Boost Your Immunity: Homemade Elderberry Syrup for Tip-Top Winter Wellness

When people are anxious and stressed, their first thought is to reach for remedies to calm the nervous system. As a herbalist, I believe this only solves part of the problem. Prolonged stress places a huge burden on the whole body. This can clearly be demonstrated by the fact that stress is linked to a whole range of health problems, from poor digestion to skin conditions like eczema. In order to really beat stress, it’s important to take a whole body view. This means building up your reserves with nourishing food, and most importantly of all, looking after your immune system. For many, echinacea is the “go to” remedy for boosting immunity, but there are lots of other plants (often growing right on our doorstep) that can help to keep your immune system happy.

One of my favourite remedies 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. Let me share with you my tried and tested methods for making a rich elderberry syrup that not only tastes divine, but is guaranteed to keep those pesky cold and flu bugs at bay.

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. I frequently use elderberries as a supporting herb in my anti-anxiety formulas. However, 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 Sambucol (a food supplement made from black elderberries) was at 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. However, it’s just as effective as the second method but is a little more versatile. Try adding to Greek yogurt and drizzling over breakfast muesli, or add a teaspoon to a small glass of warm water and honey to instantly soothe sore throats. The recipe below makes approximately 400ml and will last up to 3 months if kept in the fridge.

(Note: Never use ground elderberries or powder when making these recipes as some people have a strong response to the ground seeds and can become nauseous or vomit from ingesting them.)

You will need:

  • 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)
  • 2 x 200 ml glass bottles for storing the syrup

Method:

  • Put the berries in a pan and cover them with the 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 resulting syrup should be good for a couple of months.

Dosage:

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. Honey has spores in it that can cause botulism in young children. After 12 months, the gut is usually acidic enough to kill the spores on its own. 

Method 2: Elderberry “Liquor”

If your immune system is really shot, the following recipe is absolute dynamite. This method doesn’t require any heating, which ensures that even more of the vitamin C content is preserved. This recipe makes approximately twice as much and will last for up to 2 years.

You will need:

  • A pint Kilner jar with an airtight seal
  • Dried elderberries
  • A 70cl bottle of the best quality brandy you can afford
  • Honey (local is best – if you can get it)

Method:

  • 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 are 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.

Dosage:

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.  Again -due to the alcohol content, this preparation is not recommended for children.

As with any home made preparation – please 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 under any circumstances be eaten. 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.

Where to buy elderberry syrup and home-making supplies

If you’d like to have a go at making your own elderberry syrup, you can buy the dried berries from me right here at the clinic!

Click here to buy dried elderberries

If all this seems like a little too much faff – I also make small batches of pre-prepared syrup during flu season. You can buy elderberry syrup from me here:

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 contra-indications with your current medication or have concerns about taking elderberries for any reason whatsoever, feel free to drop me a line before trying out this recipe.

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