This Elderberry Syrup Recipe Is So Easy (and Delicious!)

After I learned my son was too young for cough medicine, I found this natural remedy for cold and flu. Here's my elderberry syrup recipe, plus the health benefits that are earning it a spot in the mainstream.

If you’ve ever had a sick toddler, I don’t have to tell you, it stinks—for everyone in your house. We’ve been there. After days of round-the-clock coughing and sniffling due to my son’s first bad cold, we were all sleep-deprived and crabby.

When I called his pediatrician’s office to find out how we could help our little guy, the nurse suggested comfort measures like using honey as a cough suppressant and taking warm baths—but we were to steer clear of conventional medicine. See, studies have shown that cold medicine isn’t safe or effective for little kids. That’s why you don’t see cough meds for infants and toddlers at the drugstore.

Great, I thought. Comfort measures. But then a fellow mama suggested that our whole family try elderberry syrup. At the time, the only things I knew about elderberries were that they make a delicious liqueur and that they’re used as an insult in my favorite scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well, before we took the alternative medicine plunge, I wanted to do some reading.

How to Make Elderberry Syrup

The store-bought variety can be pretty pricey, so I chose to develop my own elderberry syrup recipe. After a few batches, here’s the one we like best. It’s a riff on the one from Real Food RN. The homemade elderberry syrup takes a few hours, start to finish, so I suggest making this a weekend project.
elderberry syrup recipe ingredientsEllie Martin Cliffe/Taste of Home

Ingredients for Elderberry Syrup

  • 2/3 cup dried elderberries (I buy these—a package lasts ages)
  • 3 1/2 cups of water
  • 2-in. nub of fresh gingerroot, roughly chopped
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 tsp. whole cloves
  • Rind of one orange
  • 1 cup raw honey

Instructions for Making Elderberry Syrup

elderberry syrup in a panEllie Martin Cliffe/Taste of Home

Step 1: Cook the elderberry mixture

Add all ingredients except honey to a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil on high heat. Once it starts to boil, reduce the burner to medium-high. Let the elderberry mixture simmer for 45-60 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half.

Editor’s tips: Cooking honey reduces its medicinal benefits, so don’t do it for this elderberry syrup recipe! And don’t worry if there are a few stems among the dried elderberries. You’ll strain them all out at the end.
straining solids from elderberry syrupEllie Martin Cliffe/Taste of Home

Step 2: Let it cool

Remove from heat and let cool for about 30 minutes. Pour the mixture over a mesh strainer, into a glass measuring cup. Let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm. (You can toss out the elderberries and spices—their work here is done.)
adding honey to elderberry syrup recipeEllie Martin Cliffe/Taste of Home

Step 3: Finish the elderberry syrup recipe

Add honey and stir until it’s well incorporated. Behold, your own homemade elderberry syrup! Then pour the contents into jars or bottles and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Editor’s tip: We pour our honey straight into the measuring cup. It sinks to the bottom, so we can see how much we’ve added.

My Takeaways on Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Now, when cool weather rolls around, my son and I take “Immunity Booster” every morning—a teaspoon for him, a tablespoon for me. If we’re actively battling illness, we have it two or three times a day.

This elderberry syrup recipe tastes like what you’d expect: a sweetly spiced berry syrup. I’m tempted to try it over homemade ice cream or in an Italian soda! My son likes the flavor, too. It isn’t too strong for his toddler tastes.

Elderberry Syrup Benefits

The fruit of the Sambucus nigra plant, elderberries are high in vitamins A and C and anthocyanins (antioxidants that give the berries their bluish-purple hue), among other nutritional goodies. It turns out that our ancestors discovered their medicinal value long ago, and like a lot of other long-loved natural remedies—hello, turmeric—elderberries are bursting into the mainstream. In fact, elderberry syrup has been scientifically shown to reduce the duration of influenza by as many as four days. Thanks to this and other studies, many healthcare professionals are calling for additional research on this natural cold and flu remedy.

While there isn’t yet a ton of scientific research on elderberry syrup, I decided that—for my sleepless family—it was worth a shot. If you’re considering trying an elderberry syrup recipe, too, check in with your healthcare professional first. (Hey, I’m an editor, not a doctor.)

I have to say, my son and I have felt healthier in the two years that we’ve made it. Despite the lack of scientific backing, we’ll keep up our cold-season tradition—even if the only real benefit of making elderberry syrup is the together time I get with my kiddo.

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Ellie Martin Cliffe
Now a deputy editor at Taste of Home, Ellie has been writing about food and parenting for the last decade. When she isn't at TOH HQ, she's likely trying gluten- and dairy-free recipes, canning whatever's in season, listening to anything with a fiddle, or playing Uno with her family.