How Elderberry Syrup Supports Your Immune System
I won’t go into all the nitty-gritty about why elderberries are good for you… a quick Google search can give you many websites with this in-depth info. But, when I first wrote this post, I was most intrigued by the WAY in which elderberries support the body’s immune response. It turns out that certain compounds in the elderberries can actually decrease cell proteins that trigger an inflammatory response; in addition, they also increase (by up to ten times the normal amount!) proteins that spur production of a non-inflammatory infection fighting response. Finally, they have been found to inhibit a virus’ ability to penetrate the healthy cells that line the inside of the nose and throat – our body’s first defense against the flu virus.†
However, newer research is calling these initial claims into question. In February of 2020 I read this post from a well-respected herbalist about some of the limitations of using elderberry to treat the flu. Stephany’s post is filled with a lot of science data that may get confusing for some… but suffice it to say that some key components of elderberry may actually increase inflammation in certain people responding to certain viruses. One of the main precautions she brings up is the possible danger for pregnant women and those with autoimmune disorders.
So, I now have a more nuanced view of elderberry and when/how I will use it personally. Everyone must decide for themselves whether they want to use it and when. For now, it is still popular component of my natural remedies kit AND super-easy to incorporate into our regular routine. Whether adding a few dried elderberries to my loose leaf tea (during steeping) or pouring a little elderberry syrup on our pancakes, it’s an easy immune-booster that the whole family benefits from.
Making Elderberry Syrup
Though you can just buy elderberry syrup from most health food stores, it is quite pricey… especially when you can make your own right at home for a fraction of the cost.
There are A LOT of variations of the basic DIY Elderberry Syrup recipe out there, any of which you might want to use. Here is my most recent favorite, with a few additional immune-boosters thrown in:
1/2 cup dried elderberries
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
1 tsp minced fresh ginger root
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (raw, unfiltered)
3 cups filtered water
Organic cane sugar or raw, unfiltered honey
Place elderberries, cinnamon stick, cloves, ginger root, apple cider vinegar, and water in a saucepan and soak overnight (or a minimum of 6-8 hours). I always tell my students that this step is optional (you can skip it if you’re short on time and need more syrup NOW) but taking the time for it will make your final syrup more potent.
In the same saucepan, bring mixture to a gentle boil and simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Strain off herbs using a cheesecloth, muslin cloth, or fine mesh strainer (I prefer using the muslin because I can squeeze every last drop of juice from the herbs) and measure remaining liquid. It should equal about 1-1.5 cups of juice.
Return the juice to the saucepan and heat just until steaming. Mix in an amount of sugar or honey equal to the amount of juice you measured after straining; stir until fully dissolved.
Let cool and pour off into a dark blue or brown glass jar. Label with contents and date and store in the refrigerator. This syrup will keep for about 3 months.
My favorite ways to enjoy this delicious syrup include:
- Mix about one teaspoon into a glass of sparkling water.
- Pour over pancakes (alone or mixed with maple syrup).
- Drizzle over nonfat, plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries and nuts.
- Use to sweeten oatmeal, black or green tea, or anything you would normally sweeten with honey.
- Add to your favorite smoothie for a subtle immune boost.
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*Source: Green, J. The herbal medicine-maker’s handbook: A home manual. Crossing Press. 2000: 32.
†Source: Elder Berries for Cold and Flu Prevention, Mothering Magazine