and feet to add to your broth- do it!
  • a hefty splash of apple cider vinegar
  • a dash of mineral salt
  • any extras you feel excited about- herbs, celery ends, onion skins, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, leftover roasted veggies etc.  I really like to put shiitake mushroom stems in when I have them.

Put everything in a large crockpot with cold water- set that bad boy to low and then leave it for 12-24 hours.  The slow heating of the water leaches the minerals out.  You could also do it on the stove on low if you’re going to be around the house for a long time.

*Hot tip- keep a bag in your freezer of stock stuff as you accumulate little bits.  Chicken bones, mushroom stems, gnarly carrots etc.  Don’t do broccoli or kale stems (anything in that family) it just gets gross and smelly.  I also often throw in a handful of frozen hawthorne berries for their heart support and whole body tonifying effects (wild harvest these in the fall).

You can also get fancy and do roasted beef bones with a variety of veggies, but I find that to be a little too fragrant for my small house and the extra effort of roasting everything before making it is one too many steps for this mama.

Ok, so now you have this strange brew bubbling on the counter for a long time.  If I’m feeling like I have the capacity, sometimes I will add a whole bunch of thyme (antiviral) and nettle (mineral rich) at the last half and hour to boost it up.  Sometimes it’s just bones and water.  Do whatever works for you.  Or buy it from the store!

Once the broth is done, strain it out and keep in the fridge or freeze.  We usually keep a quart in the fridge (it will keep a week) and freeze the rest for future needs.  If it’s really good- the broth will be jiggly and gelatinous.



You may have heard the buzz about probiotics and how they help us maintain a healthy immune system starting in the gut. Sauerkraut is alive! That’s right, not just a side dish for a sausage, kraut (and other fermented foods) are rich in live probiotics (read: beneficial bacteria) which more and more studies are linking to a strong immune system and robust overall health. Often doctors will recommend patients taking a probiotic when on antibiotics, but these little beneficial bacteria can help you out every day, not just when your gut bacteria are being wiped out.  Kraut is also a champion source of vitamin C- so you’ll also keep scurvy at bay!  (So important for our maritime lifestyle).

The following recipe makes a significant amount of kraut.  But it does keep well!  If this quantity of kraut is daunting for you- try making a small amount in a mason jar. 

Sandor Ellix Katz, the author of the book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green, 2003) has earned the nickname “Sandorkraut” for his love of sauerkraut.

This is Sandorkraut’s easy sauerkraut recipe from his book (also available on his website).

Sandor Katz’s Basic Sauerkraut

Timeframe: 1-4 weeks (or more)

Special Equipment:

  • Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket, one-gallon capacity or greater
  • Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
  • One-gallon jug filled with water (or a scrubbed and boiled rock)
  • Cloth cover (like a pillowcase or towel)

Ingredients (for 1 gallon):

  • 5 pounds cabbage
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt


  1. Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like it. I love to mix green and red cabbage to end up with bright pink kraut. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
  2. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it. 3 tablespoons of salt is a rough guideline for 5 pounds of cabbage. I never measure the salt; I just shake some on after I chop up each cabbage. I use more salt in summer, less in winter.
  3. Add other vegetables. Grate carrots for a coleslaw-like kraut. Other vegetables I’ve added include onions, garlic, seaweed, greens, Brussels sprouts, small whole heads of cabbage, turnips, beets, and burdock roots. You can also add fruits (apples, whole or sliced, are classic), and herbs and spices (caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds, and juniper berries are classic, but anything you like will work). Experiment.
  4. Mix ingredients together and pack into crock. Pack just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or any (other) sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
  5. Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock. Place a clean weight (a glass jug filled with water) on the cover. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
  6. Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
  7. Leave the crock to ferment. I generally store the crock in an unobtrusive corner of the kitchen where I won’t forget about it, but where it won’t be in anybody’s way. You could also store it in a cool basement if you want a slower fermentation that will preserve for longer.
  8. Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Many books refer to this mold as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. It’s just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
  9. Enjoy. I generally scoop out a bowl- or jarful at a time and keep it in the fridge. I start when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavor over the course of a few weeks. Try the sauerkraut juice that will be left in the bowl after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice is a rare delicacy and unparalleled digestive tonic. Each time you scoop some kraut out of the crock, you have to repack it carefully. Make sure the kraut is packed tight in the crock, the surface is level, and the cover and weight are clean. Sometimes brine evaporates, so if the kraut is not submerged below brine just add salted water as necessary. Some people preserve kraut by canning and heat-processing it. This can be done; but so much of the power of sauerkraut is its aliveness that I wonder: Why kill it?
  10. Develop a rhythm. I try to start a new batch before the previous batch runs out. I remove the remaining kraut from the crock, repack it with fresh salted cabbage, then pour the old kraut and its juices over the new kraut. This gives the new batch a boost with an active culture starter.



This is one of the most delicious immune boosters I know!  Elderberries grow wild in our area, and are also easy to cultivate.  The bush we have at Food Love gives me enough berries for my family for a whole flu season!  Ask Edy about getting an elderberry plant for your home garden (you can even keep it out of the fenced area- just protect it from deer till it’s tall enough to defend itself).  If you are wild harvesting, please learn more about the ethics of this practice and learn from someone who knows what they are doing!  You can also buy dried elderberries online or locally at HAALO.

In our family, we harvest black elderberries (Sambucus Nigra)  in the fall and keep bags in the freezer to make syrup as needed.  Often I make a big batch of syrup and freeze it in little containers so it’s ready when we start to feel icky.  Elderberry syrup works best when you’re fighting something or just starting to feel ill.  Studies have shown it to be effective against the flu virus and as a white blood cell booster.

There are so many recipes for making your own Elderberry Syrup so do search around and experiment!

Our basic recipe is as follows:

  • several handfuls of elderberries
  • a few cups of water
  • a knob of ginger root (optional)
  • a cinnamon stick (optional)
  • a bunch of raw, local honey
  • a dash of alcohol (optional)

Boil down the elderberries with the water until the mixture is reduced by half.  Strain it out and compost the organic matter.  Then, mix the warm liquid with a bunch of raw honey (fresh ginger juice is a great add here too).  You can add some alcohol to help the syrup keep for a longer time- if you make your own tinctures you can add tincture of other immune boosters such as spilanthes, echinacea or juniper berry (totally optional).  Keep this in the fridge or freeze for the future.

Standard dose is ½ tsp to 1 tsp for kids and ½ Tbsp to 1 Tbsp for adults. You can put this in hot tea or on waffles just like any other syrup 🙂  If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day.

Local herbalist Amber Magnolia Hill has a great video about cold and flu where she talks about elderberry and just general prevention for cold and flu.  She’s also a fan of using elderberry raw, which you can learn more about on her blog.


In the future, we will talk more about what plants you can grow in your garden to support the health of yourself and your family.

Till then, be well!