Thursday, January 10, 2013

Homemade Elderberry Syrup for Cold and Flu


Most over-the-counter cold and flu medicines are for "kids 6 and older" or "4 and older," and the only thing I found at my local drugstore for children 1 and over was honey "cough syrup."  Really, that's all it was.  Honey and water, and preservatives.  "Hmm," I thought, "Thanks, but no thanks, I seem to recall having honey at home in my kitchen..."


So what is a concerned mother to do when her whole posse of kids who are NOT "6 and older" is in the midst of cold and flu season?  Why, make Elderberry Syrup, of course!

Elderberry, traditionally called "the country person's medicine chest," has been used medicinally since ancient times.  It contains anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, compounds which can help relieve nasal or chest congestion.  But its real claim to fame is in fighting the flu.  In studies done in Israel in 1993 and 1996, an Elderberry remedy was proven 99% effective at fighting flu viruses.  And honey (the other main ingredient in the syrup) has been proven just as effective of a cough suppressant as dextromethorphan (which is in most over-the-counter cough syrups).

I say "make" elderberry syrup, not "buy," because 4 ounces of this stuff will set you back more than $12 at my local store.  Plus, it may contain delightful additions like Xantham Gum and "mango, raspberry and cherry flavors."  What?  Do I really need mango flavor added to my kid's berry syrup?  

So, instead of paying over $12 for 4 ounces, I made 32 ounces of elderberry syrup for about $5.  

For the discount-savvy among us, that's like a sale sign that says, "93% OFF!"  

Plus, my version contains only water, elderberry juice, and honey.

Here is the recipe, as adapted from the version at Modern Alternative Mama:
(Note!  This is only for children OVER 1 year old!*)

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

4 cups water
1 cup dried elderberries
1 cup honey (I used 1/2 raw and 1/2 normal)

1. Combine dried elderberries and water in a saucepan. 

2. Heat to a boil over medium heat, and boil for 2-3 minutes. 

3. Turn off heat and let steep for an additional 10-15 minutes.  

4. Strain out berries, and allow remaining juice to cool to room temperature (or at least less than 118 degrees if you want the honey to stay "raw"!), and then stir honey into elderberry juice. 

5. Store in quart size container in the refrigerator.  According to the expert, this will keep in the fridge for a month or two (the honey acts as a natural preservative).

So, where do you get dried elderberries?  Well, apparently, there are some on a bush up the road from my house if you want to swing by in early August...  yeah, I didn't get mine there either (I didn't know what they were used for in August).  I got mine on Amazon because Mountain Rose Herbs was sold out.  Apparently, I'm not the only one interested in making elderberry syrup!  

My elderberries came in a lovely 1 lb. package.

1 cup is about a quarter of the package, so I should be able to make syrup 3 more times from this batch.

Since it's not a good idea to give honey to baby Euclid, I made him a separate batch with no honey, and froze it in ice cube trays so I can defrost it a week at a time or so.  

*A word about the age restriction: Even if you boil the honey in the syrup instead of adding it later, you should not give this stuff to babies under 1.  Honey can contain botulism spores, which an infant's stomach is not equipped to deal with.  Boiling is notoriously ineffective against botulism spores (hence the need for pressure canning some items at extra-high temps), so your open saucepan on the stove won't kill the suckers.  Maybe there is a safe temperature to pressure cook honey at to make this safe for babies, but I don't know, don't want to risk it, and since Euclid will be force-fed this stuff with a syringe anyway, I don't care if it is not super sweet (it's not horrible without honey, just has a shorter shelf life). 


  1. What is elderberry syrup supposed to do exactly? Is it a cough suppressant?

    1. Haha, that's a fantastic question. I am editing the original post to answer this, but I'll answer here too. Studies show that elderberry reduces inflammation, especially sinus inflammation. Traditionally, it is used to boost immunity and fight cold, flu, measles, dysentery, etc. It's often made into a wine, tea, or jelly and just enjoyed for its flavor, as well. Just don't eat the berries raw, because they can contain cyanide, which breaks down when they are cooked. The honey in the syrup is for cough suppressant purposes, and some people add additional ingredients like echinacea or ginger, to make it even more potent.

  2. How do you store your berries until you make another batch?

  3. Since the berries came thoroughly dried, and I plan to make a batch a month or so, I am just storing them in an airtight container in my cupboard. For long term storage, the freezer would be a good option, or I could add an oxygen remover to my airtight storage container, I guess. But mine will be gone by spring.

  4. What "dosage" amount do you use for the kids?

    1. If we are currently healthy and preventing cold/flu, we do a teaspoon a day. If we're in the thick of an illness, a teaspoon an hour.

  5. This really IS a problem. It's so hard when they are so miserable, I think I need to make some of this. I'm really glad that you shared this!

    1. Yes, it's so hard when they're so sick and you feel like you can't do a thing for them! Good luck!

  6. Would the honey free option be safe for a 14 week old baby?

    1. I'm not totally sure - that would be a great thing to ask your pediatrician. :)

  7. Hi Danielle,
    I know that elderberry syrup is a wonderful natural remedy for colds, flu and such. Using the dried elderberries is great idea and your recipe sounds so easy to make. Thanks for sharing on Real Food Fridays. Pinned & tweeted! Just wanted to say Welcome to Real Food Fridays since I believe this is your first time on our blog hop and I hope to see you each and every week.


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