It must have been about 10 years ago that I decided I was tired of my family constantly getting sick. I was a young mama of 3 kiddos who always seemed to need to go to the doctor’s office for one ailment to the next. Honestly, it was like a revolving door of runny noses and hacking coughs during the months of fall and winter.
At this time, I was becoming increasingly interested in natural remedies. Not only did I want to keep my 3 kids healthy I wanted to do so as budget-friendly as possible. So, I turned to me best friend who had 4 kids at the time and never took any of them to the doctor. Surely, she would know a wonderful immune boosting, cough-busting, home remedy, right?
I gave my dear friend a call and picked her brain a bit about natural health remedies. Not only was she a mom to 4 kids but also an herbalist. My friend told me to look into elderberry remedies. She explained how she makes a wonderful immune boosting syrup for her family that they take religiously during the cold and flu months.
So, I ordered myself a bag of dried elderberries and eagerly awaited their arrival. Waiting for the FedEx truck was painstakingly long. Each day, I’d watch for him to drive up to my house. Finally, he did.
As I examined my bag of elderberries I noticed that they smelled like dirty feet. Seriously, dirty, smelly feet. Little did I know; these stinky berries were about to change everything in terms of my family’s health.
So, What Makes Elderberries So Special?
According to PubMed, elderberries are known as one of the most antiviral herbs in the world. In 1995, the government used elderberry remedies to fight the Panama flu epidemic. Not only do they naturally decrease the effects of the common cold, flu virus, and coughs but they also relieve sinus trouble, nerve pain, inflammation, allergies, and even constipation. There has been some evidence that elderberries may even help the body fight cancer.
You may have heard that berries like blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, and blackberries are high in immune-boosting flavonoids. Elderberries totally knock these berries out of the park with flavonoid power. What does this mean? It means you are getting a mega-dose of flavonoids when you utilize elderberries.
How Do Elderberries Relieve Cold, Cough, and Flu Symptoms?
In general, elderberries work as a wonderful immune system booster. These tiny little berries (that smell like feet) contain chemical compounds called anthocyanidins. What are those? Well, they are compounds that have immunostimulant effects.
A publication called Nutrients posted a 2016 study that showed that elderberries can reduce the length and symptoms of the common cold in people who were traveling. When the subjects took the elderberry supplements 10 days before travel and 5 days after arriving to their destination they experienced an average 2-day shorter duration of colds and marked reduction of symptoms.
Other studies, several to be exact, have shown that elderberry extract is immensely effective in deterring flu-like symptoms. The flavonoids in elderberry extract have been proven to bind to the H1N1 human influenza virus as well as the H5N1 avian flu virus.
According to a 2009 study performed by the Online Journal of Pharmacology and PharmacoKinetics (OJPK) Group, elderberry extract showed to significantly improve symptoms of the flu in a test group of patients versus another group who was given a placebo. Researchers of the experiment determined that elderberry extract is highly effective in combating symptoms of the flu.
Other studies have shown that when elderberry remedies are used within 48 hours of the onset of cold and flu symptoms, it shortens the duration of the ailment by about 4 days.
How Did My Family Respond to Elderberry Syrup?
So, when you’re testing out new remedies on small children and a husband, you have to be prepared for some complaints. The number one issue was how bad the elderberries stunk up the house as they simmered on the stove-top. However, once everyone tasted the syrup they decided that the sweetness trumped the smell.
I added a lot of honey to my batch because you honestly must. Elderberries are not sweet by any means and if you didn’t add honey you’d be left with a very bitter purple tonic that someone would surely toss out the window.
Anyway, what I decided to do was use the syrup as a preventative remedy. I gave my kids 1 tsp. in the morning, Monday – Friday during the fall and winter months. My husband and I took 1 TBSP following the same schedule.
Taking weekends and spring/summer off is wise because it gives your body a break and won’t build up a tolerance to the syrup. Now, if we actually did become ill, I’d give the same does but more frequently until symptoms disappeared.
Getting sick, while taking elderberry syrup is rare, but it does still happen. However, when it does happen you’ll notice that your symptoms are far less severe and prolonged.
So, moving forward about 10 years, my family and I are still taking elderberry syrup and we haven’t received a flu shot in over a decade. Even my husband, who is quite picky about homemade remedies, reaches for the elderberry syrup during cold and flu season.
Ways Elderberry Can be Consumed
There are quite a few ways elderberries can be consumed and today we are focusing on tinctures and syrups. However, for reference, I’ve put together a small list of other ways you can take elderberry. Perhaps, you’ve already tried some of them.
- Topical ointments/astringents/sprays
Types of Elderberry Concoctions That You Can Make at Home
As I’ve mentioned above, I enjoy making elderberry syrup for my family. It is a basic recipe that helps boost the immune system and encourages the body to fight off symptoms of the cold and flu viruses. This basic recipe is great because you can add other herbs to it to personalize treatments based on your needs.
These are the three recipes that I enjoy making for my family:
- Elderberry immunity syrup
- Elderberry tincture
- Elderberry cough syrup
Anyone can make these remedies as they are super simple recipes to follow and don’t require anything to fancy.
Let’s get started!
Elderberry Immunity Syrup
- 4 cups filtered water
- 2 cups dried elderberries
- 1 TBSP ginger powder
- 2 tsps. cinnamon powder
- 2 tsps. clove powder
- 1 – 2 cups raw, local honey
In an aluminum-free medium pot, place the water, elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves over high heat, stir, and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture is boiling, turn the heat down to low, cover, and allow to simmer for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, strain the liquid into a glass bowl using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. You can compost the elderberries if you’d like:
After making sure the liquid is completely cooled you may now add the honey. Start with 1 cup, taste, and add more if the syrup isn’t sweet enough. Whisk to make sure honey is evenly incorporated:
Using a funnel, pour the syrup into a bottle. I use an old glass juice bottle that is at least quart size. Place the lid on the bottle and store in the refrigerator:
The syrup should stay fresh for about 1 month.
How to Use
Children under 2 – Do not use as honey is said to not be good for kids in this age group.
Children 2 to 10 – 1 tsp
Kids and adults 10 and up – 1 TBSP
Take the syrup during the fall and winter months, Monday – Friday.
If sickness strikes, take the syrup every 2 – 4 hours until symptoms subside.
Do not add honey to the mix until the liquid is completely cooled. Heating raw honey will kill its important antiviral properties.
Opting to make an elderberry tincture is far less labor intensive and time-consuming than a syrup. Tinctures are highly potent, concentrated substances that work a little faster than other concoctions due to the alcohol that is in them. Alcohol acts as a carrying vessel for the herbs you are tincturing.
Fresh or dried elderberries
Fill your jar half full of fresh elderberries or a quarter full of dried. Next, pour vodka into the jar and fill it to about 1” from the top. Put a lid on the jar, give it a good shake, and store it in a dark, cool place for about 4 – 6 weeks. Make sure to come back and shake your jar every couple of days. Once the infusion is complete, strain the berries from the vodka and store the tincture in an amber-colored bottle.
It is VERY important to keep your tincture of direct sunlight. Storing the jar in a dark cabinet is best. If this isn’t possible, consider using a darkly colored jar, instead.
How to Use
When you feel a cold or the flu starting to creep into your life, take 1 tsp of the elderberry tincture up to 3 times a day. You may take the tincture straight or dilute it in a cup of water.
You may feel uncomfortable giving this form of elderberry to children, pregnant women, or those who have issues with alcohol. An alternative method can be used when you replace the vodka with glycerin.
To use glycerin instead of vodka, fill a jar 2/3 full of fresh elderberries. Crush the berries a bit with a wooden spoon. Next, pour the glycerin into the jar until you reach 1” from the top. Place a lid on the jar and store in a dark place for 4 to 6 weeks. Remember to give the jar a shake every couple of days. Once the infusion is complete, strain the berries and store the glycerin in an amber-colored bottle. Consume following the same dosing method as the vodka tincture.
Elderberry Cough Syrup
4 cups filtered water
½ cup dried elderberries
2 TBSP dried plantain leaf
¾ cup raw, local honey
In a medium aluminum-free pot, place the water, elderberries, and plantain. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.
Next, place cover the pot with a lid and allow to steep for 2 hours. Then, strain the infused liquid from the herbs and place the infusion back into the pot.
Turn the stove on low and allow the to simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow to reach room temperature. Add the honey and stir until it has dissolved.
Pour syrup into a jar, label, and store in the fridge with a lid. Syrup will stay fresh for 1 to 3 months.
How to Use
Take the cough syrup at the first sign of a cough.
Children over the age of 6 and Adults – 1 TBSP every 2-3 hours until symptoms subside.
Children 2 to 6 – 1 tsp every 2-3 hours until symptoms subside
Children under 2 – Do not use
Although, these remedies are not to be used in place of your doctor’s advice, they can be helpful in keeping your family free from colds, coughs, and the flu. I know they have certainly been proven to help my family during those times where everyone else around us has been sick and I plan to continue to use elderberry to keep our immune systems working at full speed.
Jessica Faidley is a stay-at-home, work-from-home, homeschooling mom who loves to teach her children how to live off the land.
Herbalism is another topic that Jessica has studied. Keeping herself and her family healthy through a natural approach is her way of doing things.