Elderberry Syrup, and How to Make It!

by Lindsey Feldpausch

Elderberries are beginning to ripen and that means for us wildcrafters and medicine makers, it is elderberry syrup season.

Elderberry syrup is a popular remedy for the cold and flu season. While in today’s world it is readily available in most drug or even grocery stores, you can make it at home for a fraction of the price and with little labor.

Elderberry medicine. Elderberries have a beautiful bluish-purple pigment which indicates that similar to any other deeply colored berry medicine they are rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are flavonoids that give the berries their pigment and impart their antioxidant nature to them. At its core Elderberry is a medicine that provides deep nutrition in the form of anthocyanins and polyphenols. This nutrition provides nourishment for our bodies and supports the healthy function of our systems, including the immune system.

The immune system effects of elderberry are the most sought after in the products market. Elderberry is considered immunostimulating, as it can increase activity of both the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. This is notable, as taking elderberry syrup during an active infection is applicable but dosing yourself on a daily basis is not a good idea because your immune system does not need to be pushed into activity every day. Overtime it would get tired, and not function as effectively when it was really needed.

As an antiviral, elderberry has extensive research on its efficacy for a number of the influenza viruses. Imagine influenza viruses are mace shaped, that is the ancient weapon shaped like a ball with spikes. The spikes on the virus are called hemagglutanins, they are used by the virus to enter into our cells. And with the help of neuraminidase, an enzyme, it injects its viral material into the cell of its focus. What elderberry has been shown to do is inhibit the hemagglutanins activity through its effects on neuraminidase.

Elderberry has a long-standing history of use in acute infection, and while its application is not nuanced by the general elderberry consumer at this time, its application is likely to lend itself beneficially in active acute infection. A quick side note, elderberry is unlikely to induce a cytokine storm. While this fear has spread like wildfire in recent times, the idea is theoretical and generally considered to be a very unlikely occurrence.

Sourcing the Ingredients

The first step in making elderberry syrup is obtaining the ingredients. The things you will need are as follows: elderberries, water, and your choice of sugar (cane sugar, honey, maple syrup).

Sourcing the berries. If you have an elder tree, Sambucus nigra being the most common species used in herbal medicine, you can harvest the berries fresh. Or obtain dried berries from any reputable herbal supplier.

Interestingly, while elderberries have a history of use as a food the fresh berries do contain cyanogenic glycosides. To put simply, if you eat fresh elderberries you run the risk of cyanide poisoning.

When making elderberry syrup you can use either fresh or dried berries. This is because we will be applying heat to the berries and the cooking breaks down the potentially harmful cyanogenic glycosides found in the berries. Negative reactions to the fresh berries, even in some cases to the dried, vary depending on the person and the cyanogenic glycoside content of the plant.

I have seen people get a tummy ache from just a few fresh berries, and seen people eat small handfuls of uncooked berries and have no negative effect. So, at the least severe reactions, you can experience gastrointestinal upset, nausea, vomiting and on the other end of the cyanide poisoning you will find coma and possible death. But again, with our recipe we will be cooking the berries so all should be fine, but you should be informed of this potential toxicity with elderberry.

Water is simple enough. If you have water that you do not find potable out of the tap, you may choose to collect or purchase your water from elsewhere.

As for your choice of sugar, you may have a personal preference. For many reasons, sugarcane may not be the source of choice. If this is the case, you can use honey or even maple syrup.

The reason we use sugar in medicine making is for its potential for increased preservation of a perishable product. Sugar acts through microbial inhibition through a process of osmosis. An exchange occurs to equalize the amount of sugar found within the cells of the plant material and in the solution itself. In this it draws moisture to it, making the water less available for microbes to use, which they need to replicate. The higher the sugar content the greater the rate of preservation.

Making the Syrup

Now that you have the necessary ingredients we can move onto to the fun part, making the syrup! Here is the recipe.

  • 1 cup Elderberries
  • 2 cups Water
  • 2 cups Sugarcane or Honey or Maple Syrup

This recipe will create four cups total of elderberry syrup at a ratio of 1:4, herb to menstruum. If you want to understand how to obtain this ratio you are figuring out how much herb, in this case 1 cup, to other ingredients, here 2 cups of water plus 2 cups of sugar equals 4, giving us the 1:4 ratio. If you would like to make a greater quantity you can double, triple or even quadruple this recipe!

1. Get a medium sized pot, add water and elderberries, cover and bring to a boil.
2. Once it is at a boil, turn it down to a low simmer and cook for 30 to 60 minutes.
3. Pull from heat, strain and press through material or sieve of your choice (I prefer flour sack towels).
4. Set aside the liquid, if you are using honey let cool, if you are using sugar you can add that at this time.
5. Stir until sugar or honey is dissolved.
6. Bottle and store in refrigerator.

And now you have your very own batch of elderberry syrup. This concoction of yours will keep in the fridge for on average about a month, after this point it will tell you its gone bad by the green mold accumulating on top. If you wanted to increase the shelf life you could add 25% alcohol. Which would be a cup of alcohol in our recipe above.

Average dosage for elderberry syrup at this strength would be 1 tsp for kiddos under ten, (obligatory side note, don’t give honey to children under 1 year of age, botulism is serious stuff). And for adults the dose would be 2 tsp.

Interested in watching this process in action, join me and Jade Shutes for our elderberry syrup video.