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 couple of my favourite tried and tested methods for making a rich elderberry syrup that not only tastes delicious, but is 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 brew, there really couldn’t be anything simpler. This delicious syrup is just the tonic at the time of year when you’re 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
- Research is currently underway into the immune enhancing properties of elderberries for the treatment of AIDS and cancer
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 recipes. These are the self same recipes I use to make my own small batch brews for sale in my dispensary. They’re guaranteed to blast away those winter germs and really rev up your immune system. You can whip up a quick batch in an afternoon, but if you have a little more patience, a more potent “elixir” can be made by steeping the berries for up to 4 weeks. Here’s my step by step guide:
Method 1 (Suitable for children)
This is the method I use to make children’s syrup as it doesn’t contain alcohol. It’s just as effective as the second method but as it doesn’t contain alcohol as a preservative, it won’t keep as long. For this reason I would recommend only making up small batches at a time and storing in a fridge. 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 and will last about a month.
(Note: Always use dried whole berries when making elderberry syrup. Ground elderberries or powder will initiate a strong response and can cause nausea or vomiting.)
You will need:
- 100 g of dried elderberries
- 3 cups of water
- ¼ oz of fresh ginger
- A small handful of cloves
- 150 ml of the best runny honey you can get your hands on (local is always best)
- A mason jar or large bottle with an airtight cap to store the finished remedy
- 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.
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 one. This is because honey has spores in it that can cause botulism in young children. After 12 months, the gut is usually acidic enough to kill these spores on its own.
Method 2: Elderberry “Liquor”
For a really powerful brew, the following method is the best. I always make up a huge batch at the end of September when the weather is on the turn. This method doesn’t require any heating which ensures that even more of the vitamin C content is preserved. If stored in a cool dark cupboard with an airtight seal, the medicine should last for about 12 months.
You will need:
- A pint Kilner jar with an airtight seal
- Dried elderberries
- A 70 cl bottle of the best quality brandy you can afford
- Honey again, (local is best)
- Fill your jar about 1/3 full of dried elderberries
- Cover the berries with honey and give the mixture a good stir to be sure they’re thoroughly coated
- Next, fill the jar with brandy, stirring as you go. This step is important as you need to remove any air bubbles to prevent the mixture from going bad
- Now cover the jar with a tight fitting lid.
- Shake carefully to finish the mixing process
- Let everything macerate in a cool, dark place for about four weeks (it’s always a good idea to mark the jar with a date so you’ll know when it’s ready to be bottled)
- Strain, and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
Take ½ to 1 teaspoon of the elixir at the first sign of illness. It’s important to take the mixture frequently, but don’t be tempted to take larger doses further apart as the medicine won’t have the same effect. Overdosing can also cause loose stools so do stick to the recommended dose. Due to the alcohol content, this preparation is not recommended for children.
As with any home made preparation, be sure to sterilise all your kitchen equipment both during the making process and before bottling.
*A quick note about elderberries:
Elderberries, when harvested and prepared correctly, are safe to consume, however, in the interests of safety, I don’t recommend you collect your own unless you’re 100% certain you know what you’re doing. This is because some species and certain parts of the elder plant are poisonous and should not be eaten under any circumstances. To avoid harm and in the interests of public safety, I highly recommend that you purchase dried berries or syrups from a certified supplier or qualified practitioner. This not only ensures you’re consuming a safe product, but also helps to support local practitioners and manufacturers of herbal products.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.