With the wicked cold and flu season we’ve had this year, a lot of folks are looking for all-natural, proven ways to boost their immune system strength—enter elderberry syrup! Making your own Elderberry Syrup is an excellent way to dabble in home herbalism. The ingredients are easy to find. The syrup is a breeze to make. And it tastes awesome (which is definitely not true for all herbal medicines, trust me).
Elder has been a darling of herbal medicine for centuries (literally, they were writing books about the benefits of Elderberries back in the 1600s), in large part because of its powerful immunostimulant and antiviral properties. I personally am all about trying home remedies that have been passed down for generations, but if you need a little more scientific proof to get you on the Elderberry bandwagon, there is that, too. So. Much. Of. That.
And if you’re looking for anecdotal evidence, well, I’ll say that that this year is the first year my family has regularly taken Elderberry syrup, and none of us have come down with the horrible viruses that have been circulating (knocks on every piece of wood ever). This is particularly amazing considering I am immune-compromised, we have a three-year-old, AND it’s the worst flu season in decades (again, knocking on all the wood).
Nowadays, you can buy Elderberry Syrup at most natural food stores and even in the pharmacy section of a lot of major supermarkets, but I have two issues with the store bought varieties: (1) price—lordy, they ain’t cheap at almost $20 per eight ounces and (2) ingredients—sugar, sugar, sugar. Flip over the box of store-bought Elderberry Syrup (or the gummies, more on those in a sec), and you’ll find sugar, corn syrup, or glucose (or all three) listed toward the top of the ingredients list.
Now, I love the occasional brownie or cookie as much as the next gal, but the truth is, processed sugar is an immunosuppressant. Taking a remedy that’s supposed to boost your immune system but contains an immunosuppressant as one of the first ingredients? That seems…um…counterproductive. So I make my own!
There are as many recipes for Elderberry Syrup out there as there are people taking it—it really is a place where you can experiment with flavors and herbal medicines that work for you and your family. I landed on this current recipe for a number of reasons. First of all, I always have the ingredients on hand (minus the elderberries, which I buy in bulk from Amazon—at least until my own plant starts fruiting).
Secondly, I think it’s a great combination of immune-boosting and antimicrobial herbs without tasting yucky. There are so many awesome antiviral and antibacterial herbs I could put in there, but I can’t guarantee it’d taste good. This combo of elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, and thyme? It tastes awesome! Here’s exactly why each ingredient is in my Elderberry Syrup:
- Elderberries: Packed with immunostimulant compounds, antioxidants, and acts as a powerful antiviral.
- Water: Because you need something make your syrup out of, duh.
- Apple Cider or Juice: Adds a touch of sweetness to the syrup without adding sugar. It also has a nice dose of antioxidants!
- Cinnamon: A natural anti-inflammatory and helps balance blood sugar, which helps manage the large amount of honey in the syrup.
- Ginger: A powerful anti-inflammatory, a natural antibiotic, and a friend of our tummies.
- Thyme: A superpower when it comes to bronchial health, thyme is a natural cough reliever and is a powerful antibacterial and antiviral.
- Honey: Well, it tastes awesome! But it’s also an antibacterial rockstar (you can even use it as a salve on cuts and wounds) and is clinically-proven to be a better cough suppressant than traditional cough syrups on the market.
- Astragalus (optional): This traditional Chinese herb isn’t well-known in the West, but it should be! It’s a powerful long-term immune-booster that I think tastes like caramel! You don’t have to add it in, but it does up the immunity ante if you do.
Many folks use a much higher amount of honey in their Elderberry Syrup recipes than I do—closer to a 1:1 elderberry juice to honey ratio. The reason for this is storage life. With a 1:1 ratio, the sugar in the honey makes the syrup shelf stable for upwards of a year. Which was great back in the olden days when no one had a fridge, but now? Well, I just keep mine on the fridge door and it lasts fine for the 3-4 weeks it takes us to work through a bottle. I also find the 1:1 ratio way too cloying to take daily, so I do about a 3:1 juice to honey ratio—still sweet, but not like you’re doing shots of straight honey.
The dosage for Elderberry Syrup is pretty simple (and you really can’t OD on the stuff unless you have blood sugar control issues like through diabetes). For daily immune support, adults take one tablespoon per day and kids take one teaspoon. We only take this during prime cold and flu months—about September through March. Some folks recommend “pulsing” your dosage to up efficacy—so you take a day or two off each week. We personally don’t do this.
When you are sick or feel something coming on, up your intake to one dose every 2-3 hours until you’re feeling well again. Then go back to the regular dose.
Now what about elderberrry gummies? You’ve probably seen those on store shelves near the kids’ vitamins. Why make gummies for a syrup that is delicious? Because kids are weird. Especially three-year-olds. And they sometimes won’t drink the syrup even though it tastes amazing. But put it in the shape of a Lego dude, and BOOM, they happily take their medicine.
We were originally buying the gummies for our weird little three-year-old, and then one day, I flipped over the bottle and looked at the ingredients. The first two were “sugar” and “corn syrup.” Yeah. No. I can do better than that. So I turned my homemade Elderberry Syrup into homemade Elderberry Gummies. Easy. Peasy.
All you need to make the gummies (or “gums” as Juni calls them) is premade Elderberry Syrup, gelatin, and some silicone molds. I prefer to get molds where the cavities hold 5ml (or 1 teaspoon), which makes for a perfect single toddler dosage. Molds that come with big eye droppers also really help when it comes to filling.