Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Super-Easy Elderberry Syrup Recipe for Cold & Flu Prevention

My daughter & I have been faring pretty well so far during this virulent cold and flu season ("knock on wood"). This is not evidence-based or scientific --- BUT, my hunch is been to attribute our robust winter immunity to our daily spoonful of my homemade elderberry syrup.

(That... along with doing our best to follow my nine simple lifestyle adjustments for winter health.)

Elderberries (also known as sambucus or sambucol) have long been used in European folk medicine to prevent and treat the symptoms of the common cold and flu, as well as excess mucous and sore throat. These tiny purple-blue berries are typically found growing in moist areas along rivers, roads and in forests. They are rich in anti-oxidant flavinoids and anti-inflammatory anthocyanin, as well as potassium, beta carotene, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C. Clinical research has shown that elderberry extract can shorten the course of a flu infection and decrease the severity of flu symptoms. Evidence suggests that elderberry extract inactivates influenza virus.

Elderberry syrup is available in health food stores. But it is also super-easy to make at home. You can make large quantities for a lot less money, AND you can control exactly what goes into it.

Elderberry syrup is delicious for grown-ups and kids. Medicinal in its own right, it can be used to disguise a dose of herbs or other medicinals that your kid might resist.

The recipe I use comes from Emily Bartlett, L.Ac., pediatric acupuncturist and mama-blogger at

Her recipe is made with fresh ginger - used in Chinese medicine to warm and protect the digestion as well as fend off colds. Cinnamon is an immune booster that helps to relieve pain. Raw honey (which balances the extreme tartness of the berries) contains micro-nutrients and enzymes which support your body. I often add other herbs and spices as I cook my brew-- like cloves, cardamom pods/seeds, orange peel,  or anise (all of which warm the body, fight viruses and stimulate digestion and assimilation.) Small amounts of other cold/flu prevention like astragalus, osha, or echinacea root can be decocted with elderberries as well to enhance the medicinal effect, although the elderberries also stand well on their own.

Take 1-2 teaspoons daily during cold and flu season (taking an occasional break for a day or two), increasing as needed if you start to feel rundown. When you're sick, take one teaspoonful every 2-3 hours.
For children under two, add the syrup to hot water to kill off any microbes in the honey.

Elderberry syrup is great right from the spoon, but you can also drizzle it over pancakes, yogurt or ice cream. Personally, I stir a spoonful into my daily homemade kombucha drink.

Elderberry Syrup Recipe Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried elderberries* 
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 4 quarter-inch slices of fresh ginger
  • 2 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 cup, raw honey
*Dried elderberries can be ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs or Pacific Botanicals. In Berkeley, I've founded them at Lhasa Karnak and Berkeley Bowl.

Elderberry Syrup Cooking Method:

  1. Add all ingredients except for the honey into a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat to medium.
  3. Continue simmering for 30-45 minutes until the liquid is reduced to half.
  4. Before the liquid cools, strain it through a fine mesh strainer.
  5. Allow the liquid to cool to about 118F (to preserve the enzymes in the raw honey), and gently combine the warm reduced berry liquid with the raw honey.
  6. Store in a jar in the fridge for a few weeks. For longer storage, freeze in jars or into ice cube trays to defrost for later use.

Links to More Articles by Stephanie Doucette, L.Ac., on Cold & Flu Prevention with Chinese Medicine: