Elderberries are one of my most-used go-to remedies for cooler months. The dried berries of the Sambucus nigra plant are naturally high in immune-boosting compounds that are specifically shown to help beat the cold and flu more quickly. They can be used to make a variety of remedies, and my favorite is this simple elderberry syrup.
Elderberry: A Natural Remedy for Mild Colds and Flu?
There is certainly a time and a place for conventional medicine and doctors visits. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that conventional medicine can do for a common cold or even a mild case of the flu.
If you or your child has ever had a rough case of the common cold or the flu, you know how miserable it can be. Especially for moms, it is awful to see your children feeling so bad and not be able to fix it. Thankfully, nature provides some remedies that can help avoid minor illnesses and shorten the duration if you do get them.
Black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) have been shown to help avoid these illnesses and speed recovery in those who already have them. I’ve also found that elderberries seem to offer some relief of discomfort during minor illnesses.
Benefits of Elderberry
Elderberries naturally contain vitamins A, B, and C and stimulate the immune system. Israeli researchers found that the complex sugars in elderberries support the immune system in fighting cold and flu. They developed several formulas based on these complex sugars that have been clinically shown to help ameliorate all kinds of cold/flu. In fact:
Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, of Hadassah-Hebrew University in Israel found that elderberry disarms the enzyme viruses use to penetrate healthy cells in the lining of the nose and throat. Taken before infection, it prevents infection. Taken after infection, it prevents spread of the virus through the respiratory tract. In a clinical trial, 20% of study subjects reported significant improvement within 24 hours, 70% by 48 hours, and 90% claimed complete cure in three days. In contrast, subjects receiving the placebo required 6 days to recover.
Elderberry Syrup: Easy Way to Get the Benefits
Elderberry syrup provides the concentrated immune-supporting benefits of black elderberries in a great-tasting way. My homemade recipe uses homemade elderberry concentrate with synergistic herbs like cinnamon and ginger, plus raw honey for an extra immune boost. If you can’t/don’t use honey, see the substitution suggestions below the recipe.
Why make your own?
For one, you’ll save a lot of money!
Several natural elderberry syrups are available at health stores or online, but usually for around $15 or more for 4-8 ounces. This recipe makes 16 ounces for a cost of under ten dollars and kids love the taste!
You can also fully customize this recipe based on your needs and flavor preferences.
That said, if dried elderberries aren’t available and you’re in a pinch, there are some great pre-made elderberry gummies and elderberry syrup that work just as well (just cost more). Also, if you happen to have fresh or frozen elderberries on hand, just use double the quantity listed in the recipe.
How to Make Elderberry Syrup to Avoid the Flu
- Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until the liquid has reduced by almost half.
- Remove from heat and let cool until it is cool enough to be handled.
- Mash the berries carefully using a spoon or other flat utensil.
- Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl.
- Discard the elderberries and let the liquid cool to lukewarm.
- When it is no longer hot, add the honey and stir well.
- When the honey is well mixed into the elderberry mixture, pour the syrup into a mason jar or 16 ounce glass bottle of some kind.
- Ta-da! You just made homemade elderberry syrup! Store in the fridge and take daily for its immune boosting properties. Some sources recommend taking only during the week and not on the weekends to boost immunity.
More of a Visual Person?
Here is my one-minute tutorial video:
How long does elderberry syrup last in the fridge?
The short answer is that it really depends. I’ve found that placing the finished syrup in a mason canning jar while it is still warm creates an air-tight seal and allows it to last much longer in the fridge, up to several months. As a general rule, it lasts about two weeks in the fridge and I typically freeze whatever I won’t use during that time. You can also freeze small amounts in an ice-cube tray and defrost small amounts when needed.
If you know how, you can also can the elderberry juice concentrate or the finished syrup to greatly extend the shelf life.
Can I harvest my own elderberries?
You can, and in fact, you can even grow your own elderberry bush, but it is important to make sure you are growing the correct plant. I also recommend working with a local herbalist to find/harvest elderberries and make sure that only the berries are harvested (the stems and leaves can be dangerous).
Where is the best place to order elderberries?
We don’t have a local source, so I’ve always ordered in bulk from an online source. (Order early because they always run out come Fall!)
What is elderberry syrup used for?
Our family uses it as a preventative remedy by taking 1/2 to 1 teaspoon a day during peak cold and flu season. If we get hit with a minor illness, we double or triple that dose until we feel better.
The unique and complex flavor of elderberries also makes this syrup a great ingredient in certain recipes and I’ve made an elderberry panna cotta by substituting elderberry syrup for the sweetener in recipes.
How much to take?
This is really a question for an herbalist or naturopath, but I personally take 1 teaspoon a day as an adult and give half of this to my kids. During illness, I double or triple this amount.
Is there a substitute for honey in elderberry syrup?
Some people prefer not to use a sweetener and honey is not recommended for babies under 1-2 years old. Some easy substitutes are:
- Use maple syrup or nutrient-rich molasses in place of the honey.
- Omit the sweetener all together (this will make elderberry juice which will need to be consumed much more quickly).
- Make an elderberry tincture for adults. Mix the concentrated elderberry syrup with equal parts food-grade alcohol like vodka or brandy instead of sweetener. This obviously wouldn’t be for kids, but is a sweetener-free option for adults.
Can I use powdered elderberries?
Yes, I’ve used powdered elderberries when whole elderberries weren’t available. Just use about 1/2 cup in this recipe instead of 2/3 cup.
Can the elderberries be reused?
I don’t recommend reusing them. Ideally, the boiling/mashing process removes much of the nutrients from the berries. Also, there is some evidence that consuming large amounts of the whole berries can be problematic.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Ever taken elderberry? Will you try this recipe? What natural ways do you use to ward off illness?