Last year I posted how I made elderberry syrup and over the winter I was able to test and try out a few new ways of making elderberry syrup that make it more palatable and medicinally potent. Now I have a list of tricks and tips I’m going to share with you for how to make elderberry syrup based on preferences and needs.
Table of contents for this article:
- My top 3 tips for homemade elderberry syrup
- 3 herbal variations
- Step by step tutorial with pictures
- Printable recipe
- Frequently asked questions:
Benefits of elderberry
Elderberry (sambucus nigra) has many health and wellness benefits, but it’s most known for its immune-boosting properties and commonly used to help prevent and reduce the severity of the cold and flu viruses. It’s been used by herbalists for many, many years and studies are now finding that it is effective for many strains of the flu virus. I’ve used it on a preventative basis as well as when I begin getting sick and I definitely like to have this herb in my natural medicine cabinet at all times.
Fertility and hormone side-note – Everyone knows the flu is miserable and we often take multiple types of medication to help relieve some of the symptoms, many times using over the counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin (NSAIDS). While I know there are times when medicine has its place (I usually have a couple of OTC pain relievers on hand just in case) you should also know that more recent studies are finding that the use of NSAIDS can dramatically reduce ovulation with consistent use. (source)
One way for me to reduce my usage of this specific type of pain reliever is by taking steps to keep my body running well and take extra precautions during cold and flu season. Elderberry syrup is one natural remedy I always have on hand to do just that!
Making elderberry syrup is easy and there are a lot of different recipes out there, but I really want to help you make the best batch possible!
My top 3 tips for homemade elderberry syrup
1. Don’t boil the elderberries.
This tends to change not only the flavor, but vitamin C does not hold up well to heat and will be reduced in the final product. Even at steaming temperature, you may lose some of the vitamin C, but boiling increases that loss. Boiled elderberry also tends to taste bitter and needs more sweetener!
2. Add in beneficial herbs depending on YOUR needs.
Not everyone needs the same elderberry syrup! This means you can change your herbs based on how your body deals with illness. Of course, you can also keep it super simple and stick to only elderberries – there’s no wrong way to make it! There are many different herbs that would pair well with elderberry, but I’ll mention a few of my favorite add-ins:
- Fresh rose hips are a great source of vitamin C and contain about 200% of the recommended daily value (dried hips may still contain about 60% of the RDA). They are also known to be a cooling herb as well as a relaxant.
- Mullein is an expectorant and useful for those that tend to get lung congestion with respiratory illnesses (a feeling of it “settling in your lungs”).
- Licorice may help relieve painful unproductive coughing, act as a soothing expectorant, and reduce inflammation in the mucous membranes throughout the body.
- Echinacea is an immune stimulant and good to add in when you take it at the first sign of illness.
- Ginger has anti-viral actions, helps to stimulate the immune system and is a warming herb.
*Herbal information taken from multiple sources, including The Herbarium, and is meant for educational purposes. Please speak with a qualified herbalist to figure out which herbs are best for your situation. Information is not FDA reviewed or approved.
3. Keep it consistent
In order to keep your syrup making, and the dosage, consistent make sure to steam the liquid to the same measurement each time. If you have 1 cup of liquid in your first batch and 1 and a half cups the next time, the dosing won’t be the same. And make sure to keep track of what works best for you and your family by writing down anything you change!
Elderberry syrup variations
Because you’re making your own syrup, you can vary the flavor and wellness benefits! Make sure to consult an herbalist if you’re looking for a specific blend of herbs, but here are three variations I often make. Each variation you’ll follow the basic recipe but add in additional herbs with the dried elderberries.
- Prevention syrup – this blend has some added vitamin C from the rose hips and lemon and immune-boosting properties from the echinacea. Add in 2 tablespoons of rosehips and 1 tablespoon of echinacea while steaming and the juice of a whole lemon when it cools to room temperature.
- Warming syrup – for those times you feel chilled and can’t get warm when sick. Add 1 Tablespoon ginger, 1 cinnamon stick, 3-5 whole cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon orange zest while steaming.
- Extra lung support – for the times your lungs feel heavy or you have a lot of drainage and wet coughing. Add 1 tablespoon each of mullein and licorice.
How to make elderberry syrup:
- 1/2 cup dried elderberries (or one cup fresh elderberries)
- 1/2 to 1 cup honey
- 2 cups of water
- 2 Tbsp each of optional herbs: rose hips, mullein, cinnamon, cloves, licorice
- optional ingredients; 1 Tbsp lemon juice, vodka or brandy
1. Place 1/2 cup of dried elderberries and two cups of water in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Once the water begins to steam, keep at this temperature for approximately 30 minutes. Do not bring to a boil! I find that boiling will cause the taste to be…..off, and a bit bitter.
3. Strain out the berries and herbs.
4. and then just use the back of a spoon to squeeze out any juice left in the berries. Just don’t press too hard or you’ll get a bit of the solids.
Measure the liquid remaining. If you have more than one cup, place it back into the pan and steam until it reduces to one cup. The reason we reduce the liquid is to make this into what is called a decoction and it reduces the amount we need to take each time. This also makes sure that we have consistency in dosing!
6. Once cooled to warm room temperature, add in the honey and stir until combined. Honey has it’s own antiviral properties and is also used to make it taste great and acts as a natural preservative. Raw honey is the best option to use, which is why you’ll want to wait until the liquid cools before adding. This way you’ll protect the properties of the honey.
7. Once thoroughly combined, just place into a storage jar and keep in the fridge!
Homemade Elderberry Syrup
- 1/2 cup dried elderberries or one cup fresh
- 1 cup honey
- 2 cups water
- optional herbs: 2 Tbsp dried Mullein, Ginger, Rose hips, Licorice, or 1 stick cinnamon
- optional ingredients: 1 Tbsp lemon juice, vodka, or brandy
- Pour water and herbs into a saucepan over medium heat.
- Once the water begins to steam, lower heat to keep it at a steaming temperature. Do not let it boil.
- Strain out the berries, use the back of a spoon to squeeze out any juice left in the berries, being careful not to press the berries through.
- Measure the liquid. If you have more than one cup, pour it back into the pan to steam until you have only one cup left. If for some reason you have less than a cup, simply add in a bit of water to bring it up to one cup.
- Let cool to room temperature.
- Add in honey (and lemon juice or alcohol if using) and stir until combined.
- Place into a storage jar and keep in the refrigerator.
Where can I find dried elderberries?
In the past, I’ve foraged for my own elderberries but I don’t always have the time or passion for it. Any I know many of you don’t live in a place where you can easily go traipsing through fields and roadside ditches to find your own! Below are a few companies I’ve purchased from and have been happy with the dried berries I received.
Can I use sugar in elderberry syrup?
You betcha! There are a few reasons where it may be preferable:
- A baby less than one year will be taking the elderberry syrup (babies can not have honey!)
- Honey spikes your blood sugar more than granulated sugar (Some people with diabetes type one or two, as well as those with insulin resistance may find this to be true for them. To know for sure, simply test with your blood glucose monitor.)
- You have no honey in the house and need to make it right away! No reason to wait, just use another sweetener.
Feel free to use granulated sugar or even maple syrup in place of the honey.
Can I make sugar-free (or low sugar) elderberry syrup?
You totally can…just know that it won’t last as long in the fridge if you forgo honey or white sugar. (For proper preservation purposes, you need to use a 1:1 ratio of liquid to sugar.)
If, however, you plan on consuming it within the week, just sweeten to taste. (I find that 1/2 cup is sweet enough!) You may also add a few tablespoons of vodka or brandy to enhance flavor and preservation. Many times I’ll simply add one tablespoon of my elderberry tincture.
For a completely sugar- free elderberry syrup, use your favorite alternative sweetener to taste. I prefer a blend like Pyure (erythritol and stevia), but simple stevia drops work as well. Please note that this sugar-free version will last only a few days and it will be best to freeze any portions that you won’t be using within that time. (I often freeze some in ice cube trays for later!)
Another completely sugar-free option is to make an elderberry tincture instead of syrup. This is an alcohol-based product that takes 3-4 weeks to make but will last for years.
How can I make elderberry syrup taste better?
While most people like the taste of elderberry syrup, sometimes it can be helpful to add in additional ingredients to make it extra palatable! My two favorites are:
- Lemon juice – freshly squeezed or bottled, adding 2-4 tablespoons of lemon juice gives it a nice sourness to complement the sweetness of all that honey! You can also add lemon juice to any batch that you deem too sweet – it’s an easy fix. It also adds about 30-40mgs of vitamin C if you use the juice of one whole lemon. #bonus
- Cinnamon – adding a couple of cinnamon sticks with the dried elderberries creates a wonderfully warm and inviting syrup! This, however, does not work well if you’ve already added lemon…it’s kind of an either/or thing.
You can also add elderberry syrup to a small bit of juice or put it in your smoothies!
What is the shelf life of homemade elderberry syrup?
I find that the syrup lasts for a few weeks in my fridge when I use a full cup of honey/sugar and add in 2 tablespoons of vodka or brandy, though usually, we go through it more quickly than that. If you use less honey/sugar than one cup per one cup of elderberry decoction, it will reduce the shelf life.
If you ever see a film beginning to form on top, or noticeable mold growth, dispose of and do not use. It is also helpful to use a clear glass jar so that you can always inspect the contents prior to use.
Is elderberry safe for pregnant and nursing moms?
Honestly, not enough is known for medical professionals to state whether or not elderberry products are safe for pregnant or nursing moms. There simply haven’t been widespread studies that have focused on pregnant women (because most pregnant women do not want to be tested on!) to make a broad recommendation.
But, it’s not on any contraindication lists that I’ve seen for pregnancy (lists of herbs that would be dangerous to use during pregnancy) and many women do take it with no ill side effects. So while there are no indications that elderberry would harm a pregnant woman or her baby, you can also make yourself simple herbal teas that include elderberry if you’d like to use a “lighter dose”.
My personal preference (during pregnancy) is to take it only when needed instead of every day. So I’d use it if I felt like I was getting ill or if someone else in the house was sick, but did not take it long term.
I hope this helps you make your very best elderberry syrup! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.
C. Krawitz et al.; Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses; BMC Complement Altern Med (2011)
E. Tiralongo et al.; Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial; Nutrients (2016)