Learn how to make a huge batch of elderberry syrup using purchased, or foraged, dried berries and just a handful of other ingredients.
A year ago, just as COVID-19 was starting to affect the world and I was thinking I would never leave the farm again, the first thing I thought about was having an adequate supply of elderberry syrup in the house. At some expense you can purchase it just about anywhere now, along with capsules, lozenges and elderberry cough syrup. All are quite effective.
However, with the ease of concocting something on your stove, why not make your own? If you don’t have access to an elderberry patch in late summer, the next best thing is purchasing bulk dried berries, affordably, from many places online.
How to Find or Grow Elderberries
The American black elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is a species of elderberry and common shrub native to much of the United States, including the South. It grows mostly in sunny locations along roadsides and the dappled, wooded spots near streams or around damp sections of swale. Like blackberries in the South, elderberries, prefer those hard to access places where we like to avoid snakes and chiggers.
If you do find a good roadside cache of blossoms in early summer and want to return in late summer to harvest them, take some bright surveyor’s tape and tie it to the bushes when you see them blooming. Otherwise, the berries will fade into their surroundings and late season wild flowers.
Those frondy and beautifully scented white blossom clusters can also be picked and made into elderflower water and cordials. The juice from fresh berries also makes a fine jelly or wine.
Like other berries, they can also be cultivated (to learn all about that, check out: Elderberries: The Ultimate Cash Crop for your Rural Land). You can order bare root plants from places like Burpee, Norm’s Farms and other nurseries. Elderberries are easy to grow in the right spot in your garden or yard and also make an attractive landscape plant. Just keep an eye out for birds in berry season!
Some Health Benefits of Elderberries
In 400 BC, Hippocrates described the elder tree as his “medicine chest.” In Europe the Sambucus nigra can grow quite large but the health benefits of the American varieties are equal.
Elderberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamins and are believed to reduce inflammation and help the immune system during flu and cold season. They are particularly high in Vitamin C and extensive studies have been done as to their antiviral properties.
I’ve taken elderberry tincture or capsules throughout the past ten winters and have never had a flu (or a flu shot), and only the occasional light cold every few years, or strep throat. Elderberry also minimizes the effects and duration of a virus. [NOTE: there are extensive reports online from clinical medical trials which show the success of elderberry for its antiviral and antibacterial properties, as well as anti-inflammatory traits.]
This recipe is created using dried berries, from the Sambucus nigra variety, purchased online. Perhaps in late summer I can do another batch from fresh berries to show you how to make juice and syrup, as it’s two different processes.
CAUTION: Cooked ripe elderberries are edible. Unripe elderberries are poisonous. Raw berries can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, among other symptoms, so be sure to cook them before eating. Cooking the berries also improves their flavor.
How to Make Elderberry Syrup
You can make smaller batches of the tincture if desired by reducing quantities.
- Large kettle or Dutch oven
- Quart measuring jar
- Potato masher or large spoon
- Sharp knife and cutting board
- Large sieve
- 4 cups dried berries (equal to 1 pound of dried berries)
- 2 Tablespoons dried cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped fresh ginger
- 1 cup local honey (you can adjust to taste)
NOTE: Addition of fresh ginger and cinnamon, or honey, is optional. All have their own health benefits, as well as flavor. You can also experiment with dried herbs to add to your “brew,” like echinacea powder. Make sure to research the medicinal properties of any herb first.
- Measure dried berries and put in kettle
- Add 10-12 cups water
- Add cinnamon and chopped fresh ginger (rough chop is fine)
- Bring “brew” to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for 45 minutes
- After it has simmered and cooked down a bit, strain brew through a large sieve into another kettle
- Add honey and stir to dissolve
- Gently press berries in sieve for full extraction and allow to sit undisturbed for a short time
After your brew is ready you can do one of the following:
- Cook down even further, on low, to reduce water volume (brew will become more syrupy)
- Can in jars according to canning instructions
- Keep in jars for up to a few months in your refrigerator
- Decant into smaller bottles for gifts (keep refrigerated!)
How to use:
- Take a tablespoon a day during flu and cold season (but always check with your doctor if you have an existing condition, allergies or any other concerns)
- Mix into flavored water for a healthful tonic
Makes 7-9 cups of tincture, depending on if you boil it down a bit, or not.