Elderberries are heralded as one of the primary means of treating colds and flu during the colder seasons, often found in the form of “Elderberry Syrup”. And if you’ve happened to taste it before, you may have been skeptical that such a delicious concoction could actually benefit you while under the weather. But it’s true! It can be one of your wintertime staples for fending off illness. It’s a simple, yet extremely effective little recipe, and has lots of lovely additional herbs that can be added in too!
So Why Elderberry?
Elderberry is a traditional herbal support, going back many centuries in Europe. Because of its antiviral properties, its ability to induce sweating, and assistance in the removal of toxins from the body, it is exceptionally effective at both treating colds, flu, and respiratory infections, as well as in preventing them in the first place.
This is because Elderberry is especially effective when taken at the very first signs of illness, due to its ability to strengthen cell walls and inhibit virus replication throughout the body. Meaning that the illness is often much shorter in duration and severity.
Another ability of Elderberry is its effective management 0f coughs by breaking up mucous and congestion in the lower respiratory tract and fending off infections.
Which leads to one of the additional herbs I prefer to couple with Elderberry in my syrup recipe: Echinacea. Also a traditional herb for treating colds and flu and fighting infection in the lungs, sinuses, and throat, Echinacea has a special affinity for the upper respiratory tract.
So between Elderberry’s special affinity for the lower respiratory tract, and Echinacea’s affinity for the upper respiratory tract during illness, I find that including both herbs in an herbal syrup recipe, provides for a powerfully synergistic, well rounded natural remedy. I highly recommend including this herb in your syrup!
Honey is the backbone of this recipe, forming the syrup itself which suspends all the herbal properties inside. It is essential to only use raw honey though, as conventional honey is so heavily processed that it retains very little of its original benefits. Raw honey contains a rich supply of antioxidants, and is highly antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory. It is also of course well known for soothing sore throats and coughs too.
Lately I like to add Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger, Rose hips, and the afore mentioned Echinacea to my Elderberry syrup recipe. Each of these has their own unique properties which I’ve listed below with just a few lines about each of their benefits. Altogether, this makes for a really effective, delicious finished product, the taste reminding me of apple butter and just that simple taste of autumn/wintertime warming goodness.
This recipe will work well with simply the Elderberries and Raw Honey alone. All of the other herbs are totally optional, but I do encourage you to include a few of them for an extra strong, immunity supporting syrup.
- 2 oz or 1/2 cup dried Elderberries, or, 1 cup of fresh/frozen Elderberries
- 1/4 cup Echinacea root
- 1/4 cup whole Cloves, or, 2-3 teaspoons dried Clove powder
- 5 Cinnamon sticks, or, 2-3 teaspoons dried Cinnamon powder
- 3 inch chunk fresh Ginger root, peeled and diced/grated, or, 2-3 teaspoons of dried Ginger root powder
- 1/4 cup Rose hips
- 4 cups of filtered Water
- 2-3 cups of raw, unfiltered organic Honey
- Pour water into a medium sized pot, and bring just to a boil, then lower the heat.
- Add Elderberries and any of the additional herbs, but do not include the Honey just yet, since heating it would destroy most of its health benefits.
- Keep at a gentle simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, waiting for the water to reduce to half its original amount. This should result in about 2 cups of rich, herbal liquid.
- Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Smash the berries and herbs down with a kitchen masher or spoon before removing from the pot, so as to help further break up the plant cell walls and allow for a full release of herbal properties.
- Using a mesh strainer, slowly pour Elderberry mixture through into a glass jar or bowl, pressing down again on the berries and herbs to extract as much liquid as possible. You can also line the mesh strainer with cheesecloth or a finely woven cloth, which can then be squeezed by hand to get every last drop of herbal liquid.
- Discard or compost the leftover berries and herbs.
- Once the strained off herbal extract is lukewarm, then stir in the raw honey. Use at least equal parts honey to herbal extract. I personally like to do equal parts even, but you can add more if you prefer the syrup to be thicker. To be totally honest, I only use the bare minimum of equal parts, because raw honey is usually just so expensive. Anyways, this should result in using around 2-3 cups of honey. Just play with it and see how much you prefer in your finished product.
- After the Honey is thoroughly stirred in, pour the finished Elderberry Syrup into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator. It will stay good for around 6 months. A quart size jar should be plenty big enough for storage, but use multiple smaller jars if desired.
- Note: For a Honey-free version of this recipe for Vegans or children under 1 year of age, you can substitute the Honey out for Pure Maple Syrup or Black Strap Molasses, both of which have their own health benefits if you ensure you have the genuine variety.
There’s a few schools of thought on how to actually use Elderberry Syrup. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt yourself or cause any harm whichever you choose. It’s just a debate as to what’s most effective. Some hold that taking Elderberry Syrup as a daily preventive during the wintertime is the most effective at staving off illness, while others hold that it’s best to only use these strong immunity building herbs right at the onset of illness and for its duration. This latter thinking being that the body may adapt to continuous use of the same herbs everyday for months on end, and become less effective in the long run when actual viruses are encountered. I’ve encountered many people in both camps, so I encourage you to follow your intuition on this one and pay attention to your body. If you feel the preventive method is working, keep at it. If you feel that it’s actually weakening the effects of the Elderberry Syrup when you are encountering illness, then only use it at onset and for the duration of the illness. A kind of in between method is to only take the syrup during the week (say, when you’re at work or school all week long likely encountering more people and germs), and then to not take any on the weekends, giving the body a bit of a break for a few days.
Whichever method you choose, here’s the general recommended dosing:
Standard preventive dose is ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon for children and 1 tablespoon for adults taken once a day.
When sick, the standard dose is still ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon for children and 1 tablespoon for adults, but taken every 3-4 hours until symptoms subside.
Note: Do NOT give to children under 1 year of age, due to the Honey ingredient. You can instead prepare the recipe with raw, genuine Maple Syrup or Black Strap Molasses in place of the Honey, for a safer alternative for infants.
Antiviral and Anti-Inflammatory, the various species of Cinnamon support digestion and circulation, and provides an overall warming affect throughout the body. It can also prevent vomiting and alleviate nausea.
Actions: Antibacterial, Anti-Inflammatory, Antimicrobial, Antioxidant, Antiviral, Carminative, & Expectorant.
Taste: Aromatic & Sweet
Antimicrobial and high in Antioxidants, Clove can also helps to dispel general nausea and vomiting. It is an all around great choice for inclusion in fighting off illness.
Actions: Antibacterial, Anti-Inflammatory, Antimicrobial, Antioxidant, & Antiseptic.
Taste: Aromatic & Spicy
The roots of Echinacea have Antiviral and Anti-Inflammatory properties, as well as the ability to increase white blood cells. Acting as a strong immune stimulant, Echinacea is able to hinder the duration and severity of an infection, especially when taken at onset. It is a time-honoured herb for treating colds and flu, as well as fighting infection in the lungs, sinuses, and throat, but especially the upper respiratory tract. Note that Echinacea is an at-risk plant, so I encourage you to only purchase this plant where it is responsibly grown, or better yet, cultivate your own!
Actions: Alterative, Antibacterial, Antiviral, Immune Stimulant, & Immunomodulant.
Antiviral, Anti-Inflammatory, high in Vitamins A & C, Iron, & Antioxidants, Elderberry is known for its wide range of benefits: its ability to strengthen the immune system, alleviate congestion, reduce swelling in mucus membranes, as well as stimulating circulation and inducing sweating.
Actions: Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antiviral, Diuretic, & Immune Stimulant.
Energy: Cooling & Pungent
Ginger is well known for its ability to thin mucous and assisting the body in recovering from coughs. It also induces sweating due to its diaphoretic properties, which helps the body to eliminate toxins. Ginger is very effective at dispelling nausea as well. All this works together to support the body’s movement through infection, colds, and flu.
Actions: Anti-Emitic, Anti-Inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Antiviral, Carminative, & Circulatory Stimulant.
Taste: Aromatic & Spicy
Rose hips are the fruit of Roses, and provide quite high doses of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, and many other various vitamins and minerals. Rose hips are a traditional herbal support for recovery from colds, flu, and general exhaustion, and are a great aid to the respiratory system as a whole. They also give a lovely, berry taste to any syrup recipe.
Actions: Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antiviral, Astringent, & Nervine.
Taste: Sweet & Astringent
Energy: Contracting & Cooling
I hope you enjoyed this educational post! Head back to the Herbalism page for more ways to study herbs and their properties, actions, preparations, and traditional use in day-to-day living.
- Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman
- National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants –
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs: Their Medicinal and Culinary Uses – Sarah Bunney
- The Complete Herb Book – Jekka McVicar
- An Illustrated Guide to Herbs: Their Medicine and Magic – Anna Kruger
- The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs – Heather Boon, BScPhm, PhD and Michael Smith, BPharm, MRPharmS, ND
- 20,000 Secrets of Tea: The Most Effective Ways to Benefit from Nature’s Healing Herbs – Victoria Zak
- A Modern Herbal – M. Grieve
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