ashley englishsmall measures

Small Measures: Elderberry & Honey Syrup

by Ashley

Each autumn — typically in tandem with the changing foliage, the appearance of pumpkins on porches and stoops and the consideration of Halloween costumes (My husband is vying for our almost two-year-old son to be “Assistant Groundskeeper Carl Spackler,” Bill Murray’s character from the film Caddyshack!) — I get the sniffles. And the sneezes. Brought on by seasonal allergens, this is a conundrum I’m well equipped to deal with, having devised a litany of treatments over the years. What also looms large, though, and what I’ve managed to stave off for years, is the flu.

Oh, that most dreaded of afflictions. It’s flu season, and it’s never a good time, should the malady pay you or yours a visit. For today’s Small Measures, I’m sharing with you my secret weapon in my flu-fighting arsenal. My go-to means of keeping this seasonal nasty at bay is a daily dose of my Elderberry & Honey Syrup. Packed with immune-bolstering properties, this delicious concoction is incredibly easy to make and considerably less expensive than purchasing any of the prepared options that are commercially available. Best of all, kids like it, too! While I can’t promise you won’t get sick, I can guarantee that you’ll be giving yourself and your loved ones a one-up on the competition and a serious fighting chance at staying flu-free. — Ashley English

Check out the recipe after the jump . . .

Elderberries have been used for health and healing for centuries. Recent research has proven what folk healers have long known: the dark berries are powerhouses. Their inherent antioxidant properties, coupled with high levels of bioflavonoids, pack the berries with immune-enhancing abilities. Married with honey’s healing benefits and laced with the antibacterial qualities of cloves, cinnamon and ginger, the berries go from Peter Parker to Spiderman, Clark Kent to Superman.

Elderberry & Honey Syrup

The Goods

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dried elderberries*
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 knob of ginger, peeled (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 cup honey


*Many natural foods stores carry elderberries in their bulk sections. You can also purchase them directly from Mountain Rose Herbs, my favorite herb supplier.

The Deal

1. Combine the water, elderberries and spices in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the syrup reduces by about half.

3. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Set aside.

4. Fill a bottle with the honey. Using a sieve placed over a funnel, strain the syrup into the honey. Use a spoon to press against the berries, extracting as much of their juice as possible. Discard or compost the solids.

5. Place a lid on the bottle. Shake vigorously to fully combine the syrup with the honey.

6. Label the bottle and place it in the refrigerator. Use within several months.

The dose for adults is 1–2 teaspoons daily and a 1/2 teaspoon for children. Do not give to infants under the age of one due to the minor threat of botulism exposure. Herbs are medicine, as are all foods, really. As such, if you are pregnant or taking other medications, check with your doctor before taking this syrup to rule out any contraindications. Additionally, this recipe isn’t intended to treat, diagnose, cure or replace medical care.

What about you? Have any flu-fighting tips of your own? I’d love to hear them! Otherwise, here’s wishing you a healthy, happy home this autumn.

Photos and styling by Jen Altman

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  • This looks great! But I’m not sure how or when you actually use it- do you just swallow it straight? When you start to feel sick? Do you add it to stuff (tea, oatmeal, maybe)?

  • This looks really delicious, and great that you point out that although ‘herbal medicine’ contains active ingredients and can interact with prescribed medication, it shouldn’t be treated as a substitute. Just wanted to mention that most of the beneficial components of the berries will be denatured or otherwise destroyed by boiling them. The maximum dose of antioxidants and vitamin c from the elderberries would be gained by eating them raw, or very lightly steaming them. Obviously not half as tasty though ;).

  • I love this! Going to make it today if my co-op has elderberries. I use elderberry syrup every fall-winter and it works wonders!

  • Elderberries as a “remedy” against cold are very common where I live (Bavaria/Germany). Just be sure to cook them: Like some other parts of the plant the berries contain a – maybe only slightly, but nevertheless – harmful substance called Sambunigrin which degenerates (is that the correct word? Anyway: It becomes harmless) when cooked. That said, I love Elderberries almost as much as Elderflowers – they are as healthy as they are delicious and they remind me of my Grandma …

  • I love elderberry syrup and I make it every year around this time. One question: where did you get the lovely cork stoppered bottle? I’ve been using an old Bulleit Bourbon bottle and, while great for other beverages, it is a little too large for the amount of syrup I make.

  • Pam & Dana-You can take the suggested dose every day, as a preventative, or take the suggested dose when flu symptoms first evidence. I take it daily, by the spoonful. You could certainly add it to herbal tea, as well.

    Claire-Elderberries aren’t consumable in raw form, as they contain trace amounts of cyanide, which is destroyed when cooked or fermented (as in wine-making). Since this syrup is simmered over low heat for 20-25 minutes (as opposed to being boiled over high heat for a similar amount of time), many of the beneficial constituents are retained, according to feedback I received from several professional herbalist friends, as well as one RN I know.

    Bake-There are elderberry formulations available for infants under one that are based in glycerine (instead of honey). I love all of the products from Gaia Herbs.

    Scout-The bottle and cork were actually upcycled from their former incarnation as a vinegar bottle!

    Lauren-The honey dipper is from a local natural home goods store here in Asheville, Nest Organics: http://nestorganics.com/

  • Thanks for this recipe. I take elderberries every flu season because I know that they are very powerful immune boosters. I dehydrate my own from my bushes and grind them up and scoop into capsules. That is good for me and my adult daughter but been wanting a way to give some to my grandbabies too. This is ideal and sounds tasty. I will be making some to give my son to have on hand for them. Thanks again.

  • What about infusing the berries in vodka? Is that safe, without cooking them? Also, could you add vodka to your recipe, to make it last longer? Thanks.

  • Sylvia-I posed your question to an herbalist/RN friend of mine. Here’s her reply: “Absolutely! Elderberries are great tinctured fresh or dried in vodka…. Brandy works nicely, too. [This would be a tincture in that case, not a syrup] The flowers can be done the same way and are fabulous for fevers.”

  • Will definitely try this. How long is the mixture stable. So I refrigerate it and how long can I keep it?

  • Missy-The honey in this syrup acts a a natural preservative, so, once refrigerated, the syrup will keep for quite some time. I’ve had mine for 4 months and, owing to a cold I caught this past weekend, have been taking doses of it regularly. It’s just as tasty as ever! I’d recommend using all of the syrup up, though, within 6 months of making it, and always keeping it refrigerated.

  • Could you can this to preserve it longer, or would the heat process degrade the surup’s effectiveness?

  • I love making elderberry syrup. Is it only stored in the refrigerator? I just bought a bottle of syrup in a health food store in Sept. of 2013, and it had an expiration date of Jan. of 2016. How do I preserve and store for at least up to a year on a shelf?

  • I find it really frustrating that when you see a great recipe and yo can’t print it off!

    • Hi Sharon!

      We actually updated this in with our new redesign! So you can now print it.

      This is an older recipe, but if you check back tomorrow I’ll have it updated so you can print it out :)