Everything Elderberry and the BEST Elderberry Syrup Recipe — All Posts Healing Harvest Homestead (2024)

This article is all about: How to identify elderberry plants, how to forage and clean elder berries and flowers, the benefits of using elderberries to boost the immune system, and the BEST elderberry syrup recipe you'll ever taste!

I am THRILLED this chilly fall day! I just harvested my second bunch of elderberries off a giant tree growing down the hill. Why am I so excited? And why would you use elderberries, too?

Well, elderberries are known for and clinically proven to be an immune boosting herb extraordinaire! Plus, you can make all kinds of delicious things with elderberries and elder flowers. Syrups, oxymels, jelly, tinctures, teas,fritters, and much more.

When I was a kid, my dad and mom took us up to Mount Charleston (then, about an hour away from Las Vegas) to hike up the high altitude rocky trails every Labor Day weekend to forage for elderberries. That weekend was the “ripening” weekend in that part of the country for elderberries.

The elderberry bushes that grow in the high mountain desert there are not very big. They are more like shrubs. That's why I was so confused the first time I saw an actual elderberry TREE when we first moved here to North Idaho! That tree was about 20-30 feet tall! And filled with flowers at the time!

Whoa! Those elderberries!!!! I did an actual Happy Dance when I saw that wild tree growing by the road down our hill!

I harvest the flowers in the spring, but always make sure to leave enough for the berries I knew would be coming ripe right around Labor Day. I was not disappointed.

This species of elderberry are the west coast blue ones (Sambucus cerulea and S. canadensis), and like the black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) found mainly back east, they have some supreme medicinal powers.

There are other species of elderberry that may or may not be as useful, depending on the variety, so be sure to positively identify the Latin binomial if you can.

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How to Identify an Elderberry Bush or Tree

I have to admit: I have searched for many years (in Southern Nevada)to find local elderberries living in the wild. They are not very tree-like in the desert where I came from, and they’re rather sparse too. Because the plants here in Idaho are so BIG, there isn’t such a sense of desperation in the foraging of them.

Here is how you can identify an elderberry bush or tree, in case you find one (or more) in your area. If you plan to harvest elder flowers or berries, you need to know what to look for. There are species of toxic plants that are similar, and you don't want to make any mistakes.

You can find out 15 Foraging Tips for Medicinal and Edible Plants right here.

How to Identify Elder Leaves:

The leaves of the elderberry are compound, with 5 to 11 (odd numbered) opposite leaves on a thin stem. The leaflets have serrated edges and are pointed at the tips, with a rounded bottom. Leaflets are in a lance shape.

Because there is an odd number of leaves on a stem with opposite leaves, there is always a terminal leaflet at the end of the stem.It's a very distinct leaf pattern, and once you know it well, you'll know if you are looking at an elderberry bush or tree, even if there are no flowers or berries on it.

Water Hemlock: A toxic look alike. One thing to absolutely take note of in identifying elderberry are the leaves, as stated above. The flowers of the water hemlock are similar, so taking a look at the leaves for proper identification is a good idea. The leaves of the water hemlock are arranged alternatively as opposed to opposite. So that's a big giveaway!

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How to Identify Elder Flowers:

The flowers are in the form of an umbrel (umbrella shape). They form in clusters of tiny white or cream colored flowers. From afar, they look like a big, beautiful white flower; but as you get close to it, you'll see sweet tiny flowers with a delicious scent.

How to Identify the Berries:

Well, once you've identified the plant and the flowers, you'll know the berries are not far behind! Just keep your eye on that plant, and you'll see them begin to emerge in mid-summer and ripen in late summer.

The blue elderberries have a whitish coating on them, which is wild yeast. If you rub it off, you'll see the dark blue of the berry underneath. That wild yeast is what makes it a wonderful berry to use in making fermented products like vinegar, mead, wine, etc..

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How to Identify the Whole Plant:

The plant itself can range from being a lower-growing bush or shrub (like the ones I gathered from as a child) or a very tall tree with bark and woody stems (like the ones I'm now seeing everywhere here in Idaho).

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Safety Factors to Understand About Elderberries and Flowers

Perhaps you've heard elderberries aren't safe to use. Well, there are certain precautions to be aware of, but once you know how to prepare your elderberries safely, you'll have no worries!

The stems and branches, as well as the roots of the elderberry tree/bush are slightly toxic, as they contain cyanic compounds. The green berries also contain compounds that are slightly toxic as well. The cyano-glycosides found in the seeds and stems can cause a bit of stomach upset for some sensitive individuals when eaten raw in great quantity.

**Most people have no difficulty with elderberries.

Therefore, when harvesting the flowers in spring, try to get as many of the small stems out as you can. A few left in are ok, but do your best.With the berries, be sure to pick out any green ones, as these aren't good for you. Also, like with the flowers, try to get as many of the small stems off as possible.

Now…picking off all the stems is truly impossible and tedious at best. I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t worry about them. The cyano-glycosides (which are the mildly toxic chemical they contain) are deactivated when cooked or dehydrated. If you’re concerned, I suggest processing your elderberry flowers and berries in one of these ways. However, I do tincture fresh elderberries each season and have never once had a problem with myself or anyone I’ve shared the tincture with.

So, can you eat wild, raw elderberries?

A few won't hurt you, but too many can give you a really good stomach ache and possibly nausea for some folks. As a child, I did eat my fair share, though, and never had an issue. Cooked elderberries, on the other hand, are perfectly safe, as are dehydrated (dried) elderberries, so if you have concerns, just process them.

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Why Elderberries are So Good for You (Benefits)

Guess what? There's been quite a bit of scientific research around the benefits and efficacy of elderberry for prevention and to speed recovery. One study found elderberry was excellent at inhibiting a number of viruses in vitro. Another study found it had a significant effect on the swine flu virus. And yet another research study found it reduced the symptoms of a number of strains of flu.

There have been a number of studies that have proven elderberry is excellent at reducing symptoms and speeding recovery. In addition, the use of potentially needed "rescue" medication is significantly reduced when elderberry is used. (Sources listed below)

I've written more about elderberry in my eBook: , and also in this article, Herbs to Use Right Away if You Feel a Cold or Flu Coming On.

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Tips for Cleaning Elderberries and Getting Them Ready to Use

Remove as many of the stems as you can. What I do is take my berries out of the basket and wipe my hands along the stem so they fall into a strainer. The ripe berries will come right off, while less ripe ones may need a little tugging.

If I’m cooking them to make my syrup, I don’t worry about stems, leaves, and green berries, to be honest. The heat deactivates the cyano-glycosides, rendering them harmless! Good news, right?

Then I rinse the berries well while they are in the strainer. It's a bit of a tedious process, but well worth the effort. After the rinse, they are ready to dehydrate or freeze for later use, or you can go ahead and get that elderberry syrup or oxymel made!

TIP: Freezing the Elderberries

I really like to freeze my elderberries right off the bush these days. I’ve found that doing this makes it SUPER easy to remove the berries from the stems if you want to dehydrate them later or use them as syrup. Also, I usually try to have a few gallon bags of elderberries in the freezer to get us through the winter months too.

Where Can You Get Elderberries if You Can’t or Don’t Want to Forage or Grow Them?

Not a problem!

You can order high quality dried elderberries from Starwest Botanicals, my favorite place to purchase bulk herbs, spices, and essential oils.

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How to Make the BEST Elderberry Syrup

This recipe will make between one and two cups of elderberry syrup, depending on how thick you want it and how much honey you add.

I tend to reduce the water quite a bit for more concentration and not add as much honey as most people like. With this batch, I yielded one cup and a little more of very concentrated, slightly sweet elderberry syrup. Feel free to make adjustments!

This recipe is inspired by the one in Rosemary Gladstar's excellent book: Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to use herbs for health reasons and is new to herbalism.

Ingredients for Elderberry Syrup:

*** 1 quart fresh elderberries (see the variation below for using dried elderberries)

*** About 4-6 nickel sized slices of fresh ginger--or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger chips or ground ginger

*** 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

*** 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

*** Raw honey, local is best.

NOTE: for even more immune-boosting power, add a few astragalus roots!

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Directions for Making Elderberry Syrup:

Step 1)

In a large soup pot, add the elderberries and enough water to cover the berries about an inch to an inch and a half. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the berries are nice and soft, even on the mushy side. The liquid will reduce some. It's ok to add more water if you need to.

Step 2)

Strain out the elderberries and mash, leaving the liquid behind. Measure the liquid---this will be approximately the amount of honey you'll add.

Step 3)

Place the liquid back in the pot with the ginger and ground spices. I poured a bit more water in because my elderberry reduction was quite thick. (I tend to over-reduce it.)This is a good thing in general, because it's more concentrated, but I still needed to simmer the spices in the liquid for about 15 minutes---therefore, I needed more water. Don't worry. It will boil off.

Step 4)

Once it's simmered for around 15 minutes, allowing the medicinal properties and flavors of the spices to infuse into the juice, remove and strain off the spices. You may end up with some ground cinnamon and clove in your syrup, but this just adds to the flavor. If you don't want this, use a very fine strainer.

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Step 5)

Your liquid will still be warm at this point, but not boiling. If it's really hot, let it cool down to around body temperature (not higher than 115 degrees) because you want to keep the active beneficial enzymes and antibacterial properties of the honey alive.

Now go ahead and add your honey. You can add up to equal amounts honey and liquid, but I prefer a much lower amount of sugar. I had one cup liquid above in step 2. So I planned on adding 1/2 cup honey. You can add more to taste, though.

NOTE ON SHELF STABILITY: If you want a shelf stable syrup, please do add the entire 1:1 ratio of honey to liquid, and perhaps a bit more honey than that. Honey acts as a preservative in herbal syrups. The less you add, the less shelf-stable your syrup is. Since I do add less sugar/honey, I keep mine in the fridge, and it tends to last a couple of months.

Step 6)

Stir well until the honey is fully dissolved.

Step 7)

Bottle up your syrup! Enjoy!

Recipe VARIATION: How to Use Dried Elderberries to Make Elderberry Syrup

You can use dried elderberries to make this syrup too.

Just use 1/2 quart of the dried berries and one and a half quarts of water, as the berries will reconstitute. Simmer until the liquid is halved, add your ginger, any other herbs, and spices. Then, just finish up as in the above. You should be able to mash those berries once they are re-hydrated. You can add more water as you go along, if you need to also.

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How Long Will Your Homemade Elderberry Syrup Last?

At room temperature, it will last a good couple weeks to a month, perhaps longer. (I’ve had syrup last three months before.) The more honey or sugar you use, the longer it will stay good. This is because the sugar helps preserve it, being a deterrent to some microbes. Be sure to read through my note on shelf stability above in this article.

Here’s my motto for knowing if I should use something or not, if it’s been stored for a while: if in doubt, toss it out!

What if You Don't Want to Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup?

Not everyone loves to make their own or do it yourself. I totally get that. Especially if you are busy, sometimes it's hard to do all the things! I know! Here are some great options if you would rather just purchase your elderberry syrup:

Organic Elderberry Syrup for Kids

Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup

Dr. Dunner Black Elderberry Syrup with Elder Flower

How to Use Your Elderberry Syrup (How Much Should You Use?)

Really, you can use as much as you like. Especially if you are drizzling it over pancakes, you'll be using a quantity. Just keep in mind that some people have a bit of a laxative reaction if too much is used.

For medicinal purposes, it's great to take a tablespoon a few times a day if you feel a cold or flu getting started. You can also take it as a daily tonic for health and prevention of cold and flu, too. It's an absolutely delicious herbal syrup!

**NOTE: For infants under a year, do not use elderberry syrup made with honey. I have heard you can substitute with date sugar, and I'm sure organic cane sugar is fine too. Also, for using this with young children, you'll want to cut back on the amount you give them.

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Final Thoughts on Identifying, Foraging, and Using Elderberry

This is one of my favorite herbs in the wild. I just love elderberry. From the Spring time with the lovely flowers to the late Summer with its blue or black berries, it's such a useful plant! And it's pretty too.

Now that I've seen how tall these elderberry trees can get, I'm in elderberry heaven! Have I mentioned how much I love Idaho? :-) If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably seen that phrase from me, for sure! lol

What about you? Have you made elderberry syrup before? Or other elderberry products, like oxymels or tinctures? I'd love to hear your questions, comments, and experiences, so go ahead and leave a comment in the comments section below!

You might also enjoy these related articles:

How to Make a Forsythia Syrup: A Golden Springtime Delight

How to Prevent a Cold or Flu: Natural Ways to Stay Healthy

How to Make the BEST Herbal Decongestant (It Really Works!)

Make Your Own Fire Cider: An Herbal Health Tonic

**And lots more on the blog!

Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,


P.S. I hope you'll sign up for the weekly newsletter! You'll never miss a thing, and I'll have free tips for you every time. Plus, You’ll get immediate access to the Resource Library! You’ll love what’s inside! And…it’s updated weekly!

P.P.S. I'd sure love it if you would pin this Picture to one of your Pinterest boards! Then you'll have it for later or to share! :-)

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or professional. In no manner, stated or implied, is any statement in this article or in any other of my publications/videos/podcasts, etc., meant to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any disease. Please seek medical attention from your professional if you have questions or if you are taking medications. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.

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Everything Elderberry and the BEST Elderberry Syrup Recipe — All Posts Healing Harvest Homestead (16)

, , Preparedness

Heidi Villegas, MA, CA, Herbalist

elderberry, elderberry syrup, foraging elderberry, identifying elderberry, how to make elderberry syrup


Everything Elderberry and the BEST Elderberry Syrup Recipe — All Posts Healing Harvest Homestead (2024)


How often to take homemade elderberry syrup? ›

There is no standard medical dosing for this syrup, but it's generally considered safe for adults to take 1 tablespoon by mouth daily for prevention, and 1 tablespoon every 2-3 hours when fighting the cold or the flu.

How long does elderberry stay in your system? ›

The water-soluble components in elderberry extract only stay in your body for 1-2 days before being excreted.

How do I know if my elderberry syrup is bad? ›

When does it expire? We date our syrup 4 months from our kitchen make date, although it typically lasts a few months longer, especially if unopened. Our elderberry syrup is stamped with a best by date sticker on the bottom of the jar.

How long to cook elderberries to remove toxins? ›

To neutralize toxins, specifically cyanide-inducing glycosides, heat treatment is a must. Boiling elderberries for at least 30 minutes is the go-to method. This ensures the destruction of harmful compounds. Steaming or baking can also do the trick, as long as the berries reach a high enough temperature.

Who should not take Elderberry Syrup? ›

Elderberry appears to have few side effects when used properly for short periods of time (up to 5 days). Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take elderberry. If you have an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, ask your doctor before taking elderberry, as it may stimulate the immune system.

How much homemade elderberry syrup should I take daily? ›

Preventative Use: Take 1 teaspoon daily during the cold and flu season. During Illness: Increase to 1 teaspoon 3 times a day at the onset of symptoms.

Is it OK to take elderberry syrup everyday? ›

Elderberry syrups and supplements made from reputable companies can be taken daily, even multiples times daily. Elderberry products, like Sambucol Black Elderberry Syrup and Sambucol Black Elderberry Gummies, are made from elderberry fruits. That means you're taking in a highly concentrated source of fruit.

Are there negative side effects of elderberry? ›

Elderberry is possibly unsafe when uncooked leaves, stems, or fruit are consumed. The elderberry plant contains a chemical that produces cyanide in the leaves or other plant parts and in the unripe green fruit. This can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, or more serious side effects if consumed in large quantities.

Should elderberry syrup be refrigerated? ›

We get asked all the time, “Do I need to refrigerate my syrup?” And the answer is YES! Most of the store-bought elderberry syrups out there are packed with preservatives, which is why they can last in the medicine cabinet for so long. Most preservatives are sugar laden and unhealthy for our bodies.

What happens if you eat too much elderberry syrup? ›

Elderberry syrup, gummies, and juice are made from processed berries, which remove the poisonous compounds to make them safe to digest. The common side effects of taking raw elderberry plant products, such as fruit, flower, leaves, bark, or root include: Stomach problems. Nausea and vomiting.

Does elderberry syrup detox your body? ›

The humble elderberry is considered to be quite the superfood. It was first used by early indigenous people of the Americas to brew up heady concoctions to boost the immune system, detox and cleanse the body, reduce inflammation, and to treat fevers, cold, and flu too.

How do you remove cyanide from elderberries? ›

The most crucial process in removing cyanide from elderberries is cooking. The heat breaks down the harmful glycoside compounds, lowering the cyanide levels to a safe quantity. Remember, caution must be exercised with elderberries always.

Does boiling elderberries destroy vitamin C? ›

Elderberries contain vitamin C, but much of it is destroyed by heat. Adding lemon juice provides an additional vitamin C boost to the syrup.

Can you take homemade elderberry syrup daily? ›

Elderberries offer excellent nutrition that contains antioxidants and vitamin C, which can boost the immune system among other benefits. Yes, you can take elderberry supplements daily, even three to four times a day. However, you should not take more than the recommended daily dose.

Is it safe to take elderberry syrup everyday? ›

Elderberry supplements seem to have few risks when used daily for up to five days. The safety of its long-term use is unknown. Risks. Never eat or drink any product made from raw elderberry fruit, flowers, or leaves.

Is homemade elderberry syrup good for you? ›

Elderberry syrup is known as a powerful cold preventative and remedy. Just one cup of berries contains about 58% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. It's also a great source of antioxidants — which may protect your cells from damage and help prevent heart disease and cancer.

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