NORTH PORT, Fla. – A dark purple berry is creating a lot of buzz – and for one North Port mom, it’s creating a lot of business too.
Chelsea Whetsel is the owner and founder of The Elderberry Shop.
“We sell an all-organic line of elderberry products, we are a non-GMO, preservative-free business,” Whetsel said.
Elderberry is a plant in the shrub family and it also grows on trees. Its berries and flowers are packed with vitamins and antioxidants with medicinal use dating back centuries. Since the pandemic hit and more people are focused on their health, sales of elderberry products have jumped.
“Elderberry has been around since the time of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. He actually termed elderberry as the world’s medicine chest because of all the benefits it had for good health,” said Dr. Stan Headley, a Natural Health Consultant at Cypress Lake Pharmacy.
Its most common use is for the cold and flu or other respiratory issues. It also has respiratory benefits. Two recent studies found elderberry supplements shortened the duration of the flu by four days compared to a placebo.
“Well, it’s really good for boosting the immune system because it will increase the number of white blood cells, which is your first line of defense against any virus or bacteria. For colds and flus, it’s very effective, it also will decrease inflammation. It’s actually good for stress reduction and there are some studies that suggest it’s very very good for protecting the heart,” Dr. Headley said.
Elderberries can be consumed in a number of ways from capsules to gummies to syrups. Whetsel grew up taking elderberry syrup when she was sick. Then, she passed that tradition down to her kids.
“When my kids were very young, they would get the common cold and flu and I would always go to my local store to pick up elderberry syrup,” Whetsel said.
But she didn’t like all the added ingredients in the products she was buying, so she started making her own elderberry syrup.
“When we first started making it, we did it as just a hobby really. We kind of tested it out with family and friends. My husband is actually a firefighter paramedic for Charlotte County so I would have him bring it to the fire station. We would just pull up to different parking lots and show people what we had,” Whetsel said.
Now, her business is blowing up, and not just online.
“We’re in 15 different retail locations from Naples all the way to Tampa. We just hired two employees, they’ll be our first employees so it’s really exciting,” Whetsel said.
In addition to selling the syrup by the jar, she makes do-it-yourself kits, elderberry honey and more. She uses hand-picked European elderberries, but you can also find elderberry plants growing around much of the U.S. and right here in Southwest Florida.
“It’s perfect for this climate, it’s not invasive, and it grows a beautiful flower and a berry,” said Marco Acosta, the manager of FGCU’S Food Forest.
There’s an elderberry tree in the Food Forest, which is student-led and run.
“The Food Forest is not only for food, it’s for people to come walk through, forget about the stresses of the day and that is a yield that we like harvesting,” Acosta said.
Zoie Kassis is an FGCU senior and the Food Forest Coordinator. She too grew up using elderberries as medicine.
“I think the biggest word to focus on is ‘elder’. I feel like that plant has a lot to teach us because it’s been here for so long,” said Kassis.
She and Dr. Headley agree – food is medicine.
“And elderberry is a classic example,” Dr. Headley said.
Whetsel said she’s happy to provide elderberry products all around the community.
“I feel like we’re honestly living our little small baby business dream. It’s grown and it’s loved on. This business is thriving because people love the product, but we’ve been so blessed with just an outreach and community support, so much great feedback and that’s helped keep us going,” Whetsel said.
Right now, Whetsel makes her products in a commercial kitchen inside Los Dos Cristianos Coffee Shop in Punta Gorda. For more information on her products, you can visit her website: https://www.theelderberryshop.shop/