By Angelina Williamson
Elderberry syrup is one of the best and easiest remedies to make for the home medicine chest. While it’s been long revered in folk and traditional medicine, science has taken notice as well. In laboratory studies, preparations from the elder tree have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and diuretic actions.
In addition to this, in clinical trials testing the efficacy of elderberry to treat influenza, those who took elderberry extract recovered from the flu several days sooner than those in the control group and their symptoms were less severe.*
Please do note that if you’re new to foraging elderberries, the only ones you should never use are red berry varieties. These are poisonous to humans. Any elderberry that ranges from blue with a white bloom to black are edible. One other thing to note is that the only edible parts of the elderberry tree are the flowers and fruit.
All safe elderberries (Sambucus spp.) have medicinal qualities, whether you’re using cultivated or wild foraged varieties. As a result, this recipe is good for whichever you have on hand.
The following recipe provides a ratio from which you can increase your batch to as large as you like. You will generally be aiming for 1 1/2 cups elderberry juice to 1 cup honey.
1 cup fresh elderberries (or 1/2 cup dried)
3 cups water
1 cup wild raw honey (or “regular” honey if canning the syrup)
1/4 tsp ascorbic acid per 4 ounces finished syrup
Bring elderberries and water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.
Simmer the liquid until it’s reduced by about half.
Once cool enough to touch with your hands, strain through either cheesecloth or a flour sack towel (my personal preference) and squeeze as much juice out of the pulp as you can.
Add the honey and ascorbic acid (if using) and stir until completely incorporated.
Your syrup is finished. Now you have three choices for storing it.
To freeze your elderberry syrup:
Pour your syrup into jars (I usually use either 8 oz or 4 oz canning jars) leaving about an inch of space at the top. This allows the syrup to expand as it freezes, reducing the risk of burst jars.
Don’t screw your caps on until after the syrup is completely frozen.
Label your jars and screw the caps down tight.
Syrup in the freezer will last well for a year if it isn’t defrosted and refrozen repeatedly. Quality will NOT be as good beyond that.
To can your syrup:
Prepare your boiling water bath and sterilize your jars. Heat the syrup up until it’s just started boiling.
Fill jars within 1/2 inch from the top. Clean rims and screw caps on.
Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath, and then remove and cool completely. Label with the date before storing.
Canned syrup will technically last indefinitely but quality won’t remain stable forever. Best to use within a year.
To store your elderberry syrup at room temperature:
Use 4oz amber bottles for this storage method. I cannot recommend this method of storage without the use of ascorbic acid, which makes the syrup an unattractive environment for bacteria and greatly helps with its shelf life.
Sterilize bottles and fill them within 1/4 inch from the top. This reduces the amount of oxygen the contents are exposed to.
Label and store in a cool dark place.
This storage method isn’t as longterm as the others. There are many factors that can affect how long your syrup lasts, such as:
- Your region’s general heat and humidity
- Sterilization effectiveness
- Miscellaneous random factors
I’ve had my syrup stay good for up to two months unopened at room temperature in my cabinet. But once opened I’ve had my syrup last four months in the fridge.
For additional herbal medicine making recipes, check out the following articles:
*Medicinal information in this article is from National Geographic’s Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine by Steven Foster and Rebecca L. Johnson.