Do you need a little extra help fighting off cold and flu bugs? You’re in luck! I have a natural and delicious solution for you to try: Elderberry Syrup! Elderberries are known to boost immunity to prevent illness, and to promote a faster recovery when you are feeling crummy.
Elderberry syrup is a staple we keep stocked in our fridge during the winter months. Between this, and sipping on Fire Cider, we haven’t been sick in over two years! (Knock on wood) In this post I will share the process we use to make Elderberry syrup, so you too can feel empowered to whip up a batch at home! Our recipe was adapted from the queen-of-herbs Rosemary Gladstar, in her book Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.
The History of Elderberry
Known in the botanical world as Sambucus Nigra, elderberry has been used by herbalists, in natural medicine, and by traditional cultures for centuries, both early in Europe and later in North America. Native Americans used the plants bark and leaves to make poultices to heal bruises and sprains, and internally to rid themselves of parasites. Now, the bark and leaves are not used as commonly in modern natural medicine due to its content of cyanide. Historically, it had the reputation for being a magical plant, for much more than just its medicinal healing abilities! Elderberry has a plethora of wicked-awesome folklore stories that revolve around its powers:
“During the Middle Ages, people thought that evil spirits and witches could be repulsed by pinning elder leaves around any and all entrances of the house. Floating the burning pith of elder trees on Christmas Eve would reveal the identity of witches and sorcerers to the people around the neighborhood. Elder wood is traditionally used to make magic wands” – like Harry Potter’s Elder Wand! Fairies and elves are often believed to live in elder forests and trees.The Herb Society of America
Safety precautions when using fresh elderberries:
There are several types of elderberries native to North America and Europe. The blue-black varieties are used for medicinal purposes (Sambucus Nigra). The varieties with red berries are not.
Also, while there are no studies showing that elderberry is harmful during pregnancy, there is also a lack of studies to prove that it is safe. According to PubMed, “health care personnel should not advise pregnant women to use echinacea or elderberry against upper respiratory tract infection.”
Finally, please note that consuming other parts of the elderberry plant, such as the stems or leaves, or raw, uncooked, or unripe berries will likely cause an upset stomach and uncomfortable side effects. They contain cyanide. Yet ripe and properly cooked berries are safe to consume.
Why Make Elderberry Syrup?
The most obvious reason is to help you stay healthy, naturally! The University of Michigan explains that elderberry syrup has been shown to have antiviral properties and alleviate symptoms of the common cold. It strengthens your immune system, is full of antioxidants, and has antimicrobial effects. The addition of honey helps to coat your throat and soothe coughs! Using local honey also inoculates you to local pollen, reducing allergy response over time.
What exactly makes it so good for you? Well, it is loaded with wonderful things!
“Elderberry juice benefits are attributed to its nutrients, which include vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, carotenoids, amino acids, and flavonoids. Elderberry juice is also very rich in certain essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and several anti-oxidants”Midwest Elderberry Co-Op
Another benefit of making your own is that it makes using elderberry syrup much more affordable. Elderberry syrup and extract is often times ridiculously expensive if purchased in the supplements section of your local natural foods store, or even online. As little as 4 ounces can cost as much as $25, and even more if you’re looking for high quality organic stuff! The recipe I will provide you below will result in 40 ounces of finished syrup for almost the same cost, using all organic ingredients!
Let’s also not overlook that it is so stinkin’ easy to make, and fun too! It is even easier than our Fire cider recipe – another excellent immune-boosting, bug-fighting tonic we regularly use on this homestead. Plus, you get control over the quality of all the ingredients used, which is always a bonus in my opinion.
INGREDIENTS & SUPPLIES
- 4 cups of dried organic elderberries OR 8 cup fresh, ripe organic elderberries – We love these organic dried elderberries! One bag is plenty to make this recipe.
- Raw organic ginger root
- Cloves, whole dried or ground powder
- Honey, 16-24 ounces
- Cinnamon, ground or sticks
- Optional: star anise
- Either cheese cloth or a nut milk bag to strain the berries
- Air-tight glass storage containers for the finished elderberry syrup
Yields: approximately 40 oz of syrup!
Step 1: Combine Elderberries & Water
Dried berry variation: In a large pot or saucepan, combine 4 cups dried elderberries with 8 cups of water. Note the height of liquid in the pan.
Fresh berry variation: If you’re fortunate enough to have fresh elderberries available, use 8 cups of berries and just 1 cup of water. The juice in the berries will make up for the little amount of water added!
As I am writing this post, I am also daydreaming of where we have room to plant some elderberry in the garden…
Step 2: Add Goodies
Turn the stove on a medium-low heat, enough to simmer the mixture but not boil. Once the mixture has begun to heat up, stir in:
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder OR 2 whole cinnamon sticks
- ½ teaspoon of cloves (ground or whole)
- 2 heaping tablespoons of freshly grated raw ginger
- Optional: 2-3 whole star anise
Step 3: Simmer Down, ya hear?
Dried elderberry variation: Continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced to about half of the original volume. This could take only 30 minutes, or up to an hour or two, depending on how vigorous a simmer you set your stove to. We were not in a hurry so we went for slow-and-steady. As the berries soften and the water reduces, the elderberry juice becomes more concentrated
During this time, stir on occasion. Using a large flat wood spoon, I like to press the elderberries against the side of the pot as I stir. This helps to squeeze out all the good juices we’re after!
Fresh elderberry variation: Simmer the berries until they’re soft and strain out the pulp, as shown below. Return the liquid to the pan and continue to simmer until the original amount is reduced by about one-half.
Step 4: Strain
Once the liquid reduces to about half of the original volume, it is time to squeeze and strain! (If you haven’t already done that with your fresh berries in Step 3, that is) Allow the elderberry mixture to cool slightly before proceeding, but not totally. You don’t want to burn yourself here, but want to keep the liquid warm – to be able to dissolve the honey later.
To strain the elderberries, we set a fine-mesh stainless steel strainer lined with either a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, set on top of a glass mixing bowl. We like this organic cotton unbleached cheesecloth.
Gently pour some of the mixture into the strainer. I say some of the mixture because I found it helpful to add a little at time, pressing the berries down into the strainer and cheese cloth with the wooden spoon as we went. This helped to extract as much of the precious juice as possible. Add some, smush and mash, add some, smush and mash. Continue this until all you have left in the strainer is fairly dry berry pulp, with a nice bowl of elderberry juice below.
Next is the fun part! Carefully lift and close up the sides of the cheesecloth, forming a nice little sack of berries. Then squeeze the heck of out it! Yup, this will dye your hands purple for a day or two. Wear gloves if you want to avoid that! Compost the leftover berry pulp, or steep it in water to create a dilute elderberry tea. If you have a food dehydrator, you could also re-dry the berries to save for future loose-leaf tea. They’ll be slightly “spent”, but should have some good stuff left inside too!
Step 5: Measure
Pour strained liquid into a measuring cup and note it’s volume. Now add the juice back into your pot, but do not turn the heat back on.
Step 6: Honey
It is time to add honey. Your juice is likely still a bit warm, so you should be able to stir in the honey without needing to heat anything further. Heating honey can destroy its beneficial properties. Using a whisk works really well for us!
Most recipes say to add an equal amount of honey to the volume you have in juice. Yes, that does seem like a ton of honey! While honey certainly has its own beneficial healing properties, it is particularly important in this recipe because the sugar content acts as a preservative for the syrup. It is called Elderberry Syrup, after all.
I am a bit sugar-shy, being type 1 diabetic and all. So we opted to use just about ¾ the amount of honey (16 oz) instead of matching the 24 ounces of juice we had. All we had on hand was a 16 ounce bottle of local honey, so that also sort of dictated the amount we used. It should still be plenty to preserve it, though we’ll make sure to drink it a little quicker than recommended, just in case.
If you use the full amount of honey, the syrup will stay good for 3 months in the fridge! To extend the shelf-life even longer, some folks add a few glugs of liquor like vodka, whiskey, or brandy as an extra preservative. Half a cup of liquor for this size batch of elderberry syrup will do the job just fine.
Speaking of sugar: A note about elderberry syrup and blood sugar
When I was doing my research for this article, I came across the statement below. These were fun new facts for me, and make me feel even better about sipping on a concoction that is nearly half honey! (Even though it is only a teaspoon serving at a time anyways…)
A study published in the January 2000 edition of The Journal of Nutrition stated that water-based extracts of elderberry possess insulin-like activity and may also promote the increased secretion of insulin from the pancreas. Elderberry seems to help manage other conditions associated with diabetes, such as the immune system deficiencies, say researchers of a study published in a 2010 edition of the journal Annals of the Romanian Society of Cell Biology. A study published in the June 2010 edition of Phytotherapy Research also states that chemicals such as naringenin and linoleic acid in elderberry may activate insulin-dependent uptake of glucose and help manage diabetes.University of Michigan Health
Did you know that cinnamon also helps to reduce blood sugar spikes? For example, if you add cinnamon to oatmeal, to sweetened coffee, or into other meals where a cinnamon flavor is readily welcomed, it helps offset the impact of the carbs in that meal. Many people with diabetes also take cinnamon supplements. That is one main reason we decided to add cinnamon to this recipe! That, and it’s damn delicious.
If you choose to not use honey, simply substitute the called-for amount with coconut sugar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave instead!
Step 7: Bottle and Store
Put your fabulous new syrup into some swing-top bottles, mason jars, or these rad swing-top flasks and store them in the refrigerator. Use within about 12 weeks. That is, unless you added alcohol – which helps it last a bit longer. (I guess for some, the addition of liquor may make it go quicker! 😉) As long as your homemade elderberry syrup doesn’t develop mold, an off odor or flavor, it is likely still good and safe to consume after 12 weeks.
Step 8: Enjoy Good Health!
Take one teaspoon one to three times per day. We’ll generally sip down just one teaspoon per day as a preventative measure, for example, if we know some crud is going around our workplace. Then if we feel something coming on, we’ll up our dose to 2 or 3 times per day.
Elderberry works to inhibit viral replication, so it is best to take it as the very first symptoms of illness appear, or soon after you’re around someone who is sick.
Homemade Elderberry Syrup
- 4 cups dried organic elderberries OR 8 cups of fresh elderberries
- 2 tbsp freshly grated raw ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon OR 2 whole cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 tsp cloves ground or whole
- 8 cups water OR only 1 cup, if you're using fresh elderberries
- 16-24 ounces honey
- Add 8 cups of water and 4 cups of dried elderberries (or 8 cups fresh berries and 1 cup water) to a saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat.
- Once simmering, add cinnamon, clove, and grated ginger and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Once reduced by half the original volume, allow the elderberry mixture to cool slightly.
- Using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth perched over a bowl, strain the mixture, using a spoon (and hands) to press the berries to extract as much juice as possible.
- Add the extracted elderberry juice back into the saucepan with the called-for honey, using a whisk to thoroughly combine. If needed, created a warm water bath to lightly heat and soften honey, but avoid microwaving or boiling honey!
- Optional: Add a splash (up to half a cup) of your liquor of choice, as an extra preservative.
- Pour the elderberry syrup into jars or bottles, and refrigerate. Without liquor, it should stay fresh for about 12 weeks. It is safe to use until mold develops!
Bottoms up! Cheers to staying healthy, naturally.
I hope you found this helpful. If so, share it! Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask any questions.