Last Updated on October 23, 2020
Looking for the best recipe for elderberry syrup? This “ultra” elderberry syrup recipe developed from months of research and interviews with food scientists and herbalists. Find out how to make elderberry syrup to maximize its benefits and stock your apothecary with this effective natural remedy!
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT HOW TO MAKE ELDERBERRY SYRUP
I’m guessing since you landed on this page, using elderberry syrup for fighting off colds and flu isn’t a new idea to you. What may be new is the most effective way to make your own elderberry syrup, and how to get every last bit of goodness out of those elderberries.
I spent untold hours last year tracking down information about the best practices for making your own elderberry syrup in researching my new book, Everything Elderberry. I read numerous herbalism books and interviewed biochemists, food scientists, and herbal experts to nail down the safest and best ways to use elderberries to support health.
Believe me, there’s more to making great homemade elderberry syrup than cooking some berries!
Grab the downloadable guide to using elderberries safely and effectively by filling in the form below.
First, let’s talk about making sure you’re preserving as many of the useful medicinal compounds as possible. We need to heat elderberries to extract these compounds, but we don’t want to heat so high that we destroy them.
Some people make elderberry syrup in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. After spending months speaking to experts about the best ways to prepare elderberries, I have reservations about both. The high temperatures of the pressure cooker might compromise the beneficial compounds we’re after, and the slow cooker might not get hot enough to address the compounds in European elderberries (Sambucus nigra) that give people trouble.
Since neither makes a huge difference to the effort involved, it’s probably best to stick with the traditional stovetop method. We’re going to simmer these berries over low heat for just 30 minutes.
WHY MAKE YOUR OWN ELDERBERRY SYRUP?
Most of us make our own elderberry syrup because it’s SO much cheaper than buying those tiny bottles. If your whole family is taking several doses per day while you fight off a cold, you’ll zip through a bottle very quickly, and they cost a pretty penny.
In contrast, a 1-pound bag of dried berries contains enough to make MANY batches of homemade elderberry syrup. If you forage or grow your own berries, you’re getting a potent medicinal ingredient basically for free.
Making DIY elderberry syrup from dried or foraged berries takes very little effort, and you get to control the ingredients, adding other immune-supporting herbs tailored to your needs and cutting out extra sugar and additives.
Buying tips if you’re using dried berries: Snag a couple of bags when you see them on sale. They generally run around $20-25 a pound on Amazon; I sometimes find them for a lot less when there’s a sale at Vitacost, though they’re often out of stock these days. Get more than you think you need in fall, before supplies run low. Dried elderberries can be very hard to get in late winter, right at the height of cold and flu season, when you really need it.
One of the best places to find high-quality herbal products is Mountain Rose Herbs. They carry dried elderberries and elderflowers, as well as extracts and many other useful herbs at competitive prices.
Additional tip for getting every bit of goodness out of your elderberries: Once you’ve strained your syrup, the berries can be simmered again to make a weaker tea. It likely won’t be as medicinally powerful as elderberry syrup, but it’s still got plenty of flavor and likely some of the compounds we’re after. I sometimes strain and simmer a third time and get one final batch of weak tea.
USING FRESH BERRIES IN HOMEMADE ELDERBERRY SYRUP
If you’re lucky enough to have elderberries growing near you, you’ll save even more and potentially have homemade elderberry syrup that preserves more of elderberry’s medicinal properties than if you make it with dried elderberries.
One of the elderberry experts I interviewed for my book said that most dried berries on the market have been frozen first, so much of the juice runs out before they get dried. He recommends using a steam juicer to extract juice from fresh berries and preserve as many of their compounds as possible. You can buy products made to his exacting standards directly from his farm as well.
If you’re sensitive to some of the compounds in elderberries, using local canadensis berries rather than the nigra ones usually sold dry may work better for you, as they’ve been found to have lower levels of the cyanogenic glycosides that give some people trouble and can be a concern if taken in larger quantities. If you do buy dried berries, they will likely be Sambucus nigra and should say so right on the bag. Cooking them and straining out all the solids properly destroys the compounds that cause some people difficulty, though some very sensitive people may still have issues.
When I can get my hands on enough fresh berries, that’s my preferred method, but in January, we’re not likely to have access to those. If you get huge amounts of fresh berries in fall, you could put up lots of syrup and can it. You could also freeze surplus berries, but be aware that studies have found that the compounds we’re after will break down after a few months in the freezer.
Since most of us need to rely on dried elderberries, this recipe for elderberry syrup calls for dried.
If you want to go forage some of your local berries, here’s everything you need to know about elderberry identification. I’ll be adding a post on growing information in the coming months, because there are some very compelling reasons to add elderberry plants to your garden.
THE BEST WAY TO MAKE DIY ELDERBERRY SYRUP
So we’ve established you don’t want to boil the heck out of these precious little jewels. We’re going to simmer gently and try to preserve all the goodness we can, while deactivating compounds that can cause stomach upset.
You also want to be very sure you’re not cooking up bits of stem or leaf. I’ve found both in bags of dried berries I’ve purchased, and they’re a bit of a pain to remove. Look carefully at the contents before dumping them into your saucepan, as there may be little bits of stem and twig. You don’t want to cook those with your berries. Toss them out, and if you find a lot of them, contact the seller and let them know. Likewise, when you’re destemming the fresh berries, be as careful as you can to pick out all the stem pieces.
You can absolutely make your elderberry syrup with nothing but water, berries, and honey. But if you want to get even more herbal goodness into your syrup, try simmering additional immune-supporting, antiviral, anti-inflammatory herbs along with your elderberries, like the ones in the elderberry syrup recipe below.
Let’s take a look at the additional herbs you might want to add to your homemade elderberry syrup to further support your immune system during cold and flu season.
ADDITIONAL HOMEMADE ELDERBERRY SYRUP INGREDIENTS
Ginger: Both fresh and dried ginger can help soothe sore throats and body aches, reduce inflammation, and relieve congestion. Ginger may also work as an antiviral, especially in fresh form. One of my favorites herbalists, Rosalee de la Forêt, advises, “If you could choose only one herb to use during a cold or the flu, ginger might be the one, especially when there are signs of coldness and dampness such as shivering or a thickly coated tongue.” She recommends using fresh rather than dried ginger for colds and suggests avoiding it if someone already feels overheated and dry.
Cinnamon: Rosemary Gladstar recommends cinnamon as “a powerful antiseptic, with antiviral and antifungal properties” useful for viral infections. Cinnamon is often used for fevers and coughs, and as a warming spice that makes things taste good. Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon are used similarly by herbalists, but cassia cinnamon should be consumed in moderation because of possible harmful effects from too much of the coumarin it contains. Ceylon cinnamon contains far less coumarin and can be used in larger quantities.
Rosehips: Like elderberries, rosehips contain antioxidants that help quell inflammation. They also have antimicrobial properties.
Cloves: Besides being delicious, cloves are antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, soothing to sore throats, and work as an expectorant.
Black Pepper: Black pepper may seem odd in something sweet like an elderberry syrup recipe, but I learned this savvy trick from de la Forêt, who recommends it for increasing the absorption of other herbs. Studies looking at the bioavailability of turmeric found that adding the active compound in black pepper, piperine, increases bioavailability up to 2000%. You add so little, you won’t taste it, pinky promise.
You can use all the additional ingredients, or pick and choose the ones you want. The amounts below are really suggestions, and you can develop your own favorite recipe adjusting amounts to your liking. I don’t love the flavor or astragalus, so I use less than some homemade elderberry syrup recipes call for. You may like its earthy flavor and can add a little more.
Here’s more on the top herbs for your immune system from expert herbalists.
The homemade elderberry syrup recipe below uses dry elderberries, which is what most people have access to at the time of year we’re needing to make homemade elderberry syrup. You can make it with fresh berries as well using the information in the recipe notes and using your favorite preservation technique to store it until you need it.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF ELDERBERRY SYRUP
When you search in the PubMed database, you’ll find over a thousand entries on elderberries. Many of them are lab studies examining the bioactive compounds in elderberries, and a handful are small human trials or studies of animals. It’s these human trials that have led to the explosion of elderberry syrup products, as these studies suggest that supplementation with elderberry helps to shorten the duration and severity of respiratory symptoms.
Lab research indicates that compounds in elderberry interfere with viral replication, helping to shorten the duration and severity of flu. Studies suggest that elderberry may both stimulate the body’s response to infection and inhibit viruses’ ability to penetrate host cells. A 2019 study found that elderberry extract had multiple antiviral actions, blocking viruses from infecting cells, interfering with viral replication, and stimulating the production of cytokines, chemical messengers that coordinate our immune response. One in vitro experiment found flavonoids from elderberry extract blocked infection by the H1N1 flu virus as effectively as the flu medication Tamiflu.
A 2016 study of over more than 300 Australian air travelers found a significant reduction in duration and reported severity of colds in the group that supplemented with elderberry versus the group given a placebo. Participants took capsules containing elderberry extract or a placebo before and during their trip and kept a diary of cold symptoms. Though roughly the same number of people in each group caught colds, those who took elderberry had significantly fewer days with cold symptoms.
A 2019 metastudy reviewing the research on elderberry concluded, “Supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms,” especially in cases of flu, and to a lesser extent with colds. “The effect of elderberry supplementation is larger among cases of the flu than the common cold,” study authors determined, “but supplementation successfully reduces the symptoms regardless of underlying cause.”
But you don’t have to save your elderberry syrup for when you feel like you’re coming down with something. The compound that gives elderberries their dark purple color, anthocyanin, has many other benefits, helping to reduce inflammation, one of the key culprits in chronic disease. Elderberries are also being studied for their beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, brain health, and reduction of cancer risk.
USING ELDERBERRY SYRUP FOR COLDS & FLU
Some people swear by a daily spoonful of elderberry syrup to keep viruses at bay, but most herbalists I’ve spoken to counsel taking elderberry syrup or tincture often at the first sign of symptoms or when you think you might have been exposed to something. The recommended dose of elderberry syrup is 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon several times per day to keep the active compounds in your system. Some herbalists recommend taking a dose every hour.
If, like me, you don’t want a ton of added sugar in your diet while you’re trying to fight off a cold, you can make what’s called a decoction, a very strong liquid made by simmering elderberries as you would for making syrup, but without any added sweetener. You can take a spoonful of that instead, or dilute it in hot water for a soothing tea you can sip throughout the day.
A decoction will only keep in the refrigerator for a few days, though, so you can’t keep it on hand as you would elderberry syrup. You could freeze some into ice cubes if you like, but plan to use them up in a couple of months, as the compounds in elderberries will degrade in the freezer over time.
CAUTIONS WITH HOMEMADE ELDERBERRY SYRUP
As with any herb or supplement, consume in moderation, especially the first time you try it. Herbalist David Winston recommends beginning with only a quarter of the recommended dose the first time you use an herb to ensure you don’t have a reaction. If you’re not one of the small fraction of people with adverse responses to elderberry, you can increase the dose slowly.
Remember when using herbs with children that their smaller bodies need proportionately less herb. Though elderberry is generally considered safe for kids, a fifty-pound child should probably get no more than a third of any recommended dosages, which are generally targeted at 150-pound adults. If you’re including additional herbs, check that they’re considered safe for children, as not all are.
Some medical conditions and medications are contraindicated for elderberry, so please discuss with your doctor before consuming. Elderberry’s ability to stimulate the immune system means that people with autoimmune diseases or taking immunosuppressants may need to steer clear. If you take corticosteroids, diuretics, laxatives, medications for diabetes, or Theophylline, a respiratory medication used for asthma and COPD, elderberry may not be recommended. Winston notes that some herbs may decrease or increase the absorption of medications or may enhance or decrease the activity of certain drugs.
**Don’t give honey to babies under one year of age. Substitute maple syrup or brown rice syrup if you plan to give to infants.
NOTES ABOUT HOMEMADE ELDERBERRY SYRUP SHELF LIFE AND STORAGE
This homemade elderberry syrup is meant to be stored in the refrigerator and used within a few months. In the days before refrigeration, alcohol would be added as a preservative. If you would like to add alcohol, brandy is a common choice. You can add 1 part brandy to 4 parts syrup, or about 1 cup brandy to 1 quart syrup.
Doubling the honey will also extend the shelf life, but it will make an extremely sweet syrup. You can also use water bath canning if you would like to preserve jars of syrup for longer, though the high heat may compromise the medicinal value of your syrup.
Note that this homemade elderberry syrup recipe makes a thinner liquid, and it will need cooking down if you want it thicker and more “syrupy.” You can also add a thickener like arrowroot starch if you prefer.
I’ve included dozens more ways to use elderberries, elderflowers, and the syrups made from them in my new book, Everything Elderberry, which in addition to more than 60 recipes, explores elderberry’s long history of medicinal use, what the latest research tells us about its effect on health, plus foraging and growing information. It involved months of research, dozens of interviews, and a ton of kitchen experiments. Find out more by clicking below.
Ready to learn how to make elderberry syrup? Here’s the best recipe for elderberry syrup!
- ½ cup dried elderberries
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried)
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ cup rosehips
- 1 tablespoon astragalus
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup raw honey
- Place all ingredients except the honey in a saucepan, and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. For a thicker syrup, continue to simmer over low heat until liquid is reduced by about half.
- Allow to steep for at least an hour. When cooled to almost room temperature, strain thoroughly, reserving berries.
- Measure the liquid and add half as much honey. If you have ⅔ cup liquid, add ⅓ cup honey. Stir in honey till until fully incorporated.
- Measure the liquid and add half as much honey. If you have 1 cup liquid, add ½ cup honey. Stir until honey is fully incorporated.
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Serving Size:1 teaspoon
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 22Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 0gSugar: 6gProtein: 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 USE YOUR HOMEMADE ELDERBERRY SYRUP
Homemade elderberry syrup made with cloves and cinnamon is reminiscent of mulled cider, which adds flavor you may not want in recipes like berry smoothies and rhubarb leather, so a simple syrup or base may be better in those recipes. But experiment and see what you like.
Your DIY elderberry syrup can be used medicinally, taking a preventative spoonful daily or a teaspoonful every hour or so at the first sign of illness.
It’s also delicious as an ice cream topping, or swirled into yogurt or oatmeal. I love it in these nutrient-packed elderberry overnight oats, which capitalize on ingredients like sunflower seeds and yogurt, both helpful for supporting the immune system.
A DIY ELDERBERRY SYRUP KIT MAKES A GREAT HOMEMADE GIFT
Want to give something different than the usual cookies this year? Just combine dried elderberries with your additional dried herbs of choice, and put it all in a pretty glass jar with a ribbon. Give a jar of local honey as well if you like.
You can print out the cooking instructions and attach it to the jar for a seriously easy homemade gift just when everyone’s immune system could use a little extra help.
You could include my book and share the wisdom of elderberries. Just a suggestion. 🙂
Pin to save this info on how to make elderberry syrup 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. I draw on numerous health sources, some of which are linked above. Please consult them for more information and a licensed professional for personalized recommendations.
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.