Elderberry, specifically the subspecies Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis, is very useful for fighting colds, flu, and viral infections.
You can make elderberry syrup, jelly and other yummy goodness with the elderberry, but this tutorial focuses on making elderberry tincture - an alcohol-based extract of elderberry that has medicinal properties.
First you need to find the right kind of elderberry shrub! If you have one that you've planted, great. Otherwise, make sure to identify the elderberry bush before picking anything. Remember that raw elderberry can cause nausea, so resist the urge to sample the berries. And, don't confuse elderberry with the toxic water hemlock, Cicuta mexicana. You can tell the difference because water hemlock's stems are hollow with purple stripes. All parts of water hemlock are toxic, so don't touch the plant.
The berries are ripe when they are a deep purple-black color and slightly soft to the touch. I like to use scissors to snip off the purple berry clusters with stems intact. This makes it easier to strip the berries from the "umbrells," the umbrella-like, delicate stems that they grow on. I use the large central stem as a handle while cleaning off the berries. More details in the next step!