Last Updated on January 8, 2021
Elderberry tea might be one of the most medicinally-useful brews around, especially if you know how to prepare it correctly. Find out why to add this antioxidant-rich tea to your rotation and how to make elderberry tea to maximize the benefits of elderberry tea.
HOW TO MAKE ELDERBERRY TEA TO MAXIMIZE ELDERBERRY TEA BENEFITS
When most of us think of tea, we think of a tea bag dunked briefly in boiling water, but in the case of elderberry tea, it’s important to know that our usual process for making tea won’t extract the compounds we’re after.
Elderberries are among the herbal ingredients that won’t readily release their beneficial compounds into a cup of hot water the way leaves and flowers like nettle or hibiscus will. To make tea from elderberries, we need to gently simmer the berries to make something called a decoction. When we dilute the decoction with water, we call it a tea.
If this sounds a lot like making homemade elderberry syrup, that’s because it is. Depending on what else you choose to add to it, elderberry tea can be a weaker, unsweetened version of elderberry syrup.
A lot of people suggest just steeping whole elderberries in boiling water, and you can absolutely do that and still get a pretty tasty tea. But you’ll be leaving a lot of what makes elderberries so good for you behind in the berries. To get the most out of your elderberries, take the extra step and simmer them on the stove.
But if all you’re up for is boiling water and can’t be bothered with simmering, that’s totally OK. You can make your elderberry tea like you would any other tea and still enjoy some of their anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting goodness. Because this method will leave much behind, you can re-brew the berries and get additional cups of weaker tea.
But when you’re up to it, try simmering your berries on the stovetop, as you’ll get so much more out of these not inexpensive little berries. The photo below shows the difference simmering makes to getting a strong elderberry tea, using the same proportions of berries and water. That decoction can be diluted in water to make many, many more cups of tea than if the berries only steep in boiling water.
If you prefer a simple tea bag or need them for traveling, a few bagged teas contain elderberry extract that will get you some of elderberry’s beneficial compounds in a quick-brewing bag. I love the flavor of Pukka’s elderberry echinacea tea, and it’s nice to have on hand on those mornings you wake up feeling a little off and don’t have the energy to brew up elderberry tea from whole berries.
You can get it on Amazon (save up to 15% with Subscribe & Save, bringing the cost down to a little over $4 per box), at Target, and at Vitacost, where stackable sales sometimes bring it close to $3 per box (stock up time!). Pukka makes loads more delicious teas as well. You can check them out at Amazon here or Vitacost here. (Pukka’s Clean Matcha Green might be one of my all-time favorite teas.)
Traditional Medicinals also makes an Echinacea Plus Elderberry tea that we sometimes drink when we feel we’re fighting something off.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ELDERBERRY TEA
Interest in elderberry has skyrocketed in recent years, and for good reason.
This easy-to-find, tasty berry has some potent medicinal properties that have made it the focus of hundreds of scientific studies.
Elderberry tea (as well as tons of other elderberry concoctions) tastes delicious, can be made at home affordably, and may help you fight off viruses.
Elderberry’s high concentrations of anthocyanins—the dark pigments also found in blueberries that have made it a popular “superfood”—are believed to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, a state in which our bodies have an excess of unstable atoms called free radicals, which damage cells and DNA, leading to health consequences that include the development of cancer, neurological diseases and inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Inflammation and oxidative stress have been linked to numerous chronic diseases. Researchers are investigating how consuming elderberries may help prevent cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, protect brain health, and cut the risk of cancer.
Much of the attention elderberry has received of late derive from its antiviral properties. Studies in humans have found that supplementation with elderberry significantly shortens the duration and severity of colds and flu, and lab studies suggest that elderberry not only stimulates the immune system, it interferes with viruses’ ability to penetrate cells and inhibits viral replication. A triple punch against viral invaders!
A 2015 review of human studies of elderberry noted that the compounds in elderberries “can greatly affect the course of disease processes by counteracting oxidative stress, exerting beneficial effects on blood pressure, glycaemia reduction, immune system stimulation, anti-tumour potential, increase in the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the blood plasma.”
One in vitro experiment found flavonoids from elderberry extract blocked infection by the H1N1 flu virus as effectively as the flu medication Tamiflu.
The blossoms that precede elderberries, called elderflowers, also have medicinal uses and likewise taste amazing in a wide variety of recipes. Here’s more on the benefits of elderflower.
I’ve created a downloadable guide to using elderberries safely and effectively that you can get by filling in the form below.
SOURCING ELDERBERRIES FOR ELDERBERRY TEA
There are three ways to get elderberries for making elderberry tea:
Elderberries grow wild all over the world, so if you wish to forage them, your medicinal berries and flowers can be had for free. Just be absolutely sure to positively identify elderberry before harvesting, as there are plants that resemble elderberry that you shouldn’t eat.
Many people assume when they see little white flowers or purple berries, they’ve found an elderberry, and they’re often dangerously wrong.
Here’s what to know about elderberry identification and safe foraging practices.
Grow Your Own
Though elderberries are easy to find growing wild in much of the world, there are some excellent reasons to consider growing your own, even if they grow near you.
First, birds absolutely love elderberries and will pick off the ripe ones before you have a chance at them. I’d trek some distance to forage our local elderberries only to find the not-quite-ripe leavings of hungry birds. If you grow them in your own yard, you can put netting over the berry clusters you don’t want to share and get a decent harvest.
Having them close by also lets you monitor them for ripeness more easily than if you have travel miles to forage. I had many unsuccessful foraging expeditions where I found only underripe berries and then by the time I was able to return they’d all been eaten or fallen off.
Last, many wild elderberries don’t have a lot of flavor unless you cook them down. If you want to include elderberries in something like a muffin or a pancake, you’ll want varieties that have been selected for superior flavor.
An upcoming post will cover details about how to grow your own elderberries and which varieties to consider.
Purchase Dried Elderberries
The simplest way to acquire elderberries for elderberry tea is buying them. Dried elderberries can be found in natural food stores and online.
Buying tip for dried elderberries: Buy several 1-pound bags when you see them on sale. They’re generally $20-25 a pound on Amazon. Starwest, and Etsy; I sometimes find them for much less when there’s a sale at Vitacost, though they’re often out of stock. Here’s what I’m getting now, using Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program to bring the price down further.
Get more than you think you need in early fall, before supplies run low. Dried elderberries can be very hard to find in winter, when we need them most. A 1-pound bag will see you through many pots of elderberry tea and batches of elderberry syrup.
Mountain Rose Herbs also stocks a huge selection of high-quality herbal products.
ELDERBERRY TEA SAFETY CONSIDERATION AND CAUTIONS
If you buy dried berries, be on the lookout for bits of stem and leaf, which aren’t recommended for consumption. I’ve found significant amounts of both in the dried berries and flowers I’ve bought, and they can be a huge pain to pull out. If you’re seeing a lot of stem material, let the seller know and plan to buy from somewhere else in the future.
Elderberry Tea Contraindications and Interactions
- Because elderberry stimulates the immune system, it’s not recommended for those with auto-immune diseases or taking immunosuppressants.
- Elderberry is a diuretic and can affect blood glucose, so anyone taking diuretics or diabetes medication should speak with their doctor before consuming.
- It’s not recommended to take elderberry with respiratory medications or corticosteroids or if undergoing chemotherapy.
- Herbs may increase or decrease the absorption of some medications, or increase or decrease their actions.
- There are no studies demonstrating the safety of elderberry for pregnant women or young children.
- Always start with a small dose (1/4 of the recommended dose is what herbalists usually advise) to make sure you’re not one of the people sensitive or allergic to the compounds in elderberries.
Want to learn more about the latest research into elderberry, its history of medicinal use, plus foraging information, growing advice from elderberry experts around the world, and more than 60 recipes for using elderberries and elderflowers? I hope you’ll check out my new book, Everything Elderberry. It would make a great gift along with a bottle of elderberry syrup or a jar of dried elderberries.
HOW TO MAXIMIZE THE BENEFITS OF ELDERBERRY TEA
In general, herbalists recommend taking elderberry often at the first sign of illness, so frequent small doses are considered more effective than larger ones taken less frequently. If you take elderberry syrup every couple hours, you’ll wind up consuming a great deal of sugar. If you use tincture, you’ll take in quite a bit of alcohol.
Making a strong elderberry tea (called a decoction) like the one in the recipe below and diluting it in hot water to be sipped throughout the day is one easy way to get your elderberry without overdoing the sugar or alcohol. I prefer elderberry tea unsweetened, but you can add a little honey if you like.
If you want to learn more about using medicinal herbs to support health, check out the array of herbal courses offered by The Herbal Academy. Here’s a list of the courses they’re currently enrolling.
ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS FOR ELDERBERRY TEA
I love elderberry tea made with nothing but berries and water, but if you enjoy a spicier blend or like a sweeter tea, you can absolutely add other ingredients. Many have additional immune-supporting properties, so if you’re drinking elderberry tea to ward off viruses, they’re worth considering.
Elderberry is considered a slightly cooling herb, so often warming herbs are added to balance it. Herbs like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves not only warm up your elderberry tea and add flavor, they also have potent health benefits of their own.
Elderberry tea is an excellent remedy for coughs. Warm liquids help soothe an irritated throat, while elderberry helps calm inflammation. You can add other ingredients that help coughs like ginger, honey, lemon, sage, thyme, or orange peel.
Ready to enjoy the health benefits of elderberry tea? Try the easy recipe below.
HOW TO MAKE ELDERBERRY TEA OR DECOCTION
- ¼ cup dried elderberries (or ½ cup fresh)
- 2 cups filtered water
- Optional herbs:
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (or ¼-½ teaspoon dried)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon or a small cinnamon stick
- pinch ground cloves
- ½ tablespoon astragalus
- Combine berries and water (and additional herbs if using) in a saucepan.
- Simmer, covered, over low heat for 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow elderberry tea to steep for at least one hour.
- If you're sweetening your tea with honey, be sure to wait till you've strained your elderberry tea and allowed it to cool somewhat before adding the honey.
- Strain the tea, pressing the berries gently to extract all the water.
- Reserve the berries. You can rebrew them to get a second batch of weaker tea.
This brew is pretty concentrated, so you can add a few tablespoons to a cup of hot water for an instant cup of tea.
It keeps in the refrigerator for about 5 days and takes on an unpleasant flavor after that. Freeze what you won’t use well before then. You can put your concentrate in ice cube trays and defrost or just pop in freshly boiled water.
Serving Size:A few spoonfuls
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 3Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 4mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g
Nutritional information was auto-generated based on serving size, number of servings, and typical information for the ingredients listed. To obtain the most accurate representation of the nutritional information in a given recipe, please calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients and amounts used, using your preferred nutrition calculator. Under no circumstances shall this website or author be responsible for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on the given nutritional information. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate and complete.
How to Get More Out of Your Elderberry Tea
After you’ve strained the elderberries and additional herbs, you can cover them with water and simmer them again to extract the remaining compounds. This second brewing makes a weaker tea that still is quite flavorful and likely contains many beneficial compounds.
You can even get a third batch of still weaker tea after straining again. Though it’s likely less medicinally powerful, it’s still a nice fruity herbal tea, though not what I’d suggest using if you’re battling flu. It will taste much weaker as well, so you probably won’t want to dilute it with additional water.
Wondering what else you can do with elderberries? Try making syrup and adding it to this immune-boosting overnight oats recipe. Here are 20 other uses for elderberries to consider, and of course, you can find many, many more in my book, Everything Elderberry.
Have you tried elderberry tea? What’s your favorite way to make it?
Pin to save this elderberry tea recipe for later!
Disclaimer: I’m a health enthusiast, not a medical professional. Content on this website is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to provide personalized medical advice. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
Photo credits: Photo of elderberries growing by Anemone123, others by yours truly 🙂
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.