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Interview: Samantha Ditchendorf 

Sarah Baird talks to a Northshore proponent of the elderberry, which is said to have big health benefits

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Samantha Ditchendorf of Mandeville founded Naturally Well with Samantha (985-590-7670; www.naturallywellwithsamantha.com), a holistic health company specializing in the healing properties of elderberry syrup. The entrepreneur and mother of three spoke with Gambit about starting the business and a local, under-the-radar berry that's good and good for you.

Why did you launch Naturally Well with Samantha?

Ditchendorf: I have a background in kinesiology and health, so I've always been more interested in using natural approaches to keeping my family healthy — herbs, organic food and essential oils.

My son was constantly sick with allergies and nothing was working to help fix it. He was on so many different antihistamines — up to three at a time at one point — and steroid shots, but nothing seemed to be helping or improving his condition. A friend of mine told me that people swore by elderberry syrup, so I made a first batch to try. Within three days, all these symptoms that were just relentless and ongoing for my son began to clear up. It was amazing. I decided since so many people struggle with these kinds of issues, I would start making it for the public.

  I sell now at a few farmers markets — Covington, Abita Springs, Mandeville — as well as through Good Eggs. I'm really looking to expand into health food stores in the near future.

Elderberries are an unusual fruit. What sort of health properties do they have?

D: Elderberries have natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties and contain large amounts of potassium, beta-carotene, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C. Most people drink it in a smoothie or just take it as a straight syrup. Since I launched the business in January, I've had so many customers share their success stories of better health through elderberries. I have a bunch of people with asthma who have cut down on how much they have to use their inhalers since starting with the syrup, and I even have some people with arthritis who say it's really improved their functioning because it's so anti-inflammatory.

  Of course, I also have a bunch of customers who love buying the syrup because it tastes so good. People really like to use it in their tea or spoon it over a bowl of ice cream.

How do you make the syrup?

D: Elderberries are native to Louisiana, but I would have to be out picking them every day or growing my own if I wanted to use only Louisiana berries, so I get organic berries from suppliers for my syrup. I mix it with local, organic honey for a little sweetness. We're hoping to start having a few other blends of the syrup soon for different preventative health programs, but definitely sticking with elderberries. They're just so good for you.

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