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How to Make Homemade Elderberry Syrup for a Natural Cold and Flu Remedy

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Did you know how easy it is to make homemade elderberry syrup?

I didn’t have a clue how to do such a thing, or even why, so in today’s guest post you’ll learn from my friend, Melissa! She is also on the local Weston A. Price chapter board with myself and a few others. :)

A couple of years ago a college friend introduced me to homemade elderberry syrup. Prior to beginning my “Real Food” journey, I would have simply been content to get the yearly flu shot and/or popped the latest over-the-counter remedy in order to get rid of nasty colds or flu symptoms. But, since I was already a “Real Foodie”, I wanted to try to prevent and treat the flu naturally.

What’s an elderberry?!

Being curious, I did some research to find out exactly what elderberries were and how they could work to prevent the flu. Elderberries (also called Sambucus Nigra) are purple little berries that grow on shrubs, are indigenous to the United States, and are related to the Honeysuckle family. In fact, we had an elderberry bush at our old house in Washington. I wish I had known THEN that there were healthy uses for those little purple berries!

What are elderberries good for?!

In an article entitled Elderberry Syrup for Bronchitis and Flu, the author mentions that using elderberry syrup when suffering from the flu can reduce both the severity of your symptoms as well as the duration of your sickness by almost half. In fact, here’s the exact quote from the article talking about a study done in 1995:

” …elderberry extract reduced both the severity of flu symptoms and also the duration of flu from 2-3 days in the treated group versus 6 days in the placebo group. This is because elderberry inhibits neuraminidase, the enzyme used by the virus to spread infection to host cells.”

Impressive! Elderberries also contain a flavonoid (a natural antioxidant found in plants) called anthocyanin which is a powerful immune-booster. If you like to read about studies, another one called “Flu- Alternatives to Flu Vaccine” outlines a study done in Israel on the effects of elderberry on flu epidemic patients there.

Also, since elderberry syrup is a natural remedy, it doesn’t have the nasty side-effects that pharmaceutical flu meds, like Tamiflu, would have.

In addition to being beneficial to those with the flu (influenza) I have also read some other information that suggests elderberry syrup can be helpful for those with HIV/AIDS, sinus pain, sciatica (back/leg pain), neuralgia (nerve pain), and chronic fatigue syndrome. Maybe it is because it is known to boost the immune system and reduces inflammation?

Isn’t is exciting to know there are natural remedies out there that can do the same thing as pharmaceuticals, only without the nasty side effects??

*Keep in mind that you should consult a qualified healthcare practitioner if you have health issues that need attention – do not use this or any other site for medical information or advice!*

Ok, here’s the recipe – it is SUPER easy to make homemade elderberry syrup and the recipe uses freeze-dried elderberries. I usually double it and keep it in a mason jar in my fridge. As long as you use a new spoon each time it will stay good for a long while. You could also can this in jars if you’d like.

Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe:

Bring the elderberries, water and spices to a boil. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Strain out solids (elderberries and spices). Discard the solids. Let cool just a bit (so the enzymes in the honey aren’t destroyed when you add it) and then add honey and stir until well mixed. Elderberries are VERY bitter, so the honey is a VERY necessary ingredient!

The spices are optional, but does add some flavor. I’m not a big fan of cloves, so I only use the honey and ground cinnamon and it turns out fine. You could do it with just honey – and I generally only use 1/2 cup of the honey. *NOTE: if you use honey, be sure not to give to any children under 1 yr – if you want to give this to an infant, you could use a different sweetener.

HOW to use your homemade elderberry syrup:

If you feel flu symptoms coming on, begin using the elderberry syrup and just use a smaller amount MORE often. It is impossible to overdose on this. I have successfully warded off the flu and bad colds with this NUMEROUS times. If I start feeling sick/achey/feverish, I start taking elderberry syrup whenever I think of it – along with extra Fermented Cod Liver Oil! (Click that link for where to buy it.)

We all take about 1 Tablespoon daily throughout the cold/flu season, including my kids. They actually really like it and ASK for it! I told them that they can take this instead of getting a flu shot (I’m not a big fan of the flu shot or other modern medicine options when there are natural alternatives out there with no side effects).

*By the way, if you are using Fermented Cod Liver Oil, I have found that squirting the daily serving of that into the cup with 1 Tablespoon of elderberry syrup helps them get the FCLO down better!

Thank you, Melissa! Readers, have you also had good results with Elderberry syrup? Do you make your own homemade elderberry syrup, too?

Melissa is a pastor’s wife and mom of three. She became passionate about Real Food while living on Whidbey Island, WA. Now residing in West Michigan, her Real Food journey has led her not only to change the way her family eats but also to get involved in her community sharing the benefits of eating Real Food, and starting a local buying club in Rockford, MI. She is an RN one day a week, but also works during the summer for an organic produce farm at the local Farmer’s Market, serves as the Treasurer for the West Michigan Chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and spends any extra free time cooking, eating and sharing recipes and info on her blog RealFoodEater: What it is, where to get it, how to cook it.


    • Hi Lori – I’m not sure. I’ve never had mine go “bad”, though, even when making a double batch for the 5 of us. I just keep it in a clean, covered mason jar in my fridge and am sure to use a clean spoon each time. Hope you like it!

  1. We make big batches of fresh elderberry tincture every Fall. We have elderberry bushes in the yard and we have to hurry to prevent the birds from getting them all. Then we put about 1 qt of berries into a 2 qt jar and fill the rest of the way with vodka or gin or whatever. I’ve never cooked them before. What a gorgeous color they have!

    When we feel a cold coming on we take maybe 4 T of this tincture per day mixed into lemonade or water. Throughout the year I might add a small amount of the tincture to pitchers of lemonade to give them a pink color.

    FYI I have heard to never eat elderberries raw, but not sure how true this is. Does anyone know?

    • It’s true, so I’m even wondering about tincturing raw berries. I’m replying by phone right now and can’t find the info saying they need to be cooked.

    • Raw elderberries contain cyanogenic glycosides which release cyanide when eaten. In small amounts, this is fine, particularly if you get enough protein and vitamin B12 in your diet, but excessive amounts could make you sick. In fact, releasing small amounts of cyanide is one of the properties which make elderberries powerful immune boosters. Poison is a function of dosage, not kind. In a high enough dose, even water will kill you. Mitochondria contain an enzyme called rhodanese which uses thiosulfate and the amino acid cysteine to bind cyanide into thiocyanate (SCN-), which is much less toxic than cyanide. Another enzyme called 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase (3-MST) catalyzes a similar reaction, but with 3-mercapto-pyruvate (also produced from cysteine), to produce thiocyanate. The ‘thio’ of thiocyanate comes from the sulfur donated by the amino acid. To maximize your body’s ability to clear cyanide by way of thiocyanate, you need to eat sufficient animal protein and sulfur-rich foods including garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables to provide the sulfur necessary to synthesize these molecules. Most thiocyanate is eliminated by the kidneys in urine. However, at least some thiocyanate is essential for human immune function — the lactoperoxidase enzyme catalyzes hydrogen peroxide and thiocyanate to produce hypothiocyanite, which is a potent antimicrobial and in particular protects your respiratory system from infection, even against so-called superbugs like MRSA and HIV. It is perhaps the hypothiocyanite which makes elderberries so effective against cold and flu viruses. And most of the cyanogenic glycosides are destroyed by cooking, so only uncooked elderberries will provide the full immune-boosting benefits. Moreover, cancer cells are apparently unable to metabolize cyanide to thiocyanate, and so the cyanide kills them while sparing the healthy cells. Mice suffering tumors which were injected with sodium cyanide experienced 20-70% increases in longevity. But again, poison is a function of dose, so overdoing it on raw elderberries can cause cyanide poisoning if your body can’t keep up. Another detoxification pathway for cyanide is via cobalamin (vitamin B12), which has a very high affinity for cyanide. Hydroxocobalamin or methylcobalamin (the type of B12 from dietary sources such as beef, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy) combines with cyanide to form cyanocobalamin, which is filtered out of your body by your liver. So definitely eat the raw elderberries or syrup made from uncooked elderberries, but only in small doses, and making sure to get enough protein, sulfur-rich foods, and vitamin B12.

  2. Elderberries can cause nausea if eaten raw so just watch for that. We make Elderberry syrup and take it daily for prevention as well, especially this time of year. Elderberries are a big seller of ours this time of year! Another tip is to make a strong tea with other beneficial herbs, like echinacea (for the immune system) and rosehips (for vitamin C) to add to the syrup. That is what we do! Elderberry syrup is delicious medicine!


  3. Yes, I’ve made it! I give it to my little girl stirred into yogurt or milk (she asks for “purple yogurt/milk”). It is super easy to make, and it really does keep a long time. If you’re worried about not getting it used up, try making a half batch. And that reminds me, we’re out of elderberry syrup… :>)

  4. Thanks for this info! Can you say why to use distilled water? It seems like it you are bringing it to a boil and simmering that long that distilled would not be necessary??

    • Thanks for pointing that out – the original recipe does call for distilled water, but I’d agree with you that since it is getting boiled it really doesn’t matter. I simply use water from the filtered refrigerator spout at my house!

  5. You said “it’s impossible to overdose.” When I was researching this a year or so ago (I started making this for my husband and I), I read that a possible side effect of drinking a LOT was something called a “cytokine storm.” The immune system basically goes into overdrive and it affects the lungs, and can be fatal. Does anyone have any info on this?? It makes me want to make sure I take it in small amounts. Although I don’t know how much is a LOT – a pint? Ten gallons?? Just wondering if you’d read about this in your research.

    Great article though – reminds me I need to make up another batch! Lately I’ve been freezing cubes in an ice cube tray, and putting a cube in each smoothie I make.

    • HI Nikki – I actually DO remember reading something about that from a while back. A cytokine storm is an over-protective immune response – cytokines are produced by the body in response to an infection and they tell other cells in the body what to do (attack, divide, etc). Seems like things such as elderberry syrup activate these specific cytokines – an OVER-reaction CAN cause the cytokine storm. Your body, though, can produce this cytokine storm on it’s own without any outside help so I don’t want to blame it just on elderberry syrup – and it also appears that honey, chocolate, kefir, echinacea, and micro algae all activate the same cytokines. Again, I’m not a doctor, so please don’t take my word for it. I would think a naturally-based healthcare provider would be able to tell you more. Overall, my gut-reaction (along with what makes sense in my head) is that a spoonful a day (or even SEVERAL a day when you are actually sick), is not going to be a problem. In my opinion. natural remedies are much safer than the pharmaceutical ones – and would think God put a lot of these things on earth for us for good reasons! Again, just my humble opinion so do your own research and/or ask a qualified healthcare practitioner.

  6. I was taught to make elderberry syrup several years back. That recipe called for sugar and a bit of brandy as well and, once sealed like jelly in canning jars, kept on the shelf for years. In fact, we just used our last pint this winter. I planted several dozen elderberry trees last spring (we moved and left our old elderberries). I’ve also made elderberry tincture but ewwwww. That stuff was nasty.

    Anyway, what I wanted to ask was: I was taught to not boil the elderberries, only gently heat them. The high heat of boiling destroys some of the medicinal qualities. Have you found different info?

    Thanks for posting your recipe!

    • Hi Diane – I hadn’t heard the part about not boiling. I used freeze-dried ones as opposed to fresh – maybe there is a difference if you use fresh ones? I have no idea! If you find anything out about it let us all know!

  7. My husband loves elderberries and I make elderberry jelly for him. I put any extra elderberry juice (no sugar) into ice cube trays and when someone gets to feeling poorly I just put an ice cube in a small cup and after it melts we drink it. Elderberries do have a strong taste but it is not any worse than taking over the counter cough syrup.
    Laurel – Elderberries can be eaten raw. I love to add them to fruit salad in the summer.

  8. We have elderberries in our yard, but they are the red ones and they aren’t good to eat raw or good for syrup making (as far as I know!) I have bought dried berries and made the syrup – what I made a year ago didn’t last until this winter, so next time I make a big batch I’ll freeze some.

  9. I can’t wait to make (and try) this. I’ve been buying the expensive syrup for several years now.

    I have a question about cod liver oil. I would love to take it but it makes me extremely nauseated. I’ve tried taking a very small amount and building up from there, but no matter the amount it makes me sick. And the more I take it, the more nauseated I become. It just builds. Is there any way that you know of to get around this?

      • Yes, I’ve taken it with and without food, in the morning, afternoon and evening. It makes no difference.

        • Cod Liver Oil has a LOT of vitamin A, and you could be overdosing on it (hypervitaminosis A), which can cause such symptoms. Causes include eating too many food sources of vitamin A, or not enough vitamin E, taurine, or zinc. You should get a blood test for vitamin A and a liver function test.

    • It could be that you aren’t processing your fats well. You may need to produce more bile to make CLO work for you. Standard Process has a good supplement that helps you break down your fats, or you can take bitters with it. My daughter used to get burps with her CLO so she supplemented for a while, but she now doesn’t have that issue. So perhaps you just need something for a short time. Good luck!

      • I can eat other fats like butter or coconut oil straight and they don’t make me sick. It’s just cod liver oil that makes me sick, so I assume it’s something about the oil itself and not that it’s a fat.

        What is the supplement name? What are “bitters”?

  10. Can it be made without the honey or any sweeteners? I use Stevia and cinnamon for anything I would like to have a sweet flavor.

  11. A friend just sent me this recipe after we discovered an elderberry bush at out new home. Do you know if the berries have to be freeze dried? I’d love to use my fresh berries.

    • Hi Kara – You can use fresh ones, just use double the amount of dried (so in the above recipe you’d use 1 cup of fresh berries). You could also freeze or dehydrate your fresh berries to use later! How fun….I wish I had an elderberry bush!

  12. What is the dosage for toddlers? Do you give 1 Tablespoon to everyone, no matter the age? Also, can pregnant moms take it? Thanks!

  13. I’ve given my son elderberry syrup since he was about 18 months old. Also Umcka since then when he has snuffle-nose. He’s now 4. He currently gets 1/2 tsp of elderberry syrup at a time (and 1 tsp of Umcka) when needed.

  14. I’ve given my son elderberry syrup since he was about 18 months old. Also Umcka since then when he has snuffle-nose. He’s now 4. He currently gets 1/2 tsp of elderberry syrup at a time (and 1 tsp of Umcka) when needed.

  15. I do it when pregnant. 1t three times a day for me. A teaspoon once daily for the littles when illness is coming around.

  16. I do it when pregnant. 1t three times a day for me. A teaspoon once daily for the littles when illness is coming around.

  17. I was going to say, 1/2 tsp a night for immune building. I take one tsp a night during the sick season, when my clients are all getting ill – keeps me healthy (I teach Pilates)

  18. I’m very interested in this as well. Would love to know what amount you and your toddler should take as a general supplement versus what amount to use when someone in your house is sick and you’re trying to stave it off.

  19. Hi, I am wanting to know if not putting honey in it makes it not last as long? I have a child under 1 year. So no honey. But somewhere I read it only lasts 3 days then? Is this true? And how do you tell when its not good anymore?

  20. I used sugar (brown or coconut ) and actually have alcohol in mine this year to keep longer (cordial )

  21. Honey is the only food that never goes bad. I only make about a pint at a time and we use it within 2 weeks. A friend steeped her berries in vodka, making an extract/tincture that will last indefinitely. She adds 1-2 tsp to Apple cider or OJ. It was tolerable for me, but my kids nearly puked. They much prefer the elderberry syrup. I do mine with the recipe from Crunchy Betty.

  22. My first thought is a child under 1 should be getting the protection through breast milk but there is no indication of that.

  23. Black elderberries , S. nigra, have been consumed raw for centuries. Alot of elderberry wine is from fresh berries. Sometimes dry, rehydrated berries. I make both. Unripe black elderberries are very distressing to the GI system. Red elderberries MUST be cooked before using.

  24. Love my Elderberry!!!! We don’t do flu shots, instead take a dose of this every morning. If anyone in the family starts to feel under the weather we up it to 3x a day and usually everyone is back 100% in 2-3 days.

  25. I wonder why strain out the elderberries after it’s cooked? Is it unsafe to eat cooked elderberries?
    Would it make a more potent syrup if I incorporate cooked elderberries in the syrup? I’ve been searching online and haven’t find an answer. Most recipe said to remove the cooked elderberries and I thought it’s kind of wasting unless it taste bad?

  26. Hello! Just curious on making a vegan version of this syrup, what would you use in place of the honey? Perhaps maple syrup?

  27. I took a class with an herbalist and she said to skip the syrup. The berries are cooked to death and lose a lot of its medicinal properties and there is way too much sweetener. A better option is to make an infusion, or elixir. She also suggested taking elderflower in addition to the berries.

    • Susan, I asked Melissa and she said it’s just to your own taste, so I’d say start out with 1/2 teaspoon, and keep adding more ’til it’s how you like it. :)


  28. My mom made rose hip juice for us once. It was about as palatable as the cod liver oil — just in a different way. There was no ‘spoonful of sugar’ (or honey) to make the medicine go down. It was bitter!!! (But we were healthy!)

  29. Source Naturals Flu Guard is waaaaaaay better than Oscillococcinum and far cheaper. I won’t be caught without some on hand and everyone I’ve suggested it to feels the same.

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