Prevent Colds & Flu with DIY Elderberry Syrup

There are so many great ways to support your winter health with herbs.  Starting with simple dietary additions (like garlic!) and ending with soothing choices to make your cold or flu more tolerable and shorter, herbs are my go-to for prevention and treatment.

One of the tastiest herbal allies, however, is the elderberry.

This shrubby perennial plant has been used as medicine for centuries to support health and well-being.  I often see it growing naturally in moist soils, but it has also historically been planted at the edge of gardens as the protector of the garden.  Even its name, Elder, speaks to its wise and respected role in our collective medicine chest.

Elder’s lacy, delicate flowers, and bright purplish-black berries can both be used for their medicinal properties.  The flowers are diaphoretic meaning that they help to lower fevers by inducing sweating.  It is a common ingredient in many cold-care tea formulas.

The berries are rich in vitamins C & A, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, and phytosterols.  They are often used in prevention and treatment of colds because of their ability to boost the immune system.  As an antiviral, they are helpful in treating upper respiratory viruses including colds and flu, but have also been used in treatments for other viruses such as herpes and shingles.  Elderberry’s effectiveness is not just an “herban” legend, but its ability to reduce the duration of the flu and to fight viruses has been published in a number of scientific articles (links to abstracts in the resources below).

As a food, elderberry can be consumed as a jam, wine, or in pies, but it’s easiest to use as preventative medicine or for treating cold and flu when made into a tasty syrup.  Luckily, it’s really pretty easy to do, too!  I even made a handy graphic . . .

Elderberry syrup

So, to recap…gather 1/2 cup of dried elderberries.  Feel free to add some other nourishing or medicinal herbs to the mix.  I chose to add cinnamon chips and ginger.  Echinacea is another popular choice.  Place these in a pot with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer together until the liquid is reduced in half (this should take about 45 minutes).

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Strain the berries from the liquid.

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Get a nice flat spoon to press the juice out of the berries.  You should end up with about 1 cup of elderberry liquid.

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Once the liquid has cooled, add 1 cup of raw, local honey (other honeys will do, but raw & local has the most magic!) to the juice.  If you ended up with a lot more or less juice than 1 cup, you can adjust the amount of honey you add.  Ideally, you’re aiming for half elderberry juice and half honey.

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That’s it, you’ve made your syrup!

So how do I use this stuff?

Remember, elderberries are generally thought of as a food so there’s not really a correct dosage.  Just make sure to cook the berries before eating them as the raw seeds can cause stomach upset!

As a general guideline, adults can take 1 or 2 tablespoons a day while children can take 1 -2 teaspoons (please remember that children under 1 are not advised to eat honey) as a preventative measure.  If you come down with symptoms of cold/flu, increase the dosage to 3 or 4 times a day, or whenever you think of taking it, really!

We’re onto our second batch of elderberry syrup this season.  It’s just too easy to take a dose each day so it doesn’t stay around for very long (Mr. LF likes a shot glass full in the morning).  I think we’ve already helped to keep a few colds away.

Just a few days ago I felt my throat getting scratchy and knew that something had entered my body.  I started taking elderberry syrup every couple of hours along with my echinacea tincture and I’m still cold free several days later.

Where do I find elderberries?

Harvesting elderberries from your own shrubs is surely the most awesome way to make elderberry syrup, but there are some other options.  The second best one I can think of is to support your local herbalist and/or herb farm!

Elderberries are also available for purchase through Mountain Rose Herbs and I sell an elderberry syrup kit in my Etsy shop.

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{Edited: This was also available in last year’s Winter Wellness Basket and I previously had additional information about that here.  You can find out about our current seasonal wellness box by visiting HERE!).

winter wellness

Enjoy your elderberries!

Some Scientific Abstracts about Elderberry…

Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro

Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama

Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections

Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro

and more, including research on the use of elderberry with HIV

Other Helpful Resources

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs

Rosalee de la Foret’s Ultimate Guide to Elderberries

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