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

March 6, 2012 · 56 comments

Have you ever made 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 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 and 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.

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 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 TB 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 Tbsp of elderberry syrup helps them get the FCLO down better!

Thank you, Melissa!  Readers, have you also had good results with Elderberry syrup?

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.

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  • { 51 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Lori U March 6, 2012 at 1:59 am

    What is the shelf life? Thanks for the recipe.

    Reply

    2 Melissa B. March 6, 2012 at 7:07 am

    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!

    Reply

    3 Animom March 7, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I’ve found that my batch lasts much longer if I don’t add fresh ginger.

    Reply

    4 Laurel March 6, 2012 at 8:35 am

    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?

    Reply

    5 Kelly October 28, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    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.

    Reply

    6 Nickole@savvyteasandherbs.com March 6, 2012 at 9:02 am

    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!

    Nickole

    Reply

    7 Lenetta March 6, 2012 at 9:52 am

    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… :>)

    Reply

    8 Diane March 6, 2012 at 10:33 am

    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??

    Reply

    9 Melissa B. March 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

    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!

    Reply

    10 Nikki March 6, 2012 at 10:41 am

    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.

    Reply

    11 Melissa B. March 6, 2012 at 11:53 am

    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.

    Reply

    12 Melissa B. March 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I JUST found this, which helps explain your concern. Seems as if there is no evidence of this ever happening with elderberry syrup and that it seem as if the cytokine storm is related to the strain of flu, rather than an herbal/natural remedy: http://www.grassrootsnetroots.org/articles/article_18105.cfm

    Reply

    13 Nikki March 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you so much for the info and the article! That all makes sense to me. I will continue to research it, as well as continue to sip my homemade elderberry syrup! :)

    Reply

    14 Diane March 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    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!

    Reply

    15 Melissa B. March 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    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!

    Reply

    16 Melinda Amheiser March 6, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    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.

    Reply

    17 Irene March 6, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    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.

    Reply

    18 Lillian March 7, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    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?

    Reply

    19 KitchenKop March 7, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Have you tried taking it with milk or food or maybe at a different time of the day???

    Reply

    20 Lillian March 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

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

    Reply

    21 Candie Shipman, NTP March 7, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    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!

    Reply

    22 Lillian March 8, 2012 at 9:40 am

    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”?

    Reply

    23 Brenda March 9, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    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.

    Reply

    24 Melissa B. September 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    It could, but you will want to use SOME sort of sweetener as the elderberries are very bitter.

    Reply

    25 Kara September 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    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.

    Reply

    26 Melissa B. September 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    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!

    Reply

    27 Vieve September 17, 2013 at 12:53 am

    The link is for European berries…would not the organic version of the same be better? Hmmm…which to buy.

    Reply

    28 KitchenKop September 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Yes, if you have the link can you email it to me? Kelly@Kellythekitchenkop.com – thank you!

    Reply

    29 Suzann September 18, 2013 at 7:20 am

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

    Reply

    30 Vieve September 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I need those questions answered as well. Thank you!

    Reply

    31 KitchenKop September 20, 2013 at 12:15 am

    I’m not sure about this but I’ll put it on my FB page and see if others know. :)

    Kelly

    Reply

    32 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook September 20, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    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.

    Reply

    33 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook September 20, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    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.

    Reply

    34 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook September 20, 2013 at 9:39 pm

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

    Reply

    35 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook September 20, 2013 at 9:39 pm

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

    Reply

    36 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook September 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

    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)

    Reply

    37 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook September 21, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    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.

    Reply

    38 Stacey October 28, 2013 at 12:24 am

    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?

    Reply

    39 KitchenKop October 28, 2013 at 6:27 am

    @Stacey, I don’t know, but I’ll put your question on FB soon and see if others might be able to answer.

    Kelly

    Reply

    40 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook October 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm

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

    Reply

    41 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook October 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    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.

    Reply

    42 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook October 28, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    What about maple syrup? And keeping it in the fridge should keep it good for a long time.

    Reply

    43 %kelly the kitchen kop% via Facebook October 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm

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

    Reply

    44 Sara November 12, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    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.

    Reply

    45 Emily Sirbaugh via Facebook October 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Lets get some Ebola remedies out here right here’s natural medicines time to shine!

    Reply

    46 Kymm Nuest via Facebook October 3, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    We used to have all kinds of bushes on our road in Indiana
    Didn’t worry about making syrup, just canned the juice and also mixed it with grape juice to make jelly.
    Nobody got sick in my house!

    Reply

    47 Wendy Thornell via Facebook October 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    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.

    Reply

    48 pei October 4, 2014 at 2:26 am

    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?

    Reply

    49 Christi Miller via Facebook October 4, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Where is the best place to find elderberries?

    Reply

    50 Alisha October 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm

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

    Reply

    51 KitchenKop October 22, 2014 at 6:10 am

    I’ll bet that would work, if you try it let us know.
    Kelly

    Reply

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