Homemade Elderberry Syrup
Hippocrates described the elderberry plant as his "medicine chest". All parts of the plant offer potent medicinal properties, and the berries are particularly powerful in boosting the immune system. Elderberries are packed with anthocyanins, flavonols and antioxidants that have been shown to shorten the duration of flu symptoms by an average of four days when taken within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. (1) Elderberries have also been used to aid in sinus infection relief (2), as well as calm inflammation associated with allergies.(3) Essentially, this plant is one of our best herbal allies throughout sniffly season.
Making elderberry syrup is one of the most delicious (& fun!) ways to empower yourself with the benefits of this herbal medicine. The berries alone have potent medicinal properties, but you can enhance the immune-boosting effects (& flavor) of the syrup by adding in some additional herbal powerhouses.
Rosehips - most potent source of Vitamin C among all fruits & vegetables (4)
Astragalus - ancient Chinese herb used to enhance immune system (5)
Ginger - antioxidant & anti-inflammatory benefits (6)
For Flavor: allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, vanilla
This syrup makes a great gift for loved ones, or even just yourself, over the holiday season when it feels like the common cold is just lurking around the corner. Plus, the addition of raw honey into the syrup makes this medicine an extra sweet part of your self-care routine.
Homemade Elderberry Syrup*
yields 1 1/2 cups
1 cup dried organic elderberries (or 2 cups fresh elderberries)
1-in piece fresh ginger, peeled & sliced 1/4-in thick 2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tablespoon whole allspice
4 cups filtered water
1 cup raw, local honey (or organic maple syrup/agave for vegan version); 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup brandy (optional, used to increase shelf life)
1 oz. rosehips
1/2 oz. astragalus root (preferably smaller pieces)
If using dried berries, skip this first step.
If using fresh berries, de-stem the berries (a fork gets the job done well!) and rinse thoroughly, removing large pieces of stems or other particles. Don't worry about removing every last bit of the stems - you'll strain them out later.
Combine berries, ginger, cinnamon and allspice with water in a pot and bring to a simmer. It's best to use a non-reactive pot like ceramic, avoid using something with a non-stick coating.
Reduce heat and simmer 30 to 40 minutes (until liquid reduces by half). Mash berries with the back of a spoon or potato masher to release more of their active compounds. Then, remove from heat and let steep 1 hour.
Strain the mixture using a fine-mesh strainer, pressing down the cooked berries with the back of a spoon to get as much juice out as possible. Collect the juice in a large, glass bowl or measuring cup. Discard used herbs in compost.
Once liquid has cooled to just above room temperature, add honey and whisk in well to incorporate. You don't want to do this while the mixture is still hot, as the heat kills the beneficial enzymes found in the honey.
If using brandy, add it and stir until well combined. The brandy preserves the syrup & allows it to be shelf-stable. If you'd rather skip the alcohol, you can store your syrup in the refrigerator or freeze it for later use.
Bottle syrup in sterilized glass jars or dropper bottles. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months (without alcohol) or up to 6 months (shelf-stable). Take 1 teaspoon a day for prevention throughout cold & flu season, or several teaspoons a day for acute use after the onset of cold or flu symptoms.
Make sure to read here for any contraindications to using elderberry syrup.