Elderberry Syrup

Dec 13, 2012 by

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

From The Handbook of Vintage Remedies: The elder plant, both the flowers and berries have been used medicinally since the time of Hippocrates. It was traditionally used as a remedy for the flu and common cold, and today, that tradition remains strong, as many natural cold and flu preparations still contain parts of the elder plant.

Dr. Shook, an herbal pioneer discussed the herb many times in his work, and fervently believed that the common cold and flu could be cured worldwide by the use of a blend containing elder and peppermint with yarrow.

The berries are also frequently made into a syrup preparation and are thus suitable as an immune booster, working to prevent viral infections during times of increased exposure.

When to use it: Elder is ideally suited for use as an immune stimulant and as a remedy for viral infections, particularly the flu and common cold. Elderberry syrup is a staple in the Hawkins’ home during the fall and winter months. When additional remedies are also useful, elderberry can be continued throughout the illness, as it blends readily with many other herbs.

Culinary Medicine: Elderberry jam is a common addition to many breakfast tables in some countries. While it is not as commonly available in the United States, some gourmet grocers carry foods featuring elderberries. The berries must be cook, however, since the raw plant contains a cyanide producing substance that is inactivated by cooking.

Optimal Dose: 1-3 tablespoons syrup a day

When to avoid it: Elder berries and flowers are generally considered to be safe, and there are no known situations that would require avoidance of the herb.


Project: Elderberry Syrup

This syrup is a must have during the cold and flu season. It is kid friendly and can be used with other herbs to create useful remedies throughout the year.

100 g dried elderberries
1 quart cold distilled water
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup local honey

Combine in a large (cold) saucepot. If time permits, allow the berries to soak until they are soft, about 30 – 60 minutes. Place over medium heat and gradually bring to a boil. Once a rolling boil has been reached, stir frequently and continue to boil until the liquid has been reduced by half – roughly 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Strain the concentrated extract and measure the liquid. It should be roughly 2 cups. Combine with the cup and a half of honey, brown rice syrup, glycerin or simple sugar solution. (Or a blend of two or more sweeteners as I did in the ingredient list above.) Bring back to a boil and continue to boil for 10 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly combined and the syrup reaches your preferred consistency. Allow to cool slightly and pour into prepared bottles. Store in the refrigerator.

Notes: My personal preference is a thick, honey-like syrup that stays on the spoon when scooped out of the bottle. However, you can make it as thick or thin as you prefer, depending on how long you boil the second stage.

Alternative Recipe: Cough and Cold Syrup

75 g dried black elderberries
20 g dried astragalus root
25 g dried echinacea root
10 g dried wild cherry bark
1 cup local honey
(Use the same directions as the basic elderberry syrup. All dried herbs will go in the water with the elderberry in the initial decoction stage.)

Want to learn more? Check out our distance learning herbal education programs!

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  1. Hi. Just curious why you use brown rice syrup in your recipe? Seems like the honey would be a good sweetener on its own, and has some medicinal properties, too… Thanks!

    • jhawkins

      Hi Erin, Thanks for reading! The brown rice syrup thickens better than other liquid sweeteners, so I add just enough to get the consistency I want. You can sub any other sweetener for the brown rice syrup but it won’t be as thick. Also, the sweeteners are not just for taste. They preserve the product, ensuring that it is safe to consume! I don’t recommend reducing the sweetener amounts unless you plan on consuming the syrup within a couple of weeks.

  2. I have made a similar elderberry syrup for the past 5 winters or so and it is so great to have on hand. But your cough syrup recipe looks fantastic! I have all the supplies on hand and will be making some today! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Josephine

    Can you tell me what the difference is between the regular recipe and the alternative is besides just the ingredients? What amounts of dosage and frequency? Is there more info about this in the Handbook of Vintage Recipes? Thanks.

    • jhawkins

      Hi Josephine, The two recipes use the same process but have different ingredients and different uses in the home. The elderberry profile provides dosing for the syrup and yes, the Handbook of Vintage Remedies and our distance learning study programs all offer additional info about dosing, safety, and producing your own products.

  4. Hi Jessie–
    Can you give tips on when to use the elderberry syrup? Should this be taken everyday during cold and flu season or just during an illness? Can it be taken with other medications and do you have any thoughts on using plain elderberry juice?

    • jhawkins

      Elderberry is great at both preventing and treating viral infections. So, you can take a tablespoon or so a day for prevention or a tablespoon every couple of hours for treatment. The Handbook of Vintage Remedies describes how to use it and how to figure doses, but basically you will want to reduce the dosing for little ones to about a teaspoon. You can combine it with other medications, but it should not be taken with any immune suppressing drugs or by anyone with autoimmune disorders as a precaution based on conflicting safety data.

  5. Fran Schiller

    Hi, is the syrup safe for dogs? Thanks!

  6. Jessie- I am trying to make the cold and cough syrup (Ive made the wlderberry syrup several times already). I could only find the astragalus root and echinacea root in powder form at my local herb shop. Will it work to use those as powder? Should this be taken with the elderberry syrup or instead of it (my daughter has the flu)?

    • jhawkins

      You can use the powdered herbs, but remember to weigh them as the powdered herbs are more dense than cut and sifted herbs. You may also have some trouble straining the herbs, but that’s ok. And yes, you would use this instead of the plain elderberry syrup. Hope she feels better soon!

  7. Teresa

    Is there a need to boil it a second time? I would prefer have the honey raw for health benefits.

  8. Janell

    Why would you boil the raw honey? Wouldn’t that kill any of the raw benefits?

  9. colleen

    I made elderberry syrup a couple days ago. I have been fighting this upper respiratory infection for 3 months. I found several similar recipes on line and used one of those. elderberries, water, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. after straining the cooked mixture and letting it cool, i added the raw honey. It is very sweet and my son hates it. The stuff I usually buy from our ND is cherry flavored and tastes good. I thought about adding either a cherry or strawberry syrup to the mixture I made to give it a more appealing taste to my 4 yr old. I plan to try your recipe above with the cherry bark (does that give the syrup a cherry taste? and my cough by the way as I take a table spoon several times a day is pretty much completely gone. If you saw me just a few days ago you would think I was going to die from coughing too much and too hard. I am taking a lot of natural herbal supplements from my ND but I really think (since I ran out of that stuff for 3 days) that the syrup I made is a miracle worker which is the reason its really important to make it more appealing to my son who is getting a cough. Any advice for taste, do you think my idea of adding organic cherry or strawberry puree or syrup will work well with my syrup? thank you for your time.


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