Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe
* This article may contain affiliate links. For more information, please read my Affiliate Disclosure.
Elderberry syrup has gained popularity in recent years as a natural but powerful herbal remedy, particularly for treating colds and flu. After all, elderberries are packed with immune-boosting vitamins and antioxidants, and scientific study after scientific study has shown the efficacy of elderberries when it comes to easing cold and flu symptoms.
But there’s also some important safety information you should know about using elderberries and elderberry syrup,so before you skip to the bottom of this post to get my recipe for homemade elderberry syrup, I encourage you to take a moment to read through the following info. and brush up on your elderberry knowledge first.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified herbalist or health care practitioner. This information is for educational and entertainment purposes only, and you should always speak with your doctor or health care provider before using herbal remedies as part of your healthcare routine. Just because something is natural does not automatically make it safe, and there may be ingredients in the recipe I’m about to share with you that can interfere with certain medications and medical conditions. Always use good judgment and speak with your doctor before using medicinal herbs. You can read my full disclaimer here.
What are elderberries?
Elderberries are the fruit (berries) of the Sambucus tree/shrub. There are two types of edible elderberry plants: Sambucus nigra (European elderberry) and Sambucus canadensis (North American elderberry).
Both of these varieties produce black elderberries, which are both edible and medicinal. There are also red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) but these red elderberries are poisonous and should never be consumed.
The Sambucus (Elder) plants first produce elderflowers in the spring. These tiny, delicate white flowers grow in clusters and are also edible. In the summer, the elderflowers die and leave behind small black elderberries.
While these black elderberries are both edible and medicinal, they must be cooked first as raw elderberries contain toxins, including glycosides that can cause a buildup of cyanide in the body.
Are elderberries toxic?
If eaten raw, elderberries can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which is probably the last thing you want at any time really, but especially if you’re already feeling sick.
Once cooked, however, elderberries are perfectly edible and still retain all of their medicinal properties.
Medicinal benefits of elderberries
Elderberries are high in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, as well as antiviral and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Elderberries -and elderberry syrup in particular- are best known for their ability to help boost immunity and ease cold and flu symptoms such as fever, headaches, muscle pain, sore throat and nasal congestion. Lesser known medicinal benefits include elderberries’ ability to help ease constipation (presumably due to their high fibre content), lower blood pressure, soothe inflammatory skin conditions, including acne, and reduce wrinkles.
Related: How to Make Traditional Fire Cider
Is elderberry syrup safe for kids?
Yes. Elderberry syrup is generally considered safe for children over the age of one. Raw honey can cause infant botulism in very young children so this syrup should not be given to children under the age of one.
Elderberry syrup and COVID-19
When COVID-19 first struck, there were rumours floating around that it was dangerous to take elderberry syrup because it had the potential to cause a cytokine storm, which is basically an overreaction of the body’s immune system that can cause dangerous and even deadly inflammation in the body.
While there is some truth to this rumour as elderberries do promote the release of cytokines in the body, there has been no evidence to suggest that taking elderberry syrup will cause a cytokine storm in a person suffering from COVID-19.
However, a Q&A from the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona does recommend against taking elderberry syrup or elderberry-based medicines if you’ve contracted COVID-19, just to be safe.
The same statement from the University of Arizona does also say (and I quote): “Elderberry extracts may help to prevent the early stage of corona virus infections, which includes COVID-19. Elderberry contains compounds which decrease the ability of viruses to infect cells.”
So while you may not want to turn to elderberry syrup to treat COVID-19 if you contract it, you can (and probably should) take it as a preventative measure.
Fresh vs. dried elderberries (and where to buy elderberries)
You can use fresh or dried elderberries to make elderberry syrup. If you’re growing your own elderberries then by all means use the fresh berries to make your elderberry syrup! Or you can dry them in a dehydrator or oven and then use the dried berries. However if you’re not growing your own elderberries, then you best option is to purchase dried elderberries and use those to make your syrup.
If using fresh elderberries, use twice as much. For example, this recipe calls for one cup of dried elderberries, so if using fresh elderberries, use two cups instead.
Even if you have to buy some dried elderberries, they go quite a long way and you’ll get quite a few batches of elderberry syrup out of a bag of dried elderberries, so this is still a much cheaper option than buying elderberry syrup from your local pharmacy or health food store.
We planted a couple elderberry bushes in the spring, but they’re going to take a few seasons to get established and start producing enough elderberries for us to harvest. So in the meantime, I use dried elderberries.
So far I’ve been using Starwest Botanicals brand dried elderberries and I’ve been very happy with them. However I would also recommend dried elderberries from Farmhouse Teas (which is where I get my herbal tea blends for flavouring my kombucha).
Farmhouse Teas also caries an Herbal Elderberry Syrup Kit, which is an herbal blend that includes all organic ingredients including dried elderberries, orange peel, rose hips, astragalus, echinacea, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
How to make homemade elderberry syrup
By making your own elderberry syrup, you’ll not only save money (have you seen how expensive bottles of elderberry syrup are at the store?), you’ll also get to customize your elderberry syrup by adding in a variety of other medicinal (and delicious) herbs and spices.
To make a basic elderberry syrup all you need to do is add one cup of elderberries and four cups of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by about half (roughly 25 to 30 minutes).
Strain out the elderberries, reserving the liquid and mix in one cup of raw, unpasteurized honey. Transfer to a bottle (I use these amber glass bottles, but a Mason jar or other glass bottle will work too) and store in the fridge for up to 6 months.
However the recipe I’m about to share with you also calls for cinnamon, cloves, ginger and lemon, all of which have medicinal properties of their own. But you can choose to omit one or all of these additional ingredients if you like. Or you can add in other medicinal herbs like rosemary or thyme. Customize away
My favourite elderberry syrup recipe
This is my favourite recipe for homemade elderberry syrup. It begins and ends with the basics (elderberries and raw, unpasteurized honey), but I also add cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel and cloves.
Not only does this syrup taste amazing, the added ingredients possess potent medicinal properties of their own.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and high in antioxidants.
Ginger: Ginger is antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, as well as being a potent antioxidant. Ginger is also well known for its ability to ease nausea and soothe upset stomachs.
Cloves: Cloves are antiseptic, antiviral, antimicrobial and anti- inflammatory, and are known for their ability to help ease sore throats.
Lemon peel: Antimicrobial. antifungal, high in antioxidants and vitamin C.
Unpasteurized Honey: Antibacterial, antifungal, high in antioxidants and helps to ease inflammation and sooth sore throats.
Add all of the powerhouse ingredients along with the elderberries and you’ve got a powerful herbal medicine that tastes good enough to pour over pancakes in the morning;)
Related: Homemade Vitamin C Powder
How to use elderberry syrup
Finally, you should probably know how to use your elderberry syrup once you’ve made it.
Preventative use: Due to its immune boosting properties, elderberry syrup is most effective when taken regularly as a preventative measure Take one to two teaspoons daily.
Curative use: If you’ve come down with a cold or flu, increase dosage up to 4 tablespoons per day until symptoms subside.
Culinary uses: You can also use elderberry syrup in place of other types of fruit or maple syrup and pour over pancakes, waffles or ice cream, or add to soda water for a refreshing drink!
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