Make the BEST Elderberry Syrup

herbs Aug 12, 2020


For a free printable recipe, click HERE

Elderberry syrup is a staple in the home herbalists’ apothecary, and like every herb, there is a short window of time to gather and preserve this vital natural medicine. For us here in the Midwestern united states, the berries usually ripen in August.  We use only the black elderberries, and you want to be careful when gathering wild elderberries to be sure they are not near an area that is sprayed, AND you want to make certain you are collecting elderberries, not poke berries – they usually grow right next to one another, and they are both very dark purple. But elderberries grow in an umbel shape – like an umbrella – and poke berries grow in a cluster shape, hanging down like grapes. When I go to collect elderberries, I take my clippers and a big stainless bowl and I hold the bowl under the berries with one hand and snip the stem of the berries with my other hand, letting them fall into the bowl.  Be careful not to compress them, because they will ferment quickly. So you need to process them right away. If you don’t have time to make your syrup right away, just stuff all the berry heads in a big zipper freezer bag and pop them into the freezer until you have time to work with them. 

We need: big pan with lid, scissors, some purified water, elderberries and whatever add-ins you want to use. 

If you don’t have access to fresh elderberries, you can do this all with dried organic elderberries – just follow the same steps and add just a little more water.

The elderberries are the star of this show, of course, and for good reason. They are high in flavonoids that disrupt a virus’s ability to replicate. They have been shown to be effective against multiple strains of influenza, including H1N1. In clinical trials, patients with the flu taking elderberry found it remarkably helpful. 20% reported significant improvement within 24 hours, 70% by 48 hours, and 90% claimed a complete cure after three days. The patients who received a placebo instead required six days to recover. Researchers found that those patients who took elderberry actually had higher levels of antibodies against the flu virus.  Other research shows elderberry directly inhibits the influenza virus.

I use some spices to add flavor and boost the effectiveness of my elderberry syrup. There are loads of options when it comes to add-ins.  Here are a few of the ones I like to use:

STAR ANISE are eight-pointed stars of slender pods, each containing a seed. It has been used for 1000s of years in Chinese medicine to help thin and clear mucous from the respiratory tract, to reduce the inflammation of arthritis, as a digestive aid to relieve gas and bloating, and this star is currently the star of the show in a modern medicine you may have heard of. It’s the starter ingredient for Tamiflu – the most commonly prescribed drug for treating the flu. Star anise is a powerful ally to  fight all kinds of infection – viral, bacterial and fungal. Some of the compounds found in Star anise have been found to kill cancer cells and reduce damage to brain cells. Star anise tastes sweet with the flavor of licorice, cinnamon & clove – it’s strong, so a little goes long way – use just ONE – too much would make it bitter.

Two things to do when using star anise – first, count the points and be sure there are only eight. Sometimes star anise has been adulterated with  poisonous Japanese star anise, which has 10 or more points. Also, test for freshness – break off pod and squeeze it until the seed pops out – you should be able to smell it immediately – like licorice – if not, it is likely past its prime.

CINNAMON is delicious, sweet and spicy and warming. It helps stabilize blood sugars and has many other medicinal qualities. The most common cinnamon is cassia cinnamon, and it’s fine to use a little short-term. For medicine and regular use, I recommend searching out Ceylon cinnamon. The cassia cinnamon has high Coumarin content, which isn’t good for our livers over time. Although both sold as cinnamon in united states, Ceylon is actually the true cinnamon, and in other places like Europe, cassia cannot be marketed as cinnamon.

CLOVES are strongly flavorful and powerfully antioxidant. Cloves are also powerfully effective against pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and they help keep blood flowing.

ALLSPICE is one of my favorite spices and a staple in my kitchen. It’s like a blend of both the flavors and the healing properties of all the the others put together. In blind sniff tests, allspice has been confused with nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, juniper berry and most often clove – probably because one of allspice’s constituents is same as clove – eugenol – but allspice has even more going for it . In fact, it has over two dozen known compounds with a wide variety of healing actions. It is warming, anti-inflammatory, it can help regulate menstruation, soothe the stomach, and even provide mild pain relief. Not to mention it is an incredibly powerful antioxidant and will help fight both bacterial & viral infections.

Did you know all these spices come from evergreen trees? Star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree native to china, Cinnamon is the bark of an evergreen tree (Cassia comes from India & china, Ceylon comes from Sri Lanka), Cloves are dried flower buds from an evergreen tree grown from South America to North Africa, and allspice is the berry of an evergreen tree native to Jamaica.

I also in add some cardamom and nutmeg – two other staples in my kitchen.  All of these add-ins are completely optional, and others I’ve used include licorice root, Schisandra berries, Hawthorn Berries, rosehips, and fresh or dried orange and lemon peels.

It is always best to buy your spices organic and whole, and then break them down as you need to. For making elderberry syrup, I put them in fairly whole, because I simmer them, and if I broke them down too much, flavor would be lost. I put them in the pot and add about a cup of water.

To prepare the elderberries, I snip them off with scissors. Remove the big stems, but don’t worry too much about the smaller stems.

Once you have it all in the pan, cover it, turn on the heat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.

All parts of the Elderberry plant -- except the flowers -- contain glycosides that convert into cyanide in the human body. Heat destroys those glycosides, leaving behind the medicinal constituents, so we want to heat the berries long enough to accomplish that – at least 30 minutes.  I also add ginger to elderberry syrup, and I am prepare it while the elderberry juice simmering because I want to the ginger to be fresh – not cooked.  Fresh ginger is a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral herb. In fact, renowned herbalist Stephen Buhner says, “If you are using ginger as an antiviral, the fresh juice cannot be surpassed in its effectiveness.”  Fresh ginger can also help thin mucus and get it flowing, it can reduce bronchial inflammation and help with breathing, it can reduce coughing as much as codeine-based cough syrups, and it’s pain-relieving abilities rival that of ibuprofen.  Not only that, but ginger acts as an adjuvant or synergist, which means it boosts the effectiveness of the other herbs. I definitely want to add this to my medicine. I grate a 1" to 2" knob of ginger, and stir it in after I take the elderberry off the heat. I stir in my grated ginger, cover again and let it sit for a few minutes.  Then I strain it, pressing out as much juice as possible.

Now that I have my completed juice, I have a couple of options. It will go bad if left by itself in the refrigerator. What I do is measure out about a cup’s worth. The rest I will put in a freezer bag and freeze until I need it. To the cup’s worth I’m going to add ½ cup raw organic honey and ½ cup brandy to help preserve it and shake that all together and store it in the refrigerator. It tastes delicious and the raw organic honey is medicinal as well. I take about a tablespoon of this a day to help prevent illness – and more if I feel like I am getting sick.

I hope you make some elderberry syrup – it is a delicious and effective way to support good health. If you want a printable recipe, the link is at the top of this page.  Please comment below and let me know if you have any ideas for other good add-ins and tell me how your elderberry syrup turns out!


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