Written by Chelsea Rose Moore | Photos by Jennifer Gray
Destiny is a funny thing. Sometimes we find our destinies quickly, as the result of an overnight decision. And other times, we find it through a series of random events, leading us closer and closer one small step at a time. Erin Mann discovered her destiny — and her elderberries — the latter way.
Mann’s parents worked for the FBI, and she always knew she would grow up to do the same. With a master’s degree and a doctorate, she thrived in her role as an FBI intelligence analyst for 15 years until her son was born.
When she was 22, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a disease causing inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Crippled by its severity, she was forced to be on a liquid diet. Over time, she learned colitis could be managed by food and lifestyle choices, and she began making healthier decisions.
During this time, she and her husband Craig struggled to conceive a child. In the midst of a pregnancy she miscarried, she almost lost her life, and lost a fallopian tube. She began eating organic foods and carefully considering what she was putting in her body. It was then that she conceived her son Lucas, her rainbow baby.
Lucas struggled with a variety of health issues as a toddler. At one point, in the midst of a bad virus, his doctors thought he had leukemia. Although he didn’t have leukemia and eventually recovered from his virus, he became sickly. He was on two inhalers, one in the morning and one at night. He took Benadryl and Zyrtec, had regular visits with an allergist, and practically lived at his pediatrician’s office.
A routine visit to his allergist’s office set Mann on a path to heal her son. When she asked what she could do to help Lucas, the allergist told her she couldn’t do anything because his lungs wouldn’t grow stronger.
“That was literally my breaking point,” she said. “That doctor looked at me square in the eyeballs and said, ‘There is nothing you can do to make his lungs stronger.’ You don’t tell me I can’t do something. That’s exactly what I needed. Up until that point, we had been treading water.”
The researcher in her began studying germs and natural remedies. She discovered information on elderberry syrup as a remedy for cold and flu viruses. She learned the berries could be used as a preventative measure for fighting bacteria, decreasing the time it takes to recover from a virus, and reducing the chance of being hospitalized if taken at the onset of symptoms.
Erin Mann in her home office.
She learned that local raw honey could help allergies, and a teaspoon taken every other day could build up a tolerance for pollen over the course of several months. “I’ve always heard that the lung is a muscle, and muscles can always weaken or get stronger,” she said.
Through her research, she determined that her son needed elderberry syrup with local honey. She spent a week and a half testing recipes, concocting the perfect elderberry syrup for her son. She gave it to him at night before bed.
“He started using it in September, and by March, Lucas had an amazing turnaround in his health,” she said. “His colds went away, his chest congestions went away, and the child hasn’t been to the allergist since. We went once to get released, and [the allergist] said, ‘I don’t know what happened, but you don’t need to see me anymore.’ Once that happened, we just kept on with it.”
She also took elderberry syrup daily. With her colitis, she went from taking 10 pills a day and having two flares per year, to being medication free for the past four years without any flares. “Elderberries reduce inflammation,” she said. “You can use food for health. Food is amazing. It nourishes us.”
Mann founded a private Facebook group called “Raising Tiny Healthy Humans,” which is designed to be a safe space for mothers to share bits of their journey as they raise children. She posted about her elderberry syrup and soon had friends and friends-of-friends texting her asking for some syrup for their families.
She officially opened Erin’s Elderberries in March 2019 as a fully licensed and inspected food business. Each month, she makes two thousand bottles of elderberry syrup and 800 bottles of aronia syrup. Made in her kitchen in Warrenton, Va., she ships her syrups to four countries and sends thousands of bottles worldwide.
“My kid was sickly, and I wasn’t going to stand for that,” she said. “I worked as hard as I possibly could to make my child better. And I found something to help other families too. I never in a million years thought I would get messages from people thanking me for having their grandpa recover in a couple days after being sick for weeks.”
As the next step in her journey, she became a registered holistic nutrition coach. “I wanted people to know I am very serious about health and wanting to educate people,” she said. “I don’t want you to just buy my elderberry syrup. I want people to know why they are using it and how they are using it.”
In the elderberry production kitchen.
Known in the community as “Miss Elderberry” or “The Elderberry Lady,” Mann is at three farmers markets during market season. “I didn’t make elderberry syrup to sell. I made it for my family and for my son, and then everybody wanted it,” she said. “Nothing has changed [about it]. It’s exactly the same.”
In addition to her elderberry syrup, she sells aronia syrup, made from the aronia berry. As an underappreciated berry, the aronia berry is high in antioxidants and other healing properties. Mann balanced the astringent aronia flavor with raw honey and elderberries, making it to help a client with chronic sinusitis. When it helped heal her sinusitis, Mann continued making the syrup for others.
Mann’s online shop is a curated collection of products from women-owned small businesses. She offers handmade teas, soaps, make-your-own syrup kits, and many other natural products. She also makes a healthy alternative to Kool-Aid for kids called “Yum Punch,” which is packed with herbs and electrolytes.
With a heart for giving back, she donates her syrups to families battling pediatric cancer. “If I hear that their doctor sent them to me because their child is receiving treatment, I give them the bottles for free,” she said.
She makes every retail stockist sign a pricing agreement, so that her products are attainable for families seeking health, regardless of income level. “I am in this to help people,” she said. “I am not going to sacrifice that.”
Her husband pointed out that she has always worked to help others. While with the FBI, she was dedicated to keeping people safe, but the families she served never knew she was helping them. With Erin’s Elderberries, she’s found a way to continue helping people.
“Stopping work for the Bureau was hard for me when I had my son,” she said, noting that she had always found her identity in the FBI. But her desire to serve others has motivated every one of her business decisions for Erin’s Elderberries.
If she hadn’t worked to find a solution for her client with chronic sinusitis, her aronia syrup wouldn’t exist.
If she hadn’t decided that a family should never have to choose between healthy food and a roof over their heads, her products wouldn’t be as accessible, and therefore, wouldn’t have helped as many families.
If she hadn’t taken her son’s health into her own hands and fought with every fiber of her being to help him, her elderberry syrup wouldn’t exist.
If she hadn’t been true to herself by serving the people in her life, she wouldn’t have found her destiny in helping families heal their loved ones. Isn’t destiny a funny
Learn more about Erin’s Elderberries and shop her products by visiting erinselderberries.com. Find her on Instagram @erinselderberries.
Published in the January 2021 issue of Middleburg Life.