Herbalism How-To: Elderberry Syrup
While the weather is warming up here in Atlanta (it is 65 degrees right now!!!!), flu season is still in full swing - and dang, this year's strain is powerful. Even if you got the flu shot, you're at risk. According to a recent report by the CDC, this year's flu shot has only proved 36% effective in combatting the deadly influenza virus that has been going around and they expect several more weeks of circulation.³
Yikes. I personally do not get flu shots (another post for another day), but I'm doing all that I can to keep my immune system strong short of completing locking myself in my house until summer. As someone with a compromised immune system, it is very important for me to employ all the natural remedies I can to boost my body's resilience. My personal favorite? Elderberry syrup.
Elderberries have been used for centuries to fight the flu and support overall immune health. You can enjoy the benefits of elderberries in a syrup, tincture, or tea. I prefer the syrup because it tastes the best! Elderberry syrup combines the berries of Sambucus nigra with water, spices, and honey (or other sweetener) to create an immune boosting elixir that can be taken daily to prevent illness. Not only does elderberry help prevent you from getting sick, there have also been multiple clinical trials showing elderberry's ability to shorten the length of time we suffer from cold or flu symptoms. File that under *things I wish I knew when I had H1N1.
So how does Elderberry boost our immune system?
The exact mechanism by which elderberry works to strengthen our immune system and help us fight infections isn't entirely clear. However, evidence suggests that black elderberry can boost our immune system in three ways:
Elderberry can increase and regulate cytokines in our immune systems.² Cytokines are a group of proteins secreted by cells of the immune system that act as chemical messengers.
Antioxidants in black elderberry help fend off pathogens + allergens and protect us against oxidative stress.²
Black elderberry displays anti-viral activity. Experiments have suggested that chemical compounds in elderberries can block infection by directly inhibiting viral infection. Laboratory studies have demonstrated that elderberry can inhibit both the influenza virus A, B, and the herpes simplex virus.²
According to Gaia Herbs, "Using Elderberry syrup during the active stage of colds and flu, to minimize distress, appears to support immune function and offers a natural, safe, and effective option. The use of Elderberry as part of a daily wellness plan during cold and flu season for immune support, inhibition of oxidative stress, and as an antiviral makes sense for a healthy immune system." There have also been no adverse effects of elderberry reported in human clinical trials.¹
If you're trying to avoid the flu this season, try taking a dose of elderberry syrup daily to boost your immunity or if you're already down with the sickness, take a dose every few hours. In my experience, elderberry has helped me fend off the flu for the last 5 years and helps me beat a cold within 72 hours.
Make your own elderberry syrup:
There are many variations for elderberry syrup but the principles are the same: you make a decoction of black elderberries in water, add honey, and store it in the refrigerator. If you want to make your syrup shelf stable and last longer, add alcohol or tinctures to the final product. You'll want to make sure that 20-25% of your syrup is alcohol by volume.
4 cups cold water
2 cups organic dried Elderberries
1 organic cinnamon stick
1 tsp fresh grated organic ginger root or organic dried ginger root
raw local honey (or organic agave syrup for a vegan recipe)
Combine the berries and herbs with cold water in a pot and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and allow herbs to simmer covered for 40 minutes.
Remove from heat and mash the berries in the liquid mixture.
Strain the berries and herbs through cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.
Measure the liquid and add an equal amount of honey. Gently heat the honey and juice for a few minutes until well combined. Do not boil!
Bottle in sterilized glass and add your alcohol/tinctures if desired. Store in the refrigerator for 6-8 months.
That's it! Super easy and makes enough syrup for you, your friends, and family to enjoy all flu season. This recipe can also be used as a topping for pancakes or added to sparkling water for a tasty beverage. The standard dose for prevention is ½ tsp to 1 tsp for kids and ½ Tbsp to 1 Tbsp for adults. If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day until symptoms disappear. Please note that elderberries must be cooked before ingesting them.
Need Elderberry Syrup Fast?
Unfortunately, there is a bit of a shortage of elderberries on the market this year. But don't you worry, we've got you covered. Rather than making it yourself, try our take on this folk favorite. Our Elderberry Syrup is flavored with warming spices and aromatics for a tasty immune boosting elixir that even your little ones will enjoy!
Take daily to boost immunity during the cold season or use in acute situations to shorten the duration of a cold. Learn more about our elderberry syrup here.
A Note on Elderberry and Autoimmune Disorders
If you have an autoimmune disease like me, you may have heard that you shouldn't take herbs that stimulate the immune system. I've asked many herbalists about this to see what their experience is in regard to Elderberry and they tend to disagree. I disagree as well. In my personal experience, taking Elderberry Syrup is safe for me as long as I am not having an active autoimmune flare. Since Celiac Disease is easily managed by remaining completely gluten free, I feel that it is safe for me to take Elderberry Syrup as a preventative measure daily as long as I haven't been recently ill.
If you are still in the healing phase post-diagnosis or have recently suffered from cross-contamination, you may want to steer clear of elderberry syrup for a few weeks/months. Or, if your autoimmune disease is harder to manage and giving your chronic daily symptoms, consider avoiding immune boosters like elderberry and trying gentle immunomodulators instead. Whether elderberry syrup will actually cause you to have worsened autoimmune symptoms is yet to be known, so use your best judgement. Check in with your intuition, take a smaller dose, avoid it if it doesn't feel right - do whatever is best for you!
Stay well my friends,
Bove, D. (2010, January 1). Influenza and Elderberry. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from http://www.gaiaherbs.com/articles/detail/9/Influenza-and-Elderberry
Curran, D. (2017, August 9). 3 benefits of black elderberry syrup for our immune system -. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from http://www.ethnoherbalist.com/benefits-of-elderberry-black-elderberry-syrup-for-colds/
Flannery B, Chung JR, Belongia EA, et al. Interim Estimates of 2017–18 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:180–185. DOI:
Disclaimer: For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.