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How to Make Immune Boosting Elderberry Syrup

We are all looking for ways to stay healthy these days.  In addition to being careful about what we put into our bodies, there are many plants we can use as medicines or use as preventative measures to help us from relying on medicines in the first place.  One way to achieve this is to keep our immune system in strong working order.  

Elderberries and Their Immune Boosting Power

The berries are healthful, being rich in flavonoids and bioflavonoids.  In a small fruit (berries) comparison by the USDA, elderberry came out on top even when compared to blueberry and cranberry.   According to this study, elderberries have much more calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, and vitamin B6, than the other berries. The vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant, is particularly interesting at 600 IU compared to the next highest with blackberries having 214 IU and no other berry providing more than 70 IU, per 100 g.

There has been extensive scientific examination on the phytochemicals of elderberries regarding their potential infection-protecting properties.  There are positive results in inhibiting influenza virus growth as well as blocking viral proteins from attaching to and entering host cells.  There were also indications back in the 80s and 90s that elderberry decreased the duration and severity of the avian flu.  

Immune Stimulating Elderberry Syrup Recipe

Taking this recipe down to its fundamentals, we are going to make a simple syrup that will last in the fridge for about a month.  There is a lot of room to play with this basic recipe as you will see in the demonstration below.

  • 1-part dried elderberry or 2-parts fresh elderberry (Sambucus Nigra or Sambucus Canadensis).
  • 2-parts high-quality water, spring or distilled if available.
  • 1/2-part honey or sweetener of your choice.

Choosing the Elderberries

There are two kinds of elderberry that grow in my area.  Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) which may be a subspecies of Sambucus nigra, but as it lacks the dark purple/black berry and due to the fact that it has not been studied to the extent as the black variety, I did not use these in this recipe.  The Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis, as mentioned above, have much more documented immune-stimulating powers in addition to nutritional and healthful benefits.  Also growing wild in this area is red elderberry, Sambucus racemosa, which is only used ripe and cooked.

It should be noted that unripened, green elderberries along with all plant parts including leaves, stems, and roots, of the genus Sambucus, are considered poisonous and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Thus, these parts should be avoided, and only ripe elderberries and elderflowers should be consumed.

Recipe Variations

There is a lot of room to create your own variation on the above recipe.  If you want to make a syrup that is more shelf-stable, you could double your sugar content or use alcohol (1/2-part) such as vodka or brandy.  You could also use many variations of additional herbs, extracts, or flavorings.  In the process below, I used ginger, clove, and cinnamon due to their immune-stimulating, health-protecting elements, warming effects, in addition to their wonderful flavor and aroma.  You could take this in another direction, for example brightening the ingredients with lemon or citrus or adding comfort and smoothness with vanilla bean.

  • 1 cup dried Black Elderberry
  • 2 cups fresh spring water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 3 slices ginger
  • ½ cup raw local honey

Put all ingredients into a pot, saving the honey until the very end.

Bring the ingredients to a boil.  The aroma of Black Elderberry reminds me of a cross between huckleberry (vaccinium membranaceum) and black current (Ribes nigrum), delicious!

Let the ingredients simmer at a low temperature with a lid on for 30 to 40 minutes.  We are making a decoction, or a concentration of the beneficial substances of the berries, so allow the ingredients to steep for at least one hour up to overnight.

Once the decoction is completed to your satisfaction, sieve the ingredients through cheesecloth or a fine wire mesh strainer depending on how “clean” you want your preparation.  I don’t mind a little bit of plant debris, so I use a wire mesh strainer as I prefer the re-usability in most cases.

In a sterile jar, mix the raw local honey with the decoction.  This way the beneficial properties of the honey remain intact, rather than cooking the honey with your herbs.  Now we have the desired Elderberry syrup which will keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.

Using Elderberry syrup, in a daily dose of 1 teaspoon as a preventative measure, is a good start to stimulating our immune system to help it run efficiently as we age.  

As I detest wasting anything including precious plants and herbs, I made a little experiment with the leftovers.  A friend had just given us a special gift, some of his homemade liquor, akin to moonshine or white lightning, but beautiful, high-grade, and much like quite an expensive vodka.  I placed the leftover berries, cinnamon, clove, and ginger in two sterile jars and filled to the top with the precious liquor.  I will keep an eye on this daily for about a month and sieve the liquor to see if the result is either a nice liquor variation, or a medicinal tincture, or perhaps a cross between the two.  You could try this with vodka or brandy as well.

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10 Natural Sweeteners and Sugar Alternatives

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As alway, Nicole, you’ve given traditional therapeutics a “face lift,” adding relevance and modern-day significance to what has been considered an “old-timer’s remedy” for far too long. The critical role of Elderberry in facing today’s COVID challenges cannot be understated; sadly, few know that many invaluable OTC [over-the-counter] remedies actually have their origins/sources in their own backyard. Your focus on the ease and availability of these “natural miracles” opens the eyes of those who want/need a natural alternative in order to take back control of their own health and ensure enhanced vitality/longevity. Once again, you present critical information in an easily digestible format. BRAVO, yet again, for empowering those who seek knowledge about Mother Nature’s incredible gifts.

I am a big fan of elderberry syrup. Thanks for giving me a couple of new ideas for tincture mixes.

Hi Therese,

Thank you so much for your comment.
We truly appreciate your kind words and your feedback as well.

God bless!

You have been providing links for turning your documents into pdf’s, but the two today don’t have that option. Hope you haven’t stopped doing that because the alternative is tedius.

Where can I find elderberry and how is the syrup used? You said 1 teaspoon but do you put it in anything or just ingest? Thank you!

Hi Lisa,

Thank you so much for your comment.

You can purchase dried elderberries by accessing the link below:

You can mix the syrup with water or ingest it naturally.

God bless!

Can you recommend a organic dried eldeberry supplier? Thank you:)

Hi Jewell,

Thank you so much for your comment.

You can purchase dried eldeberries by accessing the link below:

God bless!

I also throw in a cup of blue berries ,fresh since I have bushes to pick from and dried cranberries or fresh for more boosting immunities ,like you said you can alter the recipe to your liking and what you want for your situation or just a better taste to your syrup .

Hi Nick,

Thank you so much for your comment.

Yes, I encourage you to add berries to the recipe, as they all have different, yet common benefits.

God bless!

If I were to decide to add vodka to the recipe, how much and at what point would I add it. I make mine in my Insta Pot for 9 minutes. I also add some organic lemon juice and zest.

Hi Debra,

Thank you so much for your comment.

Add the vodka at the following step: “Bring the ingredients to a boil. The aroma of Black Elderberry reminds me of a cross between huckleberry (vaccinium membranaceum) and black current (Ribes nigrum), delicious!”.

God bless!

If one uses dried elderberry isn’t that heat treated and so weakens the berry? Also where can one get organic dried berries?
I also posted and asked about Evening Primrose oil DOSE and didn’t get a response.

I get most of my organic dried herbs, berries, and roots through either Mountain Rose Herbs or Starwest Botanicals (I live on the west coast of USA).

You noted that you didn’t use the blue elderberry as it lacked some components. So did you use the red? Or maybe purchased some as recommended above? Many thanks for this!

Hi Jennifer,

Thank you so much for your comment.
I used the black elderberry, however you can use the red ones too.

God bless!

How can I differentiate which berries I have growing wild? They are flowering now, I’m in Northwest Arkansas.

Is the steeping (anything from an hour to overnight) to be done in the sequence as it appears in the instructions, just after the simmering but before the straining? If so, is this starting warm and cooling to room temperature, or in the refrigerator? Or do you mean steep before simmering? Or at the very end, after the honey is added and the syrup is in the fridge but before actually using? Similarly, I don’t understand the timing of the vodka: If it’s added before 40 minutes of simmering, even with a lid on (this is not a sealed pressure cooker), won’t much of the alcohol evaporate, defeating the purpose?

I froze a bunch of elderberries fresh and then vacuum sealed them so they are fresh frozen, ( I’m assuming I can use fresh) do you need to cook them? Should I use vodka or Everclear if I want to make a make a tincture?

Wondering what the result was for the tincture/liquor you were attempting to make. Would appreciate your thoughts on the outcome and how long you allowed it to steep.

How long will it last if vodka is added and do I still need to refrigerate? Please.

Mullen grows wild where I am and I understand it has wonderful respiratory supporting properties. I also have lots of yarrow growing and understand it to be just as beneficial for times of cold and flu. My question is, can I cook these herbs into my elderberry syrup? It may make it taste more medicinal but that’s ok with me!

hi……my approx 3 yrs old elderberry plant, has produced flowers but no berries. any thgts on why.

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