Fresh elderberries and elderberry syrup in a glass jar. Text overlay - My #1 elderberry syrup recipe.
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My #1 Elderberry Syrup Recipe (Use Fresh or Dried Elderberries)

I started making elderberry syrup years ago, and after a little fiddling and tweaking around, I’m finally satisfied. This is my BEST elderberry syrup recipe so far, and of course I’m going to share with you!

But first…

Why make elderberry syrup?

  1. Making elderberry syrup at home is ridiculously easy. In fact, it’s so easy that my kids could make the syrup themselves if I let them use the stove unsupervised.
  2. By making your own elderberry syrup, you can control the quality of ingredients. I’ll be talking about this a little further down this post. Don’t skip that part!
  3. Homemade elderberry syrup costs a fraction of a store-bought one. Who doesn’t love saving money?
  4. The elderberry syrup ROCKS! Read about the health benefits of elderberries that are supported by science if you don’t believe me. (You shouldn’t believe me. Go ahead and read it.)
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You can make this elderberry syrup from fresh elderberries (or dried)

This elderberry syrup recipe can be used with both fresh elderberries and dried ones. It makes no difference. I make the syrup with fresh elderberries when they are in season locally and use dried throughout the rest of the year and have included measurements for both fresh and dried so that you can use whichever form of elderberry you have on hand. HOWEVER…

If you’re using or planning to use fresh elderberries, make sure to follow a few simple safety precautions – this is actually very important!

Elderberry syrup from dried elderberries

If you’re using dried elderberries to make the syrup, don’t nibble on the berries!!! Eating dried elderberries out of the bag is not recommended. Eating too many elderberries in its raw (uncooked) form can cause a toxic buildup of cyanide in the body. Heating the berries destroys all toxic properties of the elderberry and makes elderberries safe to consume (more details here).

For the same reasons, remove all green and lightly colored (=unripe) elderberries from the measured amount of elderberries, and any stems that might be present.

Elderberry syrup ingredients:

• ½ cup dried elderberries
or 1 cup fresh elderberries
• 2 cups water
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 3 whole cloves
• freshly squeezed juice from half a lemon
• ½  cup raw honey

This recipe makes about 2 CUPS of elderberry syrup.

The measurements in this recipe are approximate – using a little more or a bit less of anything isn’t going to ruin your syrup.

NOTE: It is NOT RECOMMENDED to give honey (both raw and pasteurized) to CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 1 due to concerns over the possibility of botulism poisoning. To make elderberry syrup for babies, substitute honey with another natural sweetener like pure maple syrup or coconut sugar, or just use regular sugar.

Directions:

  1. Measure out the elderberries and remove any debris, stem pieces, and lightly colored berries.
  2. Place elderberries + water + cinnamon + cloves in a saucepan. Gently bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes (+5 extra minutes at high altitude). Why 15 minutes? Read below.
  3. Remove from heat and strain the mixture into another saucepan or a heat-resistant bowl using a mesh strainer. Gently squeeze the berries with the back of a spoon to get out as much juice as possible.
  4. Discard the berries and spices, and let the elderberry liquid concoction cool down a bit.
  5. Once it cools down to a comfortable lukewarm temperature, add raw honey and mix well. (If you add raw honey to something hot, you’ve basically just killed good honey.)
  6. Add fresh lemon juice and stir.
  7. Pour syrup in lidded glass jars – refrigerate – consume.

Ta-da!

See? So easy

This homemade elderberry syrup is rich, delicious, and super healthy. It tastes like sweetly spiced berry syrup, except much better!

How long should you cook elderberries?

Cooking on high heat reduces the medicinal properties of the elderberry syrup just as cooking for too long will. At the same time, elderberries should undergo some amount of heat treatment to diminish their toxic properties due to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides which can cause cyanide poisoning if ingested in high-enough amounts.

Many different recommendations exist for the cooking time of elderberries, but no clear elderberry cooking consensus is available. In fact, I myself have changed (reduced) the cooking time for this elderberry syrup recipe since this article was first published. I learn along as I gain more knowledge about the changes in elderberry compounds in different elderberry preparations based on new findings (maybe not “new,” but new to me).

For now I have settled on cooking elderberries for about 15 minutes when making elderberry syrup. Incubation in boiling water for 10-15 minutes seems effective in destroying a high percentage of cyanide-inducing glycosides that elderberries naturally contain (with the highest concentration in the seeds which aren’t used in the finished elderberry syrup). Additionally, a 15-minute hot water incubation seems to lead to roughly 15% reduction in the beneficial phenol content (approximately 10% reduction after 10 minutes of incubation, and 20% reduction after a 20-minute incubation) which, to me, is an acceptable loss. [source, source].

Different analyses produce different results, these are just my own conclusions. Boiling isn’t the same as immersing in hot water which would be one way to make elderberry syrup, but if you want to use the spices, you want them to simmer in the liquid for at least a few minutes to develop. Feel free to cook the elderberries longer if you wish, 15-20 minutes, or even longer, just keep in mind that the longer you keep them hot, the more medicinal properties may be lost.

Kids preparing fresh elderberries for homemade elderberry syrup, laughing. Text overlay - My favorite recipe for Elderberry Syrup - Use fresh or dried elderberries!

Why these ingredients? (Besides elderberries and water…)

— Cinnamon

Cinnamon is one of the healthiest spices known to man, loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. I also think it’s delicious. That’s why I use it in our homemade elderberry syrup.

I’ve tried making elderberry syrup with ground cinnamon which left me with a texture I didn’t love. I much prefer using cinnamon sticks. You can of course use ground cinnamon if that’s all you have or prefer (I’d say use about ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon).

— Cloves

Cloves are naturally antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and a great immune booster overall. I also feel like cloves complement the elderberries really well. If you don’t have or like cloves, leave them out.

— Fresh lemon juice

Lemons are rich in vitamin C. Lemon juice strengthens the immune system and helps fight off many types of illnesses. Lemon juice is also a good natural preservative, so I wonder if it can help improve the shelf life of homemade elderberry syrup.

You don’t want to add too much lemon juice because that would make the syrup way too sour, but you can add more (or less) than I use according to your preference.

— Raw honey

Adding honey not only reduces the extreme tartness of elderberries (boy are these berries tart!) but also increases the medicinal benefits of the elderberry syrup. You’ll want to use the real deal though (if you can) – RAW HONEY!

Honey is the next main reason (besides the price tag) why homemade elderberry syrup beats store-bought. You know exactly which honey you’re using – real and raw! (Sometimes, commercial honey isn’t really honey after all – I got this first-hand from a honey inspector.)

Raw honey is honey that hasn’t been processed and retains the full spectrum of its nutritional value. Raw honey is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It contains all kinds of goodies – pollen, vitamins, minerals, trace enzymes, amino acids, phytonutrients, and other beneficial health-boosting elements.

Feel free to add more (or less) honey in your elderberry syrup using this recipe. If you’re using extra, I recommend going easy on the honey so you don’t add too much. You want a little bit of that elderberry tartness. That’s what makes the elderberry syrup taste so good!

— More options:

You can also use star anise and/or ginger.

Related: 12 Super Simple Ways to Boost Your Child’s Health

Related: 21 Smart Ways to Save on Groceries (& Still Eat Healthy!)

Shelf life of homemade elderberry syrup

Homemade elderberry syrup should keep in the refrigerator for about 2 months.

How much elderberry syrup to take?

So here’s the deal: I don’t have a PhD in Elderberry Science. You shouldn’t be taking any elderberry advice from me. Besides, the recommendations about elderberry syrup use and dosage vary.

Not very helpful, I know!

It’s true though. Just ask around and you’re bound to get a number of different responses. Some people take the elderberry syrup daily as a preventative measure, some recommend against and only take it when they’re sick or feeling like coming down with something. Some take a teaspoon, others swear by a tablespoonful. One or two of either, or even a whole shot glass.

WHAT DO *WE* DO???

We take the elderberry syrup when we feel like it and if we happen to remember. The kids get anywhere from 1 teaspoon-ish of elderberry syrup to a tablespoon or more per each serving (we don’t measure), and me and my hubs get about double the amount.

If illness seems to want to strike, we take the elderberry syrup multiple times a day (about 4-5 times if possible). In that case we find it easier to just pour some syrup into a small glass and sip throughout the day.

For children under 12 months old, I personally wouldn’t give more than 1/2 teaspoon – if that! – of honey-less elderberry syrup at a time.

How to thicken elderberry syrup

Homemade elderberry syrup isn’t thick and syrupy. Like, at all. In fact, it’s nowhere near the consistency of store-bought elderberry syrup (which is always thickened).

For a thicker elderberry syrup recipe you can you can add a bit of corn starch, tapioca starch, or arrowroot powder once the liquid is cooked and strained (or brown rice syrup or glycerin, I guess, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of either of these two).

For what it’s worth, I have never used any thickeners in all the years I’ve been making elderberry syrup. I actually don’t mind the not-so-syrupy consistency of homemade elderberry syrup. If I ever use any thickeners, I will let you know.

That’s it from me, I hope you like this homemade elderberry syrup recipe as much as we do! 🙂

Fresh elderberries with leaves and stems next to a jar with homemade elderberry syrup. Text overlay - Boost your immunity with this simple and delicious Elderberry Syrup Recipe.

8 Comments

  • LEANNE RANWATER

    I would like to process my syrup in a canner for a longer shelf life. How long should I process pints?
    Thank you

    • wholesomechildren

      I have never further processed mine, so I’m unfortunately no help here. If you want to preserve the syrup’s medicinal properties, I would personally avoid canning and keep the process as gentle and low heat as possible. Otherwise, if you just want to make the syrup for its taste, I would follow the standard directions for canning.

      • wholesomechildren

        Yup, I would think freezing would easily at least double the shelf life of elderberry syrup. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • Argia McKercher

    This recipe looks great! I am getting ready to make this syrup, but I would like to double the recipe. My question is do I need to double the cinnamon sticks, cloves and honey, or do I use a lesser amount of each for the doubling? Thanks

    • wholesomechildren

      Of course. In fact, the longer you cook the elderberries, the less beneficial compounds there’ll be. That being said though, it is recommended to cook the elderberry for at least a while to reduce the cyanide-inducing glycosides present in the seeds (it also helps the spices release their flavor). Now, as far as the exact minimal cooking time to break down the toxins in the elderberry, the recommendations even from scientific sources aren’t exactly clear. Unfortunately.

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