A local business grows out of a Warrenton mom’s determination to help her child
By Erin A. Mann, Photos by House of Amsel Photography
Everything about Erin’s Elderberries started with my son, Lucas. He is our rainbow baby…the joy of our lives that we thank God for each day.
While on our way to visit relatives for Lucas’s first birthday, where we had planned a red wagon themed party, he popped a fever. A fever that wouldn’t go away, a fever that kept telling me something was wrong. We took him to the emergency room thinking “OK, worst case scenario, we just postpone the party a few days until he feels better.” Less than a few hours later he was admitted to the hospital. I’ll never forget when the doctor came in. It was 1 a.m, she had her pajamas on under her white doctor’s coat. She was at home, but she came in for us. I knew something was wrong…bad wrong.
She told us that Lucas’s bloodwork was off and, in layman’s terms, he was showing possible Leukemia. Within an hour, we were admitted to the Oncology floor at Children’s Hospital. The oncologist met us within minutes of our arrival, because Lucas’s case was different. In a matter of hours, he would turn a year old, and (back then) the protocol for treatment changed dramatically if the patient was 365 days old. He was basically telling us, “you have to figure this out now, because you want the under one year treatment protocol.” At 4 a.m.we signed papers after papers and later that morning, Lucas was put under anesthesia for his bone marrow aspiration to determine his Leukemia diagnosis. It felt like days had passed when only a couple of hours had gone by. I couldn’t even sit still. I cried. I prayed, I prayed more. I called my Mom and cried.
I felt like my prayers were answered. The preliminary tests showed no signs of Leukemia. My heart stopped and raced all at the same time. My baby boy was ok. This was the best birthday ever, even though we had to celebrate his first birthday party in his hospital room. My parents drove down with all the cupcakes and food they were planning on serving and my Mom served the nursing staff on the floor. And children on the floor who were allowed cupcakes were given one too.
We never found out exactly what was wrong with Lucas. More tests could have been done, but the treatment protocol was the same no matter what they would find. We decided not to put our baby through more tests.
We were discharged a few days later. We came home, back to normal life, but Lucas continued to get sick easily. He was also developing ridiculous allergies, to the point where he was on two inhalers and two liquid meds a day, at the young age of one. Then the turning point came when I asked one of his specialists, “What can I do to strengthen this kid’s body?” And his answer was, “Nothing, it’s just a wait and see, you can’t do anything.” And that’s the thing about me, I am not a “wait and see” person, and I also do not take kindly to being told I can’t do something.
I walked out of that office, took Lucas home and put him down for a nap, and went to work researching, reading, and combing through peer reviewed journal articles for any information I could find. By trade and by education I am a researcher, so I am very good at going to the end of the internet if need be to find information. I spent a few weeks reading, learning, writing words down I couldn’t even pronounce. The following week I took Lucas to his pediatrician because it was time for his very first flu shot, but the doctor recommended we wait until he was better and his immune system had healed more. I thought, “ok, ummm, I am a new mom and now I’ve got to worry about my child contracting the flu. How do I do that?”
Elderberries enter the picture
I came across some literature regarding the flu shot and adults who had reactions. They were using other methods to prevent the flu. I started reading on…you guessed it….elderberry. I could only find research backing use during a cold or flu, but nothing for prevention. But all my reading was showing that that is how people are using it, and why, and how. So I set off to the store, and when I got there, I could not believe the junk in the bottles they sold. To top it off, it was awful tasting, and expensive! So I told myself I would figure out how to make my own, a healthier version, a better version.
I researched all the ingredients listed in traditional syrups, and read about why they were used and what benefits they brought, and what ratios were minimally needed. I sought the highest quality ingredients and spent a good couple of weeks tweaking recipes to make them taste good so that Lucas wouldn’t run from me when I tried to give it to him. One night, he looked at me and said, “Mama, I want yummy syrup.” And that is what he calls it to this day, and that is why my label reads: “Elderberry Yummy Syrup”.
Through flu season we all stayed healthy and Lucas took an amazing turn in his overall health within six months. He not only had zero colds or fevers during that time, when spring rolled around we had no inhalers and no liquid meds. Zero. None. The impact this little jar of stuff had on our family was unbelievable. I could go on about that, but this is about Lucas’s victory.
Erin’s Elderberries is born
Due to Lucas loving this so much, the next fall I shared it in a Facebook group for moms I run, telling them why I make it, and asked anyone who wanted to try it to come swing by my house. My intention was to get people interested in the amazing things elderberry can do, but it took another turn. In about a week’s time I was waking up to random text messages from people I didn’t know. They were friends of friends who had tried my elderberry syrup and who wanted some for their kids, who loved it.
Business was the last thing on my mind, I just wanted to find a way for me to make this for people’s kids and do it legitimately. I researched food laws and selling in Virginia, and I applied to get inspected and was approved. That was in March of 2019, and it’s been growing strongly ever since. It really ramped up during COVID-19 when I quickly found myself learning how to balance working 80 hours a week for my business and tending to a four year old who was now home full time 100 percent of the time! (here’s a hint…it’s basically impossible).
The business grows
During “lockdown”, my Dad and my husband helped me turn half our basement into a dedicated business kitchen, where I still make everything by hand in small batches, in small stock pots to ensure quality. I don’t want a machine making my products. I can make about 500 bottles in a day comfortably, but I can do up to 1200 if I really need to. The business has grown, so now I have a Director of Operations, Jen, who handles the business and shipping side, and three amazing young ladies who help me at the farmer’s markets so we can attend more than one in a weekend.
While business is really growing, it’s not about the money for me. My highest priority, second to affordability, is that I want my customers to have access to my products when they need it. Sometimes I’ll get texts in the middle of the night, when someone’s child is sick, so I’ve put an honor cooler on my porch for my customers, so they have access any time. My products are available in some small shops locally, but I’d love to get them into bigger stores like Whole Foods so people further away have access when it is later at night.
I love Warrenton. The Farmers market is where I “got my start”, and the support of this community turned my passion into a successful business. While I use social media for advertising, locally it’s still a word-of-mouth business. My dream is to be able to open a little shop of my own in Warrenton one day.
Erin’s Elderberries has been shipped to all 50 states, five countries, and retails in 18 states currently, all because I have the same passion for helping other families as I do my own child. I make no claims about what works and what doesn’t, but I instead share the story of our family, of our triumph, in hopes that it will give hope to others who are like I was: at their breaking point with their family’s health and well being.