Elder, Sambucus nigra L., is one of the plant medicines that I always have around. I have the syrup on hand for whenever I feel I'm coming down with something—it's invaluable for immune health and the one I reach for over and over again compared to other immune-supporting herbs.
There are two parts of the elder plant that are most used: the flowers and the berries, although herbalists also sometimes use the leaves and bark.
The flowers are best used in acute situations once you've contracted something and need the flower's diaphoretic support in raising the core internal temperature of the body and induce sweating.
The berries, in contrast, are used more as a preventative measure and are indicated specifically for warding off viral infections. In particular, research has shown that black elderberry extract strengthens cell membranes which can inhibit the viral enzyme that weakens the membrane.
Research has obviously only been done in vitro against a number of influenza strains—but, even so, given my experience using elder, it does help prevent getting sick or shortening the duration.
A safety note about elder
All fresh parts of the plant are slightly toxic to humans. Before using fresh flowers or berries, they must be dried. If you are making your own syrup from the berries, ensure that they are thoroughly cooked down to prevent any digestive discomfort. Boil berries for 3 minutes before preserving.
How To Make Homemade Elderberry Syrup
- 1/2 cup dried elderberries
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cloves
- 1 tbsp of freshly grated ginger
- 1 cup local & wild honey
- Add your dried elderberries, cloves, cinnamon and freshly grated ginger into a saucepan
- Add your 2 cups of water
- Cover and bring mixture to boil
- Turn from boil to a simmer until the mixture is reduced by 1/2, which usually takes about 20-30 minutes.
- Once the mixture has reduced by 1/2, turn off the stove and strain the elderberries and liquid into a clean bowl
- Add your honey into the liquid and mix
Elderberry syrup lasts a couple weeks so make only as much as you need right now. You can always make a quick batch when needed. Remember to always opt for organic products and support small companies and growers when possible. As for the honey, using local and wild honey helps with seasonal allergies. Plus, you support a local farm. Win win!
Taking Elderberry Syrup
In general, you want to take 1-3 ml of elderberry syrup 2-4 times a day.
I like taking elderberry syrup as a preventative during the fall and winter. It's fun to take a shot of it or use it in creative botanical-inspired mocktails, like this Elderberry Lemonade.
Additionally, take elderberry syrup when you feel any symptom of a cold or flu coming on, like a runny nose, sneezing, or coughing.
- Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2003.
- Horne, Steven and Easly, Thomas. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide. North Atlantic Books, 2016.