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.
What Are the Benefits of Elderberry Syrup?
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 making homemade elderberry syrup, too, check in with your healthcare professional first. (Hey, I’m an editor, not a doctor.)
How to Make Elderberry Syrup
Over-the-counter elderberry syrup can be pretty pricey, so I chose to make my own. After a few batches, here’s the recipe we like best. It’s a riff on the one from Real Food RN. The recipe takes a few hours, start to finish, so I suggest making this a weekend project.
- 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
- Medium saucepan
- Mesh strainer
- Glass measuring cup
- Glass jar or bottle
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 mixture simmer for 45-60 minutes until the liquid is reduced by half.
Pro Tips: Cooking honey reduces its medicinal benefits, so don’t do it for this recipe! And don’t worry if there are a few stems among the dried elderberries. You’ll strain them all out at the end.
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.)
Step 3: Finish your elderberry syrup
Add honey and stir until it’s well incorporated. Then pour the contents into jars or bottles and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
Pro 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.
It tastes like what you’d expect: a sweetly spiced berry syrup. I’m tempted to try elderberry syrup over homemade ice cream or in an Italian soda! My son likes the flavor, too. It isn’t too strong for his toddler tastes.
I have to say, both of us 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.