Have you had the flu yet this season? How about a bad cold, or (my personal nemesis) a nasty sinus infection?
If you have, I hope you’re feeling better! If you haven’t, I’m sure you’ve been surrounded by sickies. This has been one rough winter in New England, that’s for sure.
So, with all the germs flying around out there, I figured I’d share my recipe for homemade elderberry syrup.
What is elderberry syrup?
Elderberry syrup is an old folk remedy for colds, flu, bronchitis, and fever. It’s been used for centuries in Europe.
For me, it works like a charm. Personally, I think it’s a great immune tonic.
Not to mention, it’s pretty darned delicious if you like berry-flavored stuff.
Aside from any health benefit, it makes an amazing base for a cocktail. Shake a little up with ice, a shot or two of St. Germaine and vodka. Delicious!
You can also toss it into smoothies, mix it in with seltzer, pour it on pancakes, use it as a base for sorbet or granita…You get the picture.
I make my elderberry syrup with dried elderberries, cinnamon, cloves, loads of fresh ginger, and local raw honey.
I use a LOT of ginger, because I love the stuff. If you’re not so keen on it, use a smaller piece. Ginger also packs a strong medicinal punch when it comes to colds and flu.
Homemade syrup is better than store bought
At least, so says the Mouse.
I’ve been making this elderberry syrup for about two years now, and let me tell you: I’ve hardly been sick. True story.
And when I do get sick, it’s never as bad as it used to be. I’m talking a cold that lasts 2 or 3 days versus 7 or 8. That kind of thing.
I started making it because I can control 100% of what goes into it.
And? Quite frankly, you can easily go broke buying elderberry syrup in the store. Check out the prices online for the bottled stuff and you’ll see what I mean.
As of this posting, Mountain Rose Herbs sells organic dried elderberries for about $10/lb.
One pound of dried elderberries will keep you in syrup for months, depending on how often and much you take. (As you can tell, I buy in bulk, but then I make the syrup and give it away to all my friends during the winter.)
So what is an elderberry, anyways?
The elder is a small, deciduous, shrubby, tree type deal that grows in North America, parts of Europe, and Western Asia. The dried berries are little, dark, and wrinkly:
Its botanical name is Sambucus nigra.
Whenever you’re buying an unfamiliar herb, always be sure you check the botanical name to ensure you’re getting what you intended. A lot of herbs can be known be similar names, and you want to be sure you’re working with the right one.
Use dried elderberries unless you have experience processing the fresh berries. I haven’t done this yet, so I can’t offer any advice. (Have you? Please definitely leave a comment! Would love to hear from you.)
Raw, unripe elderberries, bark, seeds, and leaves are all potentially toxic, so don’t go there unless you know what you’re doing.
Elderflowers make a lovely tea, and are the base for St. Germaine liqueur. They’re also great for colds, and for sweating out a fever.
Where can you buy elderberries?
Get your elderberries from a reputable shop or online retailer that specializes in herbs for cooking or medicine. Don’t buy them at a craft store, etc., where the herbs likely aren’t food grade and are meant for pot pourri and the like.
I buy all my herbs and spices from Mountain Rose Herbs in Oregon.
In my experience, they have the best quality and the best pricing. (Any other online herb shops you guys recommend? Leave a comment and let us know!)
Frontier Herbs is also great, though they seem to be more expensive than Mountain Rose.
How long will elderberry syrup keep? How do you store it?
Store your finished elderberry syrup in the fridge for up to 2 months. It keeps well for that long because of the high sugar content from the honey.
As with any other homemade good, if it starts to look funky, smell funky, or grow anything that resembles mold, throw it out and start again. I’ve never had any issue, but better safe than sorry.
How much should you take?
Me? I take a shot glass full in the morning and another at night as a preventative. Every day.
When I feel like I’m getting sick, I take it more frequently (1 teaspoon every two hours or so). Many traditional herbalists treat acute problems with more frequent, smaller doses of herbs.
That’s what works for me. You might be different. If you take too much elderberry, it will upset your stomach. Use your judgment and always talk to your doctor before starting any kind of vitamin/herb regime.
What is raw honey?
OK. So, raw honey is good medicine. People have been using it to cure their ailments since the days of Ancient Egypt. (Check out more on that here.)
Raw honey is honey that’s never been heated or filtered.
That means that it contains all little bits of beeswax, pollen, propolis, and beneficial enzymes. To maintain these properties, I add raw honey to my elderberry syrup once it’s cooled to at least 110 degrees F. If your syrup is too hot, it’ll destroy a lot of the good stuff.
My favorite honey is Crystal’s Raw Honey. Hands down, it’s the best honey I’ve ever had. Seriously. Get your hands on some if you can, just don’t blame me if you eat half of it right out of the jar with a spoon.
You guys with kids will all know this, but don’t give honey to little peeps under the age of one. There’s a botulism risk there.
You can also make a shelf-stable tincture
If you want to make a shelf stable version of this recipe, infuse the same ingredients (EXCEPT THE HONEY AND WATER) in 12 cups of 100 proof vodka for 6 weeks. Put the mixture in a sterilized, glass jar with a tight lid. Shake every few days.
After 6 weeks, strain and press the liquid out of the solids (discard them once you wring them dry).
That’s it. No cooking necessary.
This tincture will keep well, shelf stable, in a cool place for at least a few years.
When I take elderberry this way, I do 1-2 Tablespoons/day, smaller doses more frequently when I’m sick.
My lawyer wants me to remind you that I’m not a doctor, nurse, or licensed healthcare practitioner. This post is for educational purposes only, and is based on my personal experience. Yours may be different. This post is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult your doctor before beginning any kind of new vitamin, herbal, diet, or exercise regime.
Warning: This recipe makes a massive amount of syrup
About yield: This recipe makes a LOT of syrup. As in 3 quarts of it.
I take it every day, so I tend to make bigger batches. Definitely feel free to cut it down by half or even three-quarters.
Also, it needs to live in the fridge, so if you make a full batch, make sure you have the room.
Homemade Elderberry Syrup
2 cups dried elderberries
1 large piece fresh ginger (use a bigger piece of you like spicy, and a smaller piece if you don’t)
6 whole Chinese star anise
4 whole cinnamon sticks
18 whole cloves
13 cups water
4 cups raw honey
Yields: About 12 cups / 3 quarts
Give your ginger a brisk scrub under cold water to knock any dirt off of it. Slice it thin. You don’t have to bother peeling it.
Toss it in a large pot.
Toss in the dried elderberries.
Add the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and Chinese star anise.
Finally, add the water.
Set the pot on the stove over high heat and bring it to a rolling boil.
When it comes to a boil, knock the heat down so that it just holds a simmer, cover the pot, and crack the lid.
Simmer for about an hour with the lid cracked. After an hour, uncover and let it cool on the stove in the pot until it stops steaming. This extra time will steep more goodness out of your ingredients.
Your elderberry syrup base should be super fragrant, fruity, and deep, dark purple.
Pull out all the large solids (ginger, cinnamon, star anise) and discard. Strain the liquid into a large bowl.
Smoosh the berries around in the strainer to get as much juice out of them as you can. If you want, you could squeeze them out through cheesecloth.
Discard the berry pulp.
Cool the liquid to at least 110 degrees F. (Check the temp with a candy thermometer…remember, you don’t want to cook the goodness out of your raw honey.)
Once the liquid is 110 degrees F or less, add the raw honey.
Whisk to incorporate, making sure to break up any little blobs of honey.
Bottle and refrigerate!
When the syrup is cool, pour into a large, sterile glass bottle or pitcher. Cork or cover, and pop it in the fridge.
Have any tried and true home remedies for cold and flu?
Let ’em rip! Leave a comment below and let us know what helps get you feeling better.