How to Make a Safe & Effective Homemade Elderberry Syrup
Elderberry syrup can be a great remedy during cold and flu season, but you need a good recipe to end up with something safe, effective, and delicious. This homemade elderberry syrup is all three!
You know that as soon as the weather gets chilly and the days get shorter, more than pumpkin spice is coming.
Cold and flu season is, too.
Which is pretty much the same thing as homemade elderberry syrup season.
While most herbal remedies fail to reach beyond the circles of crunchy natural health enthusiasts, elderberry syrup has done it. Even mainstream doctors now attest to its benefits.
It tastes great, it’s an effective immune-booster, and it’s easy to make.
But to make your own, you need a trustworthy recipe that makes the most of elderberry’s health-promoting properties while also being safe enough to give your whole family daily.
And I have one for you. This homemade elderberry syrup is absolutely delicious thanks to some extra ingredients, it comes together quickly, and it’ll save you money over buying it premade. I think you’ll love it!
How Elderberry Works to Help You Stay Healthy
Like all plants, elderberry contains many active chemical compounds that influence your body. It’s high in antioxidant flavonoids like anthocyanins (hence its dark purple color) and contains Vitamins A and C, among other beneficial phytochemicals.
Elderberry is particularly helpful when it comes to viral respiratory infections and is believed to help with immunity in a few ways.
- It strengthens our cell membranes so viruses can’t penetrate them and has been found to bind viruses so that they can’t infect cells.
- Certain compounds weaken many viruses and prevent their replication.
- Elderberry also seems to modulate certain cytokines in the body (cytokines are proteins that help cells communicate with the immune system), helping the immune system work more effectively.
Research and traditional use continue to demonstrate that elderberry is an effective herbal remedy to turn to for immune support when respiratory infections are making the rounds.
You can learn more about elderberry here in its monograph.
Is Elderberry Poisonous?
Depending on where you look and who you follow, you can find a lot of conflicting information regarding the safety of elderberry. Some sources will tell you that it’s perfectly fine to enjoy fresh juice while others claim it will poison you. One brand says their elderberry tincture is safe because they use dry berries while another person says you always have to cook elderberry.
For such a common home remedy, there’s a strange amount of confusion over this plant! Let’s break it down.
All parts of the elder plant contain a cyanogenic glycoside, which is a cyanide molecule bound to a sugar. When the body metabolizes this compound, the sugar breaks away from the cyanide, leaving the cyanide free to cause unpleasant symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. The plant also contains a potentially harmful alkaloid (a strong-acting type of plant compound).
While that sounds scary at first, it’s important to point out that it doesn’t make elderberry deadly. It makes it potentially toxic in high doses of improperly prepared elderberry formulas. Meaning, it won’t kill you, but it can make you sick if you take the wrong kind of elderberry preparation.
One notable example of this is a case from 1984 recorded by the CDC in California. Eleven people got sick after drinking a juice mix made with freshly squeezed elderberries that were also pressed with elderberry leaves and twigs. Eight of them went to the hospital and one was admitted (this individual drank the most juice), but all recovered perfectly fine.
It’s important to point out that elderberry poisoning is rare. Yes, you need to be aware of potential problems with everything you put in your body or use with your family. But you don’t need to fret over this faithful herbal remedy.
You just need to know how to safely prepare elderberry so you eliminate the risk of adverse reactions. Thankfully, that’s quite simple!
Can Elderberry Syrup Cause Cytokine Storms?
Before we dive into how to safely prepare elderberry syrup, let’s tackle a new elderberry myth that’s cropped up recently.
In the spring of 2020, a new internet rumor started making the rounds due to the coronavirus pandemic: Elderberry can cause deadly cytokine storms, so don’t take it for Covid-19.
This rumor was tricky, though, because it wasn’t just herbal naysayers and internet skeptics sharing it. Health professionals were, too.
Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you that elderberry syrup is not a cure-all for anything, including a viral illness that shall not be named. However, it has never been linked to a single case of a cytokine storm.
The rumor that elderberry can cause cytokine storms was based on theoretical data and very limited knowledge of how elderberry actually works within the body when taken at normal doses.
This situation is a good reminder that while doctors are important people to have on your healthcare team, they aren’t usually the best people to go to for herbal information.
So no, elderberry syrup doesn’t cause cytokine storms. For a lengthy explanation of this topic, I highly recommend herbalist Donnie Yance’s article.
The Safest Way to Prepare Elderberry
The safest way to prepare elderberry won’t leave you hunting for expensive tools or learning advanced herbal techniques. You can even do it if you’re just getting started with natural remedies. And you only need a small saucepan, water, and your stovetop to make the magic happen.
Yes, boiling elderberries is all you have to do.
A safe elderberry syrup starts as a decoction. With a decoction, you take tough herbal material like dried berries, bark, and roots, place it in a saucepan with cold water, and bring the water to a boil. You then simmer it, covered or uncovered, for 30 minutes or more.
Because heat deactivates the potentially harmful compounds in elderberry, starting your syrup with a decoction gives you a safe end product that won’t give anyone a tummy ache.
Heat is also the reason traditional elderberry foods like jelly and pie are safe to eat. Elder flowers, on the other hand, are safe to enjoy in a tea because they contain so little cyanogenic glycosides, and it’s believed the glycosides are deactivation by drying.
So boil the dried berries and you’ll have a wonderful, health-promoting syrup that’s also perfectly safe to give to the family.
How to Safely Make a Delicious Homemade Elderberry Syrup for Immune Support
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Not only is this syrup safe and effective, but it’s also delicious! Cinnamon and ginger lend a warm spiced flavor, honey gives some natural sweetness and prolongs the shelf-life, and lemon juice and zest add a delightful tart element.
Follow these simple steps to make your own delicious and immune-boosting homemade elderberry syrup. And don’t forget the printable recipe card waiting for you!
- 40 grams dry elderberries (about ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon), from Amazon, Starwest Botanicals, or Mountain Rose Herbs
- 5 grams cinnamon chips (about 1 tablespoon), from Amazon, Starwest Botanicals, or Mountain Rose Herbs
- 5 grams dry ginger root (about 1 tablespoon), from Amazon, Starwest Botanicals, or Mountain Rose Herbs
- 2 cups cold water
- Juice and zest from half of an organic lemon
- ½-1 cup raw honey* (honey acts as a preservative, so using less can shorten the shelf-life)
It’s best to always measure your herbs by weight, using an inexpensive digital kitchen scale, but you can measure these herbs by volume in a pinch if needed.
*Honey-sweetened elderberry syrup is not safe for children under 1-year old. Use brown rice syrup or food-grade vegetable glycerine instead of honey for infants under 1 year.
In a saucepan, combine the elderberry, cinnamon, and ginger root with water. If time permits, allow the herbs to soak in the cold water for 30 minutes or longer. This helps the berries, cinnamon, and ginger extract into the water, but it’s okay to skip it if you’re short on time.
Bring the herbs and water to a rolling boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer, stir occasionally, and allow it to cook, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes and until halved. If the water cooks off too quickly, reduce the heat further and add more water so the herbs don’t burn.
Strain the decoction through a fine-mesh sieve and into a heat-proof measuring cup. Press the herbs to release as much of the decoction as possible. You should have 1 cup of decoction.
Note: if you have too much decoction, return it to the pan and boil to reduce it. If you have too little, add enough water to reach 1 cup.
Allow the decoction to cool to room temperature, then stir in the lemon juice, zest, and honey.
Label with the name and date made, then store it in the refrigerator. Use within 2-4 weeks, depending on how much honey is used. Remember, more honey prolongs the shelf life.
This gives you a thin syrup but preserves the health-promoting qualities of raw honey. If you’d rather have a thick syrup, you can add honey to the strained decoction and gently boil until it reaches the thickness you like.
Can You Can Eldberry Syrup?
People sometimes ask me if they can preserve their elderberry syrup with water bath canning so it’s shelf-stable.
If you use enough sugar or honey, you technically can safely can elderberry syrup.
But since I use raw honey in our syrup, I prefer not to. I don’t want to deactivate any of the beneficial microbes and enzymes in the raw honey by canning it. Instead, if I make up more than our family can use, I freeze some.
If you opt to can it, make sure you know your syrup has enough sugar or honey and high enough acidity to safely can.
How Much and How Often to Take Elderberry Syrup
Dosing for elderberry syrup is flexible since it is also a food. Adults can take 1 tablespoon 1-2 times a day for general immune support or 1 tablespoon every 2-3 hours during sickness. Children can take 1 teaspoon 1-2 times a day for immune support or 1 teaspoon every 2-3 hours during sickness. Very young children can take half that dose.
You can also use this elderberry syrup in your kitchen. Try it on top of pancakes, in yogurt, mixed into herbal tea, on top of ice cream, or anywhere else you might use honey or maple syrup. This is a fabulous way to incorporate herbs into your daily life.
With this elderberry syrup at your side, you may just find that cold and flu season becomes a little more bearable. Who knew that a safe and effective herbal remedy could also be so delicious and simple to make?
Printable Recipe Card for Homemade Elderberry Syrup
Safe & Effective Homemade Elderberry Syrup
This safe and effective elderberry syrup is cost-effective, simple to make, and absolutely delicious! Use it daily to boost your immunity during cold and flu season.
- 40 grams dry elderberries (about 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
- 5 grams dry ginger root (about 1 tablespoon)
- 5 grams cinnamon chips (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2-1 cup honey (preferably rawl)
- Zest and juice from half of an organic lemon
- Place elderberries, ginger, and cinnamon chips in a medium saucepan with the water. If time permits, let it soak for 30 minutes or more.
- Bring the water and herbs to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a gentle boil and cook, uncovered, for around 30 minutes to make a decoction. The water should decrease by half, but add more water if it cooks off too fast.
- Strain the herbs from the decoction using a metal mesh strainer over a large measuring cup. You should have 1 cup of decoction.
- Allow the decoction to cool for 10-15 minutes, then add the lemon juice, zest, and honey. More honey prolongs the shelf-life.
- Cap your jar, label with the name and date made, and use within 2-4 weeks.
General dosing is as follows:
- Adults can take 1 tablespoon 1-2 times per day for general immune support. During sickness, 1 tablespoon can be taken every 2-3 hours.
- Children can take 1 teaspoon 1-2 times per day for general immune support. During sickness, 1 teaspoon can be taken every 2-3 hours.
- Young children (under 5) can take 1/2 teaspoon 1-2 times per day for general immune support. During sickness, 1/2 teaspoon can be taken every 2-3 hours.
For a thicker syrup, you can boil the decoction, lemon, and honey together until it reaches the thickness you prefer.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 44Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 11mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 0gSugar: 11gProtein: 0g
Approximated per adult serving with 1 cup of honey in final syrup.
Is it important to separate out stems and light brown berries? Both are mixed in the dried elderberries I received from Starwest botanicals. It seems very difficult to separate them, but I don’t want to risk an unhealthy syrup. Thanks!
If I see stems or light berries in my dried elderberries, I do pick them out. But I also don’t stress about a few here or there. Since you’re cooking the syrup, some light berries and a few stems aren’t a big issue. But if you’re concerned that your batch of elderberries has a lot of light berries and/or stems, you can always check in with Starwest to see what they say. Have fun making your syrup!
Hi I made This but didn’t let the mixture cool before adding honey. I poured The syrup hot into the jar with honey. Did I ruin It?
No, you didn’t ruin it, Kristine. Whew! 🙂 I like to let the decoction cool before adding the raw honey so the heat-sensitive compounds in the honey aren’t destroyed. But those are just an added bonus in the syrup. What you have is still good medicine, so don’t hesitate to use and enjoy it.
Could you can elderberry syrup for a longer shelf life?
Hi Dawn! I get this question a lot, so I should add a section to the post to answer your question. 🙂
I don’t can my elderberry syrup for a number of reasons. Primarily, I like using raw honey in our syrup, so heating it to can it would destroy the honey’s benefits. Second, I don’t know exactly how much sugar/honey would be needed to safely waterbath can the syrup. If there isn’t enough sugar in a waterbath canning recipe, it isn’t shelf stable and could become dangerous to ingest. I do a lot of “winging it” in the kitchen, but never with canning recipes. 🙂 The alternative would be pressure canning, but I would need to see evidence that the high heat and pressure process doesn’t destroy the medicinal value of the syrup.
You can make up a big batch of the syrup and freeze it if you want to keep some at the ready, though. Hope that helps!
How long does the elderberry syrup stay good for in the refrigerator? Can you reboil it and not loose it’s benefits? Thank you!
Hi Karla. As mentioned in the post, it’s best to use this within 2-4 weeks. If you use more honey, it’ll last longer since the sugar content extends the shelf-life. You can also add a small amount of high-proof alcohol, like vodka, to extend the shelf-life. I personally wouldn’t reboil it after making it. Most beneficial plant compounds start to break down with extended cooking. If you think you may not be able to use all the syrup up before it goes bad, you can make a half batch. Hope that helps!
Thank you for the recipe. I am looking forward to making your other recipes here too. Could we use a combo of maple syrup/raw honey as the sweetener for the syrup? Will it help it to last longer as just using honey does? I want to thicken it a bit by boiling with the maple and then add the raw honey when its cool. Thanks.
Hi Maria. You can use any sweetener you’d like in the syrup. Raw honey has medicinal benefits that maple syrup doesn’t, so that’s why it’s usually the sweetener of choice for elderberry syrup. But you’ll still end up with something great using maple syrup! Shelf life should be about the same since it’s the sugar content keeping the syrup from spoiling. I think the method you described sounds like a smart one. Have fun!
Can this recipe be made with fresh elderberries? And if so, would it be the same amount (i.e. 1/3 c. plus 1 tablespoon)?
You can make elderberry syrup with fresh berries, but the measurements would be different since you won’t need as much water. The berries themselves would provide most of it. I haven’t made syrup with fresh berries yet (my plants are still pretty small) but would likely start with 2-3 times the amount of dried berries and just a half cup of water or so, then simmer down to get the juice out and reduce by half.
Interested to know if anyone else has used fresh berries atall. Luckily we have an elderberry bush in our garden (previous owner planted it) & would love to be able to use these berries for our elderberry syrup if possible 😀 x
Hi Megan! I need to update this with fresh berry instructions now that my own bushes are finally producing lots. Until then, this post from The Nerdy Farm Wife gives some easy instructions. I hope that helps!
Thanks for clearing up all the conflicting info about elderberries! I feel confident I could make it now. Just wondering the difference between cinnamon chips and regular cinnamon sticks and dry ginger versus powdered ginger? And could they be used interchangeably?
So glad to hear this helped you, Jenna! Cinnamon chips are just small pieces of cinnamon sticks, and dry ginger pieces are small pieces of dry ginger instead of being a powder. You can certainly use them interchangeably if that’s what you have. You just might end up with some ginger powder in your final syrup, but that’s no biggie. 🙂
My mom makes elderberry juice with her steam juicer and then will put honey in and can it. Is that a safe method? Also would I have to take more of the juice to get in the same health properties as the decoction?
Thank you for the recipe! I have some dried elderberries that I’ve been waiting to use !
Hi Kari! I don’t have any experience using a steam juicer, but it looks like it doesn’t press the berries, right? Pressed elderberry juice could cause problems for some people because of the cyanogenic glycosides in the seeds (that’s what people drank in the 1984 case I linked to). But if the berries aren’t pressed, my thinking is that the finished juice wouldn’t contain any or much of the problematic glycosides. The juice is processed with additional heat, too, so I would lean towards it being a safe elderberry preparation. Of course, testing it to see what compounds are in the finished juice would be the only way to tell, but if you’ve drunk it before without problems, it’s probably just fine.
And yes, you’d take more juice than syrup to get the immune-boosting benefits since it isn’t as concentrated as the syrup.
Do u hunk u could sweeten it with a little stivia?
I think I should of proof read my question before posting 😊 Do you think it could be sweetened with stivia?
Hi Pearlann. You can sweeten with stevia, but if you reduce the sugar content, the syrup will spoil quickly. I’m all for reducing sugar, too, so I understand feeling a little hesitant to add so much honey, sugar, or syrup! But the sweeteners actually prevent spoilage and help the syrup last longer in the refrigerator.
If you really want to avoid the sugar, you could make the elderberry decoction, sweeten with stevia, and freeze the decoction in ice cube trays. Pop the cubes in a freezer bag when they’re solid, and then use as needed.
But all in all, you end up with a very small bit of sugar when you take the syrup. The beneficial herbal properties really help offset any negative results from sugar, too. I hope that helps!