Getting Ready for Fall - Elderberry Syrup

It's that time of year again! The weather here in Denver is a delightful 70 degrees, with cool nights (although a hot weekend is just around the corner). I'm starting to clear out the annuals from my medicinal herb garden and mulch the perennials for winter. I've got my eye on a few roots to harvest later on - dandelion, chicory, echinacea, and marshmallow. I've stocked up on umcka for cold season, and today I am making my elderberry syrup. My recipe can be adjusted to suit your needs and tastes. A basic elderberry syrup is just three ingredients: elderberries, honey, and distilled water. To this, you can add herbs that make you feel good. Sometimes, I'll add echinacea, ginger, and maybe rose hips and hibiscus.

Elderberries have been shown to be more effective against the flu virus than prescription antiviral. In Europe, there are a number of commercial products that offer this protection, but you can make your own for much less - and have better control over the ingredients! It's easy to do and you'll thank yourself later if colds and flu come for a visit. I always use dried elderberries. Red elderberries can be toxic. You should always cook elderberries before consuming.

Echinacea is shown in many studies to help with alleviating symptoms of colds. Some research suggests that it's an immune booster, so it should be avoided by anyone who is taking immune suppressant drugs or who has an autoimmune disorder, as it can create unwanted or dangerous complications.  Don't add this herb if you have an autoimmune disease, as its immune boosting powers might send you into a flare, which will only make your recovery harder.

Ginger is used universally in herbal medicine. It is shown to ease inflammation, soothe upset tummies, and many other beneficial effects . If you have a little nausea with your flu, the ginger will help calm your tummy.

Rose hips are wonderfully high in vitamin C. Vitamin C is very helpful in kicking cold and flu symptoms. Plus, they add a tangy flavor to the syrup.

Hibiscus flowers make that beautiful rose colored tea that everyone seems to be drinking these days. Hibiscus is also high in vitamin C. One study also showed that hibiscus tea can lower your blood pressure.   I should advise that if you do take blood pressure medications, you need to check with your physician before using hibiscus for any purpose.

Here's my recipe. Like I mentioned earlier, all you need are elderberries, distilled water, and honey. The rest of the ingredients are totally optional. Be sure you know your allergies and food sensitivities. Also, check your medications for any interactions. It's your responsibility to know what you're putting in your body. Just because it is on the internet doesn't mean it's safe for you. You should ALWAYS consult your physician before taking an herbal remedy or giving it to a child. I'm an herbalist, but I'm not a physician. I trust this recipe enough to take myself or give to my kids. I also trust you'll be smart enough to make wise choices for your family.

Soothing Elderberry Syrup

1/2 cup dried elderberries

3 cups distilled water

1 cup honey

1 Tbsp dried ginger root (don't use powdered ginger, it will cloud the syrup)

1 Tbsp dried rose hips

1 Tbsp dried hibiscus flowers

1 Tbsp dried echinacea root or herb


You can use echinacea or hibiscus tea bags to get these herbs if you don't want to buy in bulk. Mountain Rose Herbs always has a great selection of quality herbs in stock. They are my primary source of herb material when I make my medicines. Add all the ingredients EXCEPT THE HONEY to a saucepan. I actually placed my ginger and echinacea in a refillable tea bag because they were pretty finely ground, and I didn't want to have floating pieces in my syrup. When all the cooking is done, I'll toss all the plant material in the compost bin. Great for next year's plants! Make a note of the height of the liquid at this point, as you'll be reducing by half, and knowing your starting point is important. Once you have all the dry ingredients in your pan with the water, turn on the heat to somewhere in the medium range, until you start to see the liquid simmering. Then turn it down as low as you can to still maintain the simmer. Stir frequently, and use your spoon to press the liquid out of the plant ingredients to get the best benefit from the herbs.

Let the liquid simmer for 30-45 minutes or until it is reduced by about half. Smash the berries and strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer or sieve. Be careful because the mixture is VERY HOT (not that I have any personal experience with this....just sayin'). It should be obvious, but this liquid is a very dark red color, and it will stain. Clean up any spills immediately and do your best to minimize splashing. Let the liquid cool for about 15 minutes so that it will not overheat the honey and destroy its beneficial enzymes. 140F is about as hot as you want honey to ever get.

Mix the honey in to the syrup. Pour the syrup into a jar and seal tightly. Label the jar, because I promise you'll forget what it is when you clean out the refrigerator in a month. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, give or take. Certainly take a smell and look at the syrup before you take any. I put mine in a secondary refrigerator that doesn't see much use, so it stays dark and cold, prolonging the life of the syrup. Finally, put a reminder on your calendar two months from today to make the next batch. Never fear if you have not used the syrup. Remember that ice cream and pie? Syrup can also be helpful for prevention, too!

Once you've got everything mixed together, you should have about 2 1/2 cups of syrup. You can split the recipe if you like, or share your delicious, healing syrup with a friend.

If I were taking this, I'd start with 2-3 teaspoons three or four times a day. Children ages 3-6 can take 1/2 teaspoon three times a day, and ages 6-12 can take 1-2 teaspoons. Start with a smaller amount and ensure you don't have any reaction before you increase the amount you take. Children under age 3 should not use this syrup because of the risk of botulism from the honey. You can make a similar syrup and substitute vegetable glycerine for the honey if you want to give it to younger kids. This syrup is also delicious over ice cream and warm pie if you have a craving for dessert. As soon as you start feeling a little under the weather, get out this syrup and start taking it. The quicker you start, the easier time you'll have.

Lisa Akerscold, elderberry, flu, immunity, recipe