Elderberry syrup is an absolute essential in your home herbal apothecary. Every year, we forage elderberry flowers in spring then forage the berries in late summer. And from them, we make this elderberry syrup, among other things. You can, of course, make a tincture with alcohol, ACV, or glycerin, but the syrup is great for the entire family and, because it’s sweet, it’s much easier to get children to drink it!
This easy elderberry syrup is probably the most potent herbal remedy in your arsenal.
Benefits of Elderberries
People have been extolling the health benefits of elderberries for thousands of years, all across the world. In 400 BC, Hippocrates is quoted as proclaiming that the elder tree was his “medicine chest”.
Elderberry is brilliant for so many things, but is most commonly used to relieve cold and flu symptoms, along with other respiratory ailments like bronchitis. And, here’s a lesser-known tip for you: Elderberry syrup is brilliant for hayfever!
Elderberries packed with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory substances, and other beneficial compounds, such as quercetin, that can prevent cold and flu viruses from taking hold and can help to lessen symptoms and speed up recovery time. These berries, often considered little better than weeds in many parts of the modern world, actually have antiviral and antimicrobial properties and works against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. (You can read more about some of the more recent studies in the further reading section at the end of this post).
Traditionally, elderberries are also used to lower cholesterol and to improve cardiovascular health, too, among other things, but here we’re focusing on the cold, flu, and general immune-boosting benefits.
Elderberries don’t just lessen symptoms and boost your immune system – according to Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, of Hadassah-Hebrew University, elderberries actively work against cold and flu viruses by killing the enzyme in the virus that allows it to penetrate your cells.
And it’s not just elderberries – my recipe includes several other common ingredients with powerful benefits to make this a super-charged cold and flu remedy and immune-boosting tonic.
So, before we get to the recipe, here’s when to use elderberry syrup:
- At the first sign of a cold or flu
- Every 4 hours during a cold or flu illness
- As a cough remedy
- As a preventative after exposure to someone else with a cold or flu
- Daily as a general immune-boosting tonic
Why Should I Bother Making Elderberry Syrup?
Well, there are a few solid reasons to make your own elderberry syrup. The most obvious benefit is that you’ll save a lot of money. Foraging your own elderberries and elderflowers, or even buying them dried (these ones are my go-to if I don’t have fresh), is much, much cheaper than buying commercial elderberry syrup. Even when you add in the cost of the honey and other ingredients, it’s still way less expensive.
And, of course, if you make your own, you know exactly what’s in it. You avoid chemicals, refined sugars, and all the other unnecessary ingredients in commercial preparations.
If you’re really in a pinch and need some elderberry syrup fast, there are some acceptable commercial preparations – they’ll just cost you more. This one from Gaia Herbs is a good, natural choice, although it does contain some (organic) cane sugar. And if you prefer elderberry gummies and don’t have the time to make them, these extra-strength elderberry gummies from Dakota would be my choice, as there’s nothing artificial in them, and the only sugar is pectin (natural fruit sugar).
But really, it’s super-easy to make your own, so if you have the time, go ahead and give it a try.
How to Make Elderberry Syrup
Elderberry syrup is one of the easiest home remedies to make. It requires minimal preparation and fairly short cooking time. Exact quantities aren’t necessary, and my recipe is flexible enough that you can make your own additions, omissions, and tweaks.
You basically put all the ingredients into your favorite pot – mine is a beautiful Lodge red enameled cast iron dutch oven that’s now a bit battered after so many years of use. But it’s perfect for making elderberry syrup and other preserves because it has a thick, heavy bottom. It’s my favorite kitchen pot because I can use it on the stovetop or stick it in the oven, and with minimal care, it will last decades.
Anyway, back to making elderberry syrup. You’ll need:
- Elderberries (fresh or dried)
- Cinnamon sticks
- Ground or whole cloves
- A large orange
- A lemon
- Fresh ginger
You put everything in the pot apart from the honey. You must not add the honey yet as the beneficial compounds in honey cannot withstand high temperatures, so we’ll add that when the rest of the syrup has cooked and cooled sufficiently.
Leave the pot uncovered and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then drop the temperature to simmer the ingredients. We cook the ingredients instead of making a tincture because elderberries are not safe to eat raw. The flesh of the berries is safe, but the tiny seeds contain cyanide-inducing glycosides and, when ingested in large quantities, can make you quite seriously ill. Because the berries and their seeds are so tiny, it’s not practical to separate them, so cooking them is the answer. The application of heat destroys the glycosides in the seeds. But, interestingly, it actually concentrates and enhances the benefits of the polyphenols and anthocyanins (these are the super beneficial compounds).
Once the liquid reduces by half and the mixture thickens a little, you can remove from the heat and let it cool. Once it reaches room temperature, mash it with a potato masher to extract as much goodness as you can from the elderberries and the citrus fruits. Then, set up a bowl with a sieve over the top and pour the syrup mixture into the sieve. Let it drip through slowly. You can encourage it by using a large spoon to press the berries and release juice through the sieve. Once you’ve gotten as much syrup through the sieve as possible and the liquid is at room temperature, you can add the honey.
Discard the crushed berries, cinnamon, citrus peel, and so on, then give the syrup a good stir. I use a funnel and sanitized amber glass bottles (like these) and decant my syrup into the bottles. Then I seal them up and put in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least a couple of months.
Black Elderberry Safety
If using elderberries that you harvest yourself, firstly, make sure that what you’re harvesting really is elderberry. Secondly, only harvest the fully ripe berries. The unripe berries and stems have high levels of compounds that can make you vomit and can potentially make you very unwell. So it’s crucial that you remove any stems and unripe berries before use.
3 hours 25 minutes
- 3 cups of water
- 2 – 2.5 cups of freshly foraged or frozen elderberries (or 1.5 cups of dried elderberries)
- 1/2 – 2/3 cup of raw, preferably local, honey
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 – 1.5-inch piece of fresh ginger root
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1 large orange, sliced
- 24 cloves (or 3/4 tsp ground cloves)
- 1/6 cup apple cider vinegar (with the mother) – Optional
- Put the elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, lemon, orange, and water in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat.
- Simmer for at least 30 minutes – give it a good stir on a regular basis so it doesn’t catch, or it’ll ruin your syrup.
- Once the mixture goes thick and syrupy and the liquid reduces by around half, remove from the heat.
- Take a potato masher and mash the berries thoroughly to release any remaining juice and goodness.
- Strain the mixture through muslin, a sackcloth, coffee filter, or similar.
- Leave to cool completely, then stir in the raw honey. The mixture must be cool before you add the honey, or you’ll kill all the beneficial compounds in the honey and reduce the beneficial properties of your syrup.
- Store in a clean, sanitized jar in the fridge for up to two months.
As this recipe uses raw honey, do not give to infants under a year old. You can, however, bottle a portion before you add the honey, then, when you need to give it to a little one who is too young for the honey syrup, add the unsweetened mixture to applesauce or something similar.
Extend Shelf Life
Although this recipe is pretty shelf-stable as long as you keep it refrigerated, you can increase the shelf life significantly (up to 6 months) by adding the 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar when you add the honey. Just be aware that this will obviously change the taste and the thickness of your syrup.
I don’t generally add the vinegar because the syrup doesn’t hang around long enough in our house to worry about shelf life. And, of course, you can freeze it if you have too much.
Tip: If you have too much, freeze it in ice cube trays and just defrost as you need them. Alternatively, freeze in freezer-safe containers that contain roughly two week’s worth of syrup, and defrost one at a time.
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Bragg Organic Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar with The Mother, 16 ounce, 2 Pack
Cheesecloth, Grade 90, 36 Sq Feet, Reusable, 100% Unbleached Cotton, Ultra Fine Cheesecloth
Norpro Stainless Steel Funnels, Set of 3
(12 Pack) 16 oz. Amber Boston Round with Black Poly Cone Cap
Lodge 5 Quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven.
Starwest Botanicals Organic Dried Elder Berries, 1 Pound Bulk
It really is that simple to make immune-boosting elderberry syrup. People have been taking this herbal remedy for thousands of years, and, finally, Western medicine has started to take this widely available herb seriously, with multiple clinical trials demonstrating the positive effects of elderberry syrup on people with cold and flu symptoms. Additionally, it’s well-documented that the beneficial properties in elderberries actively boost the immune system and can help people avoid contracting minor illnesses. You can do your own research by taking a look at the studies and resources I’ve compiled below.
- Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections
- Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses
- Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama
- Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials
❄️ How long can I keep elderberry syrup in the fridge?
How long is a piece of string? It depends on what you use in the recipe and how you store it. Honey is a natural preservative, so, as long as you store your syrup in an airtight container in a suitably cold refrigerator, it’ll store for at least two weeks. If you stir in some apple cider vinegar once the syrup is cool, it’ll last longer – potentially up to six months. And you can freeze elderberry syrup, so even if you make one big batch, you don’t have to waste it. Store it in freezer-safe containers, each one big enough to hold about 2 week’s worth of syrup. Then just defrost as needed.
🌿 Can I forage my own elderberries?
Definitely! As long as you know what you’re looking for. There are quite a few different types of elderberries, but it’s the black elderberries, Sambucus nigra (European or black elder) or Sambucus canadensis (American or common elder) that you want. Plus, do remember to get permission from whoever owns the land before you start harvesting their elderberries. And avoid foraging in very urban and traffic-heavy locations, as you really don’t want to consume any toxins that have leached their way into or onto the berries. You can check out essential things to know about foraging here.
🤒 Can elderberry syrup cause a cytokine storm?
Well now, that’s a matter of some debate. And I’m not a doctor. However, I can tell you that scientists don’t fully understand the pathophysiology of a cytokine storm. And let’s face it, the term itself is pretty scary. A cytokine storm – sounds BAD, right? Well, the cytokine storm is an imbalance between the inflammatory cytokines, the anti-inflammatory cytokines, and the regulatory cytokines. But do I think elderberries can cause a cytokine storm? No. Although that’s just my (informed) opinion.
Elderberry preparations have been used for thousands of years, and there is no clinical evidence to support the suggestion that elderberry syrup can cause a cytokine storm. But, as I said, that’s just my opinion, and I encourage you to do your own research and consult with your own medical and naturopathic professionals before you make a decision.
💲 Where is the best place to get dried elderberries?
For those rare times when I’ve fun out of fresh and frozen elderberries – like when some of the extended family who don’t believe in “all that natural mumbo jumbo” suddenly get a cold or flu they can’t get rid of and beg me for help – I buy these elderberries, in bulk, from Amazon.
🥄 How much elderberry syrup should I take?
I’m not a medical professional, and I’m not your naturopath or clinical herbalist, so I can’t give you dosage advice. I can tell you that I take a teaspoon a day during late fall, winter, and early spring, and the kids get half that amount. And, if any of us do happen to pick up a cold or flu, we take the same dose, but up to four times a day. Some literature recommends only taking elderberry syrup during the week, and taking a break on weekends, or taking a week’s break every month.
🍯 Can I substitute the honey in elderberry syrup for agave?
Yes, absolutely. Substituting the honey for agave or any other natural sweetener is fine, but if possible, avoid refined sugar, as it’s inflammatory and a known immune-suppressant.
⚖️ Can I use powdered elderberries in elderberry syrup?
Yes, you can use powdered elderberry instead of dried or fresh, just reduce the quantity by a third. You can do the same with the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, too.
🌱 Can I grow my own elderberries?
Yes! It’s actually not at all difficult to grow your own elderberries. Once they get started, they grow rapidly. You can buy elderberry plants already rooted, growing, and ready to bear, like these American elders, or you can take cuttings and root your own elderberry bushes. Or, you can go halfway and buy the bare-rooted cuttings, like these ones which are great value, that you need to root yourself. Don’t worry – elders root very easily!