There are many beautiful plants and herbs that can serve us well over the cold winter months. One of my favourites comes from the native elder shrub. This beautiful tree grows right here in Cornwall, and as if by magic, the berries are ready for harvesting just before the flu season – exactly the time we need them most. There’s something so nurturing about making your own home made remedies, which are often more effective than expensive shop bought alternatives. Here are a few of my favourite tried and tested methods for making rich elderberry syrups and vinegars that not only taste delicious, but are guaranteed to keep colds, flu and winter bugs at bay. I encourage you to have a go.
Respect your elders!
Elderberries have long been known for their immune enhancing properties. For this reason, they’re a really useful addition to any home medicine cabinet. If you’d like to have a go at making your own elderberry brews, there really couldn’t be anything simpler. This delicious syrup is just the tonic at the time of year when folks are prone to catching bugs or generally feeling below par.
Did you know:
- In clinical trials, patients that were given elderberry syrup (4 times a day for 5 days) recovered on average 4 days faster than those who received a placebo
- In 1995, the government of Panama sanctioned the use of elderberry juice to help bring an end to the flu epidemic
- Elderberries are listed in the 2000 Mosby’s Nursing Drug Reference Guide as a viable supplement for colds, flu, yeast infections, nasal / chest congestion, and hay fever
- Just recently, a leading British medical research institute announced that elderberry extract was 99% effective against avian (bird) flu
Elderberries contain lashings of vitamins A, B and C, and are packed chock full of anti-oxidants which help to protect cells from damage. In addition to helping fight off colds and flu, they’ve also been shown to help support heart health, improve eyesight and reduce inflammation in conditions like tonsillitis. This is because they contain flavonoids which may account for some of these therapeutic actions.
How to make your own home-made elderberry syrup
Below you’ll find two of my very best tried and trusted syrup recipes.They’re guaranteed to bolster your defence against winter germs and gear up your immune system. You can easily whip up a batch in an afternoon. Here’s my step by step guide:
This is the method I use to make children’s syrup as it doesn’t contain any alcohol. It will last for about a month if kept refrigerated. The resulting remedy is pleasant to take, which is always a bonus when it comes to getting herbs into little ones.
Try it drizzled over Greek yogurt and breakfast muesli for a morning boost, or add a teaspoon to a small glass of warm water and honey to instantly soothe sore throats. The recipe below makes approximately 400 ml.
You will need:
- 100 g of dried elderberries
- 4 cups of water
- ¼ oz of fresh ginger
- A small handful of cloves
- 200 ml of the best runny honey you can get your hands on (local is always best)
- A kilner jar or large bottle with an airtight cap to store the finished remedy
(Note: Always use whole berries when making elderberry syrup. Ground elderberries or powder will initiate a strong response and can cause nausea or vomiting. See below.)
- Put the berries in a pan and cover them with water. Bring the liquid to a boil*
- Next, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Loosely cover the pan with a lid so that the liquid doesn’t evaporate
- Strain off the liquid and discard the berries
- Next, grate the ginger and add this to the liquid along with the cloves
- Simmer again for another 45-60 minutes
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow the whole thing to cool down to room temperature before stirring in the honey
- Store the syrup in sterilised, airtight bottles and refrigerate.
*The cooking stage is important: elder berries should not be consumed uncooked as they contain a cyanogenic glycoside called sambunigrin which can be harmful in high dosage. Fortunately sambunigrin is volatile, evaporating at around 27˚C, so boiling renders them perfectly safe. It goes without saying that as with any home made preparation, be sure to sterilise all your kitchen equipment both during the making process and before bottling.
Take two teaspoons every 3 hours at the onset of a cold or flu. Note: Children should be given half the adult dose. Do NOT give this syrup to children under the age of five. This is because honey has spores in it that can cause botulism in young children. Please remember to always err on the side of caution and consult with your GP before taking any herbal preparations.
Method 2: Instant Pot Elderberry Syrup
This is an adaptation of a recipe I discovered on a blog over at Don’t Mess with Mama. The Instant pot is basically an electric pressure cooker which is really easy to use. Having been given one as a gift last Christmas, it was the perfect opportunity to trial some no fuss herbal syrups and infusions. The following recipe makes a delicious tasting, potent medicine, that can be enjoyed by all the family.
- 3 cups filtered water
- 1 cup dried elderberries
- 1 cup local honey
- 1 orange (zest and juice)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
Add all ingredients to the Instant Pot and set for manual / pressure cooking on high for 10 minutes. Do a quick release, and then strain the syrup into a large bowl to remove the plant material. While the syrup is still warm, add the honey and mix well. Pour into a kilner jar or airtight bottle. Once cooled, store in the fridge. Take 1 – 2 teaspoons daily as a preventative (please note that as with the first method, this is not suitable for children under 5, otherwise, older children should take half the adult dose.) The syrup should last up to a month in the fridge.
DIY Elderberry shrub
If you want to make something really delicious you can include in your everyday wellness kit, then I can’t recommend this method highly enough. The following recipe is adapted from a a post on Galloway Wild Foods blog.
It’s technically a “shrub.” a sharp, sweet drinking vinegar with a wonderfully moreish flavour which makes it hard to believe it’s a powerful medicine.
- Weigh out 250g of dried elderberries and place them into a sterilised Kilner jar.
- Add 750 ml of apple cider vinegar
- Leave covered for about 5 days stirring occasionally
- Strain off the liquid and discard the spent berries.
- Add 350g of sugar per 260ml of liquid. I use organic golden granulated sugar.
- Simmer for 30 minutes then bottle.
Further medical information about elderberry syrup:
There is some debate as to whether or not elderberries are suitable for people who have auto-immune conditions. This is because of their apparent ability to ramp up the immune system. Personally I haven’t heard of anyone suffering any ill effects from taking the syrup, as the anti-inflammatory properties of elderberries often counteract any ill effect and may actually help people with auto-immune issues. Elderberries don’t just stimulate the immune system, but strengthen the mucous membranes and support the body’s natural healing mechanisms. However, if you’re at all unsure about any possible contraindications with your current medication or have concerns about taking elderberries for any reason whatsoever, please feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com and I’ll do my very best to help.
Finally, if you don’t have the time or resources to make your own elderberry syrup, but would like to have some on standby for emergencies, I do make small batches of syrup for sale during flu season.
You can buy that from me here:
How to make rosehip and elderberry syrup
Health benefits of elderberries (Sambucus nigra)
Traditional and modern uses of Elder
How to stock your winter home apothecary: Herbal allies for colder months
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