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No one likes being sick. 2020 has made everyone vigilant about staying healthy, even against colds and flus. Elderberry is a proven immunity booster, so I will share an easy elderberry syrup recipe below.
Just remember that elderberry is not a 100% shield against getting sick, but it boosts your immunity to help prevent illnesses or to increase recovery time. Thus, I always make my elderberry syrup recipe whenever anyone gets sick or may be exposed to illness in my house.
When Josh got the flu a couple of years ago, I gave elderberry syrup to him and everyone else in the house. He was over all flu symptoms in less than 2 days, and no one else in the house caught it.
I particularly make my elderberry syrup recipe around cold and flu season. Kids spread germs so easily, and no one wants to be sick during the holidays!
This elderberry syrup recipe is so easy and way cheaper than store-bought syrup. Because you can use dried elderberries, they will last. So, you can keep ingredients on hand to be ready to make elderberry syrup at a moment’s notice! (See the Ingredients section below.)
What is Elderberry?
Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is the species most studied and used for medicinal purposes. It is native to North America and Europe. Thus, a lot of dried elderberry is of European strains.
The elderberry plant also produces flowers that can be used for medicinal purposes, but elderberry syrup uses only the berries.
What Are Elderberry’s Health Benefits?
Elderberry’s most touted health benefit is its ability to prevent and fight viruses, including the flu.
Regarding the flu, studies reveal elderberry’s ability to prevent the flu virus from entering human cells and from reproducing in already infected human cells. It’s flu-fighting behaviors are extrapolated onto other types of viruses.
Elderberry also enhances your body’s immune response by stimulating communication between your cells to combat an invading virus.
Another study shows elderberry can improve upper respiratory symptoms from the common cold and flu.
Studies have also revealed elderberry’s antimicrobial properties, i.e. its ability to fight pathogenic bacteria like streptococcus.
Other Health Benefits
This scientific article identifies the following health benefits in elderberries: protein, various B vitamins, A vitamins, vitamin C, various minerals, and more.
Elderberry also contains polyphenol compounds, which contain antioxidant properties. Polyphenols can combat oxidative stress in your body and improve your immune system, glycemic load, blood pressure, and uric acid levels.
Covid-19 and Elderberry
Mixed opinions exist on whether to take elderberry for Covid-19. It seems undisputed that you can take elderberry to help prevent catching Covid-19, but opinions differ on whether to consume elderberry during an active Covid-19 infection.
No extensive research exists on the efficacy, safety, or dangers of taking elderberry during a COVID-19 infection. This medical article promotes trying elderberry during a COVID-19 infection, based on elderberry’s ability to fight similar viruses. However, the U.S. Government is conservative in not recommending elderberry for COVID-19 treatment where research is lacking.
Risk of Cyanide Poisoning
You might have heard that elderberry is poisonous. Yes, raw elderberry plant parts are toxic without proper processing.
Some people use elderberry stems and leaves, you should avoid them to be safe. Elderberry stems, seeds, and leaves contain cyanogenic glycosides that can form cyanide when consumed, i.e. a lethal poison.
Because raw elderberry seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides, you shouldn’t consume raw elderberries. Rather, you should berries have undergone sufficient heat processing to reduce the risk of cyanide.
If you buy dried elderberries that have been heat-processed and boil them, these processes can sufficiently break down cyanogenic glycosides to harmless levels.
No extensive study shows how long you must boil elderberries to adequately decrease the cyanogenic glucoside content, but studies have been done with cassava root. Although cyanogenic glucoside exists in a lot of plants and fruits (e.g. peach pits), cassava root is a popular food with higher levels.
One study revealed that when researchers chopped cassava root into pieces weighing 2 grams, then boiling the pieces for 30 minutes reduced the cyanide content by 75%.
Since one elderberry is smaller than a 2-gram piece of cassava root piece, we can assume boiling elderberries for less than 30 minutes will similarly reduce any potential cyanide.
An Important Consideration on Boiling Elderberries
Although you should boil elderberries to break down the cyanogenic glucosides, boiling elderberries for too long can also break down beneficial compounds.
This study showed boiling ripe elderberries for 40 minutes reduced anthocyanins (key immunity-boosting compounds) by 90%, whereas 20 minutes only resulted in a 20% reduction.
Many elderberry syrup recipes call for boiling your mixture for 40+ minutes, but this length of time greatly weakens elderberries’ beneficial effects.
Based on the prior discussion of sufficient time for breaking down cyanogenic glucosides and the fact that prolonged boiling will break down elderberries’ immunity-boosting compounds, 25-30 minutes should be sufficient for boiling your berries.
Ingredients You Will Need for the Elderberry Syrup Recipe
Here’s a list of some ingredients for our elderberry syrup recipe and reasons for their inclusion:
Dried/Fresh Organic Elderberries
Unless you know a local elderberry grower, it’s probably easiest for you to buy dried elderberries (I like this brand.), which also carry a longer shelf life. Several online retailers sell organic dried elderberries.
Pro Tip: retailers tend to sell out around peak cold and flu season, so get your berries before or after the peak season hits!
Raw honey contains benefits such as antioxidants, antimicrobial effects, anti-inflammatory effects, and anticancer properties.
Honey also helps preserve the elderberry syrup to last longer.
Based on all of the above benefits, I would recommend using honey instead of other sugars. (See our article on alternative sweeteners.) However, if you absolutely want to exclude honey (or use less), you can. Just keep in mind the elderberry syrup will taste less palatable and will keep for less time.
Cinnamon has the following documented health properties: antioxidants, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-cancer.
Cloves are not only aromatic, but have several health benefits that include the following properties: antioxidants, antibacterial, improved liver health, blood sugar regulation, various vitamins and minerals, and possible anti-cancer.
Because cloves can slow blood clotting and lower blood sugar, however, health professionals caution people against using cloves where these effects could be relevant.
Lemon and/or Orange Peel
Many people are actually unaware of lemon and orange peel health benefits. Most people routinely discard the peels, even though they contain most of the fruits’ beneficial compounds.
Citrus peels also have anti-cancer properties.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
Yield: 2.5 to 3 cups of syrup
- 1 cup of dried elderberries
- 3 cups of filtered water
- 1 cinnamon stick (or ½ tsp. ground cinnamon)
- 1 tsp. of whole cloves (or ¾ tsp. of ground cloves)
- 1 tbsp. fresh, minced ginger (or ¼ tsp. of ground ginger)
- Peels from one organic lemon and/or orange
- 1 cup. of raw honey
- Briefly rinse and strain the dried elderberries.
- Combine the elderberries, water, spices, and citrus peels in a pot (i.e. everything but the honey).
- Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature.
- Use a fine mesh strainer to strain the solids out of the liquid. You can use the back of a spoon against the strainer to squeeze remaining liquid out of the berries.
- Once the liquid is room temperature, add the raw honey. Stir (or shake the bottle with a lid) to combine, and store in the fridge.
- The consistency will be more of a thick liquid than a thick “syrup.”
- You must let the liquid sufficiently cool before adding the honey, or else the heat will kill beneficial antioxidants and enzymes in the raw honey.
- The syrup should last in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. (Omitting the honey will reduce its shelf life.)
- You can use an Instant Pot for steps 2-4 if you cook at high pressure for 10 minutes.
What Dosage Should You Take?
When taking elderberry syrup on a preventative basis, my kids and I take 1 tbsp. a day. (I give 1 tsp. to any kids under 6 years old.)
For kids under 1 year old: Because honey is not recommended for kids under 1 year old, you should either make a version without honey or not give elderberry syrup.
If already sick, then I administer the above dosages three times a day.
Keep in mind that elderberry or the other respective ingredients may counteract with certain medications or medical conditions. If you are on medication or have any medical condition, you should consult with a healthcare professional to ensure you can safely consume all of the ingredients in the elderberry syrup recipe.
Please comment below with how this elderberry syrup recipe works for you, or if you have any questions or helpful additions. Don’t be shy, because we really do love hearing from readers!