Sep 082010

Elderberry Syrup
Last weekend T. and I finally tackled the giant jungle that we call our pond and gazebo area.  Deadheading commenced, weeds were hacked, climbing vines were wrestled from trees and yes, some things were even cut down to the ground in anticipation of winter.

I could have used a machete.

We finally got around to the back of our retaining wall that leads down a hill to what I lovingly call our “back 40”; un-lawned, un-mowed, un-tended prairie that we haven’t gotten around to worrying about.

(It’s at this point that I wish we had some kind of grazing animal; they’d go nuts! But alas, we technically live in “village” limits and  cloven-hoofed livestock are verboten.  Yep, I’ve asked.  Oh well.)

Anyway, so T. starts working his way around the patio and I look up and yell, STOP!!!

“What?  He asks,” wiping sweat from his brow, “I’m making progress.”

“Stop!  Do not chop down that weed!  Errr . . . bush.  Err . . . Hold on, I need to go check on something.”  I go inside, google and confirm.  Yes, my friends, in our back 40 we are the happy owners of wild elderberry bushes.  The birds have almost eaten about half of them, but I am beyond thrilled.  T. is puzzled.  But he often is when I get that gleam in my eye when I spot wild, foraged plants.  And black elderberries are one of those plants that I was hoping on growing eventually for our future herbal/holistic garden; finding them growing wild?  In our backyard?!? Fantastic.

You may be wondering, Why make elderberry syrup?

Elderberries are awesome.  Used for centuries as a folk-remedy all over the world, elderberries are rich in vitamins A and B and has loads of vitamin C, more so than any other herb except for black currant and rosehips.  Elderberries are high in antioxidants and have been used to prevent and treat colds and flu for centuries.

“Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. People with the flu who took elderberry juice reported less severe symptoms and felt better much faster than those who did not. Elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995”


Elderberry has been shown to be very effective against at least eight strains of flu virus.  It contains Sambucus nigra agglutins (SNAs) which help prevent some types of flu from infecting healthy cells.  A clinical trial of elderberry found that it cured 90 percent of flu infections in three days, which was half the time needed for recovery in participants taking a placebo.”

In addition to treating and helping the immune system, it is being tested in Israel as a treatment for both cancer and AIDS.

Plus, it tastes good.

As a mama to two little boys and with flu season approaching, I’d rather be pro-active than reactive when it comes to their health.  There is very little available safe for children to take when they’re sick, not to mention the concerns that the latest recalls of “cold medicine” for children have caused (not to also mention the fact that I don’t like to give pharmaceutical medicine if I don’t need to in the first place), and elderberry syrup is one of the best ways, I’ve found, to be able to give “medicine” to my little ones.  Stirred into a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt or poured over some pancakes or french toast, preventative medicine becomes a treat!

In the past I’ve bought black elderberry syrup and it runs about $12-15 per 4-ounce bottle.  This time around by making it myself I re-used a saved vinegar bottle (free), found organic elderberries (free) and used the raw honey that I bought from my neighbor across the street (probably about $5-6 of honey used per 16 ounces of syrup.  And, by the way, I have enough juice in the freezer to make another full bottle).  And it didn’t take me much time.  So, in essence, I’m able to produce four times the quantity for a third the price and get the additional health benefits of organic elderberries and raw honey.

A better question is, why NOT make it?

Wild Black Elderberry Syrup

makes 2 cups (16oz) of elderberry juice which in turn makes 4 cups or 32oz of syrup

  • 1 lb elderberries, cleaned from stems and rinsed
  • 2 cups water

There are two important things you need to do to make elderberry syrup.

First, the most important thing to do is to make sure that you remove the berries from their stalks.

The leaves, branches, bark, seeds and yes, even the little stems, are not edible.  They have cyanide in them and will make you sick.  Only elder flowers and cooked, de-seeded, ripe black elderberries are considered safe to eat.

I found that de-stemming the bunches was actually quite easy when I just gently raked my fingers claw-like along each bunch of berries; only those that were ripe and black fell off easily into my hands.  Those that were unripe hung fast to the stem. Elderberries are generally ready to be picked in late August to early September.

Second, only keep the fully black, ripe berries.  Unripe elderberries (green, partially red, etc.) will also make you sick.  You only want the black ones.  If your berries are still mostly green or turning, wait a few days and go check them again.  A few of my bunches had a few green berries, but as I knew I was going out of town in the next few days, I picked them anyway and made sure to be careful not to include any unripe berries in your bowl.

I only ended up with about a pound of berries, which is why the recipe is developed for that quantity.  If you are lucky enough to have more, just adjust accordingly to the ratios indicated!

Black elderberries
Once your elderberries are clean and removed from their stalks and stems, it’s time to make the elderberry juice.

To make the elderberry juice, simply combine the berries and water in a non-reactive pan* and bring to a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries are soft and cooked through, about twenty minutes.

*Though I normally like to make jams in my Le Crueset enameled pan with my wooden “jamming” spoon, I used a stainless steel pot and spoon this time instead as elderberries are VERY staining.  VERY.  Be careful!  Cover your counters with a red towel or newspapers.  Wear clothes that you don’t mind ruining.  You’ve been warned.

After about twenty minutes, remove from heat and, using a mesh strainer or food mill, strain out the skins and seeds.
Making elderberry juice
We were lucky enough to find one of these in a cupboard in our house when we bought it in May . . . this is the first time I’ve had a chance to use it!

And, voila!  You have juice.

Now, once you have the juice, you can do one of two things with it.

Since I had such a small batch of elderberry juice (just over 1 pint) I used a technique inspired by Rosemary Gladstar; simply add raw honey to juice in a 1:1 ratio.  So, for one cup of juice, you stir in one cup of raw honey.  That’s it!  Do not heat the raw honey as you’ll kill all of the beneficial minerals, enzymes and amino acids that will also benefit you if you’re sick!  Decant into a sterilized bottle, label, and store in your fridge for up to a year.  Have more juice?  Simply freeze the remainder of the juice in the freezer and, when the bottle in the fridge runs out, simply defrost the juice, add more raw honey and store again!
Elderberry Juice, to be frozen
If you’d prefer shelf-stable syrup or would like to give it away as gifts, make the following syrup instead:

Return the juice to the pan, then, add

  • 1-1/4 cup of honey or organic, pure cane sugar (I would not use the more expensive, raw honey this time as you’re going to cook it.  Just use whatever regular honey you have on hand)

and bring to a low boil, cooking for about 15 minutes until the juice has thickened and the sugar has all dissolved.

Remove from heat and add 1 tsp. of lemon juice.

In hot, sterilized jars, pour the hot syrup, seal and process with a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, beginning timing once the water returns to a boil.

How to Use:

  • Enjoy a Tablespoon or two a day to keep the doctor away (I give the boys a teaspoon morning and evening, with food, during flu season or if they or someone in the house is sick.  Otherwise, they don’t take it regularly),
  • Stir into some sparkling water or champagne for a lovely, vitamin-C rich spritzer,
  • Stir it in to oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast
  • Use it to flavor water kefir
  • Mix a tablespoon in with some hot lemon water if you’ve got a scratchy throat
  • or even enjoy it poured over pancakes or french toast** or, if you’re really feeling decadent, vanilla ice cream!

Don’t have fresh elderberries available?  Try Ren of Edible Aria’s version using dried . . .

Not sure if you have elderberries in the first place?  Here are two youtube videos I found helpful to confirm the identification.

A few notes:

  • Never ever feed honey to a baby under one year old.  If you’d like to give elderberry syrup to help a sick baby under, say, 14 months or 25 pounds, I’d recommend taking a double dose for yourself and then nursing the baby. For an older, larger baby I’d consider giving a half teaspoon first, working my way up to a full teaspoon over time and see how things go.
  • I am not a doctor nor a trained herbalist, but I’m confident; the recipe is safe.  Follow the directions.  Double and triple check your berries if you are uncertain.  And then be smart.  Use at your own risk.
  • **The syrup is quite thin. To thicken, heat  1 cup of prepared syrup and stir in 1 Tablespoon of organic cornstarch. Do not add cornstarch before canning for storage as it will not can correctly (the prolonged boiling in the water bath affects it) only add it when ready to eat.


This post is written in conjunction with Pennywise Platter, Simple Lives Thursday,  and the Home Remedies Carnival featured at Keeper of the Home.

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  22 Responses to “Wild Black Elderberry Syrup”

  1. Are elderberries and pokeweed the same thing? I’m a little concerned because these berries and the foliage look alot like the pokeweed that grows on rural-ish roadsides in our neck of the woods. How can one tell the difference? Is there a difference?

    • Absolutely not. I have Both Elderberry and Poke weed, as a very young plant the poke leaves are good in a salad, but when they reach maturity, both the leaves AND berries are poisonous. That’s why birds don’t even eat them. The bunch of berries on Elderberry may be 9 to 12 inches in diameter like a Queen Ann lace only berries instead of tiny blossoms. Elder berry berries are a very tiny berry where a poke weed berry is about 3/8 inch diameter

  2. I’m trying to locate other identifying photos of pokeweed and elderberry online. . . From what I can tell, that last photo of the berries on the bush looks ALOT like pokeweed. Elderberry is said to form more of a “flowerhead of berries” versus pokeweed’s “strand” of berries. I think I’m reading it’s okay to eat pokeweed berries as long as they are cooked. I wonder what the nutritional value of pokeweed berries is?

    • Thanks Emily!

      You are right – it looks suspiciously like pokeweed. I may have been duped! Arrgghhh . . .

      The recipe remains the same to make elderberry syrup, but I might just have to remove that picture (and my syrup from the fridge! I’m not sure if I want it around if it’s pokeberry.) Oh, bummer! I was so looking forward to it and double and triple checked my berries! Certainly does prove my point to make certain of what you’ve found, but I never even found anything on pokeberry until your comment . . .

      Thank you again Emily!


  3. I made this last winter only I bought the elderberries dried from Mountain Rose Herbs. How wonderful you have your own bush! Thanks for linking up to Simple Lives Thursday.

  4. My Husband’s Grandmother makes Elderberry Syrup.
    She uses it for Stomach Viruses.
    I also think its good for sore throats!
    I have never made it(never had too) and Elderberries do not grow here in the farm land.
    But,it is nice to know how!

  5. We found elderberries near our home that we harvested last week. They form a type of ‘umbrella’ clump and turn a dusty blue after the first frost, here in Utah, when they are ready to harvest. Blossoms are white, then the ‘berries’ are green, then turn to the bluish color, and finally a dusty blue when ready. We were able to get about 8 cups that we froze in one cup bags and plan to make syrup as needed throughout the winter. I hope to get more before the snow falls. Definitely a money saver!

  6. […] make some apple pie and other apple goodies. We also picked some elderberries (I’m going to make this syrup with them today) and some rose hips for […]

  7. Oh, no! I came looking for that photo, and now I read the comments. That is sad. Now I have to search online, too. What did you do w/your syrup? 🙁 Katie

    • The syrup is still in the fridge at this point as I research whether or not it might be good for arthritis (?) which my mom has. . . what I’ve found refers to the leaves, though, not the berries so I’m still undecided. Unfortunately, it might just make it’s way down the sink. Looks like I’ll really be having to plant elderberry bushes from now on!

      Thanks for the link, by the way! More research to come . . .


  8. This pokeweed looks like my bush; but the site says it has herbal medicinal properties, too:

    ?? Katie

  9. I have a few of the photos I had taken for the post (that I’ve deleted from the post to avoid confusion) on my flickr page. This is what our pokeberries looked like on the stem:

    Now elderberry bushes are going to be a must to plant for next year! 🙂


  10. That, m’dear, is surely pokeweed and not elderberry.
    I should have guessed when you said that it stained magenta– elderberry stains a deep indigo.
    Wikipedia says that it is toxic, but least so in the berries, and ripe berries when cooked and strained of seeds are edible.
    And then it has all sorts of medicinal properties! So maybe if you were very careful about getting out the seeds it will be useful.
    good luck.
    oh, and if you want to find elderberry, try looking on roadsides and wet places. Make sure that you are looking at black and not red elderberry. the flowers and berries come in a distinctive umbel shape (like queen anne’s lace or wild carrot).

  11. Ah, I keep finding pokeberries, pokeberries and more pokeberries all over my yard! So wishing they were elderberries. Let me know if you decide they’re healthy too! 😉 Katie

  12. YAY!!! I have picked these the past two years and never quite know how to process them. I do now!

  13. […] syrup – I didn’t know about this until I read it on Heartland Renaissance’s blog, but then I researched it and found that this does help fight colds. From what I’ve read, […]

  14. Thank you so very much for this post! I know you did this awhile ago, but I found it so very useful today! I had come down with a nasty cold and bought some black elderberry syrup at Wegman’s yesterday and ALREADY feel better. I would much rather make it myself. Your page is getting added to my favorites!

  15. […] I’ll take the elderberry, please.  It’s easy (albeit expensive) to buy, and easy to make.  I’ve made some and we all take some daily.  Just a teaspoon or two is fine, but […]

  16. […] One of our family favorites is making Elderberry Syrup. Elderberry is well known for supporting the body, especially during flu season. You can find conventionally made elderberry syrups at many stores now, or you can make your own. We make our own and keep on hand all winter. It’s very easy & inexpensive to make. Here is the brief version of how to make your own Elderberry syrup, but I’m linking in depth directions (with pictures) to help (HERE). […]

  17. […] or some of their other bottles and containers for homemade body butters, salves, herbal vinegars, elderberry syrup, kombucha and more. In addition, they’ve offered a coupon code for my […]

  18. […] 2 days!  I’ll take the elderberry, please.  It’s easy (albeit expensive) to buy, and easy to make.  I’ve made some and we all take some daily.  Just a teaspoon or two is fine, but you […]

  19. […] Elderberry Syrup- elderberries are known for their powerful immune boosting abilities.  Either make your own syrup or choose a syrup that is free of sweeteners and […]

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