We rarely get sick in our house, but last year we were all hit with the flu (thanks to my SIL who started a new job at a family practice office at the height of cold and flu season!) and it was rough. Besides the unfortunate timing of getting sick on Christmas Eve and suffering through Christmas festivities while traveling away from home and being pregnant, the effects of the flu lingered for weeks.
This year I am filling my arsenal with preventative “medicine” and will be much better prepared should illness strike again this year. One of my tactics is elderberry syrup. We started using store-bought elderberry syrup last year when Gabriella had a cold and subsequent ear infection. I was willing to try anything and elderberry syrup was one of the top natural suggestions, so I bought an expensive bottle of Nature’s Way Elderberry Syrup and started using it. Now, a year later I thought I should finally do a little research to find out more about this yummy syrup before I made my own.
What’s special about elderberries?
- They’re high in vitamin A & vitamin C, both important in keeping the immune system strong;
- They contain flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties;
- They’re known to be anti-inflammatory;
- They may help treat cold and flu symptoms by reducing congestion and possibly making you sweat more.
When I went to Whole Foods to find elderberry syrup for the first time, I was shocked at the price. Luckily, it is easier and much less expensive to make your own elderberry syrup at home with three simple ingredients: dried elderberries, honey and water. I followed this simple recipe, but you can add in the optional spices for more flavor.
About the ingredients
Elderberries: You can purchase organic dried elderberries online from Amazon or Mountain Rose Herbs, but the most economical way is through a Frontier Co-Op if you have one locally. I purchased one-pound bags for $11, compared to the exact same bag on Amazon selling for $29.99.
Honey: I typically use a raw, unfiltered local-ish honey from Costco for all of my baking. Raw, unfiltered, truly local honey has immune-boosting properties against seasonal allergies and it’s what I wanted to use in my elderberry syrup so I bought several jars at our local farmer’s market. It’s more than double the price of the Costco honey, but worth it when I’m focusing on the immune system.
Since the honey I used was more expensive, I contemplated just using less. We don’t eat much sugar and I didn’t think losing out on some of the sweetness would matter to us. After some research, I determined that a one-to-one ratio of honey-to-elderberries was necessary for the honey to act as a preservative and keep the finished product fresh for several months.
Water: Tap water is full of stuff we shouldn’t be drinking including chlorine, fluoride and metals. We have a basic refrigerator filter, which is basically useless and might filter out some trace minerals, but not the important stuff. It would be best to use truly filtered water (through reserve osmosis or a Berkey Water Filter), so next time I’ll probably borrow some water from a friend.
The Recipe (adapted from The Healthy Home Economist)
1 cup dried elderberries
3 cups filtered water
1 cup raw, local honey
Place dried elderberries and filtered water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on medium-low for 30 minutes. Mash the elderberries to release any remaining juice. Strain the mixture into a glass bowl using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. When the liquid has come to room temperature, gently stir in the raw honey and mix thoroughly. Pour into small 8-ounce amber bottles, label and store in the refrigerator.
What to do with elderberry syrup?
I poured the elderberry syrup into these dark, amber bottles and printed round labels for them. I plan to give Gabriella 1 teaspoon on days she goes to preschool or goes to the YMCA childcare, when it is more likely for her to pick up germs and Brian and I will take 1 tablespoon whenever we remember throughout the flu season. Many people swear by taking a dose of elderberry daily, but I have read some information to caution against stimulating the immune system too much. Moderation is a good guideline for just about anything, so I’m going to just stick with giving it every few days. If we get sick, we will give a dose of elderberry syrup every few hours until symptoms subside.
I learned something new a few weeks after making my first batch of elderberry syrup. Apparently raw honey left in the right warm environment will ferment. I will be sure to put all future bottles directly in the refrigerator after making them because with this batch I had a few bottles pop and fizz after sitting for a few weeks. They smelled a bit like kombucha and had a slightly sour taste, but everything I could find about fermented honey said that it was still ok to consume and even beneficial.
A note of caution: If you have an autoimmune disease, a child on the autism spectrum or any health concerns, consult your doctor and do your own research as elderberry is a powerful herb. Read more about the possible concerns here.