Homemade Elderberry Syrup
Learn how to make homemade elderberry syrup using fresh (or dried) elderberries and honey.
(Updated for 2021, since I’ve reduced water amounts and cooking time since my original recipe in 2015.) 😊
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been harvesting from our elder bushes, making lots of goodies, including tincture, oxymel, and salve.
Check out my article at Unruly Gardening for comprehensive information on harvesting, drying, freezing, and storing, plus recipe/remedy ideas for using elderberries!
Elderberries: How to Harvest, Preserve & Use
Elderberry Syrup is the best thing ever and I couldn’t imagine facing cold/flu season without it!
There are quite a few studies on its effectiveness against influenza, like THIS ONE (“Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo.”), and you can find more by searching through PubMed.
If you don’t have a source for fresh elderberries, you can adapt the recipe for dried elderberries instead – which you can buy from Mountain Rose Herbs.
- 1 part fresh, fully ripe black elderberries (*or half as much dried)
- 1 part water
- 1 part raw honey (check local farmer’s markets or health stores)
- optional: small bit of cinnamon stick and/or ginger root (dried or fresh)
Directions to Make Homemade Elderberry Syrup
- Gather the fresh berries and make sure no stems remain. (The stems have some level of toxic compounds in them.)
- Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with an equal amount of water. (i.e. for 1 cup of berries, use 1 cup of water.)
- If you’d like, add a piece of cinnamon stick and/or dried or fresh ginger. These are both warming herbs and great for when you feel like you’re catching a cold. They also add an extra level of tastiness!
- Place the pan over a medium burner and bring to a simmer.
- Adjust the heat as needed, to keep the berries at a very low simmer and cook for around 20 to 30 minutes, smashing the berries with a fork occasionally as they cook.
- Strain the juice from the cooked elderberries into a glass jar or pitcher.
- Compost the seeds and pulp, as the seeds should not be eaten.
- Let the juice cool to a comfortably warm, but not cold, temperature, then stir in an equal amount of raw honey.
If you don’t have fresh berries, use 1/2 part dried berries instead of 1 part fresh. So, for 1/2 cup dried berries, you’d use 1 cup of water. Frozen berries will also work great in this recipe, using the same amount you would for fresh.
Whatever amount of juice that you end up with, is how much honey you’ll use. If you end up with 1 cup of juice, use 1 cup of honey. If you end up with 2 1/3 cups of juice, use 2 1/3 cups of honey.
Why raw honey? Because it has its own antiviral properties (as shown by THIS STUDY) and others like it. It also helps act as a preservative to keep your elderberry juice from spoiling quickly.
To maintain its benefits, raw honey shouldn’t be heated over around 110°F (43°C).
Storing & Using Elderberry Syrup
Once made, you can store the finished syrup in your refrigerator for about 3 to 4 weeks.
You can stretch that longer to several months if you add a generous amount of brandy, vodka or an alcohol-based tincture (like this homemade elderberry tincture) as a preservative – add 1/4 cup alcohol for every 1 cup of syrup. (Heads-up though, adding tincture gives a stronger taste that I find less pleasing.)
Or, freeze the finished syrup in small containers and store in your freezer. Thaw overnight in your fridge as needed.
Another idea is to make a fresh but small batch of elderberry syrup up, using frozen or dried elderberries, about once per month. Then you don’t have to worry about freezing or adding alcohol.
Take 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) of elderberry syrup 4 times a day, or more often if needed, when sick with cold and flu symptoms. (This is an adult dose, use less for children.) If symptoms worsen or you feel concerned, check with your doctor or family health care provider for further guidance. Honey should not be given to children under 1 year old.
In essence, elderberry syrup is more of a food with healthful benefits, than a medicine in itself, so it’s hard to take too much. However, it’s always prudent to use moderation and see how an herb affects you, before taking a lot of it. Check with your doctor or health care provider if you have chronic health conditions, or have any questions or concerns about this or any herbal home remedy.
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We make elderberry syrup every year but I have never heard anyone making a salve. How do you do that? What do you use it for?
Hi Sara! I got the salve directions and information on what it’s good for all typed up this weekend:
Thanks. Can’t wait to try it.
Thank you so much for sharing this, especially using dried elderberries. I do not have access to fresh berries but purchased some dried from Mountain Rose, perfect timing, thank you!!!
That’s great – I’m glad it was helpful for you! :)
I knew I bought dried elderberries for a reason!
Yes! They are handy to have on hand! :)
Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing.
Hi Joanie, I’m happy you liked it! :)
Made this today for my daughter, and I won’t have any problem getting her to take it. That’s the best cold medicine I’ve ever tasted:) yum!
I’m glad you like it! :)
Also, is this something you should take only when sick or every day through out the flu season?
Hi Karen! We usually only take elderberry syrup when we feel like we’re catching something, but if it’s peak flu season and we have to be around a crowd of people that might make us sick, I’ll dose everyone with a spoonful before we go out and then usually another spoonful when we get back home, just in case we were exposed. Some people take it daily in small doses (around 1/2 tsp or so) though, as a preventive. I’m not sure which is better, but it feels right to me, to save it until needed. If I worked where I had to have frequent contact with the public though, I might would consider a daily dose during the worst of flu season.
I moved to bulgaria just over a year ago from the UK. Here the Elder tree is revered. The flowers they make a tea from for sore throats and the berries the syrup, the leaves and bark they make a salve for bruises, bumps and cuts and grazes. It’s wonderful to see that they just know how to do it and everyone does it. So next year I’ll be using your recipe for my medicine
Hi Lesley, That sounds amazing to be in an area that respects and knows how wonderful Elder is! :)
Thank you so much for your recipes and sharing your herbal knowledge. I just got into herbal stuff this year to better use the herbs I grow in pots in my back yard. I made the elderberry tincture you mentioned and used it to ward off 2 colds I was coming down with this summer and fall. It’s a huge help as I have compromised immunity and am usually out of comission for 2-3 weeks when I catch a cold (which I do almost every other month). With the elderberry tincture I was a little sniffly and had a bit of a sore throat for 3 days only!
Hi Christina, That’s wonderful that elderberry is helping you ward off colds! It’s one of my favorite (and tastiest!) medicinals and I wouldn’t want to go through a winter without it. I hope you continue to stay well and healthy all winter long!
Hi – I have a huge bag of frozen elderberries I picked last year stored in my freezer and would love to make some flu syrup. I have no access to raw honey – can I use ordinary processed honey or should I add brandy to help preserve it. If so how much alcohol should I use. Thanks so much for your help. I’m in UK by the way and we don’t water bath here but I will be using my fruit steamer to extract the juice.
Hi Maura! You can use ordinary processed honey. It won’t need more preserving than raw honey, just the raw has an extra boost of other benefits. You can add some brandy to help preserve it a little longer. I’m not precise with it, but usually add a generous splash.
Thanks for this recipe I can’t wait to try it! Can you give and estimate for how much juice you end up with after straining? It would be easier to adjust for excess moisture if I knew about how much you ended up with after straining.
Hi Padmani! I’m afraid I’ve never measured as it always turns out differently, depending on the size and quality of my berry harvest. I’ll try to remember to do so next time though!
have you ever tried pureeing the cooked berries with a food processor to break down the berry more before straining it through the cheese cloth ? id like to try this, also, why is no one eating the left over berries ? instead of tossing them.
Hi Jenny! I try to smash out as much of the fruit as possible with a fork, but you need to make sure that you don’t get any seeds in your syrup as they can be toxic.
Using the food processor first would pulverize the seeds and your syrup would be unsafe to consume.
If you have a way to separate seeds out first and then puree the berries, that sounds like a great idea though, and would definitely help prevent waste!
I have about a gallon of juice from the elderberries. I have used a steamer to extract the juice. Do you know what kind of ratios I use with the straight juice?
Hi Roxie, That’s a great question! I haven’t tried using steam-extracted juice (though I bet it will make an amazing syrup!) – but I suspect you should be able to keep the 1 part juice to 1 part honey ratio.
I am IBCLC Lactation Consultant. Breastfeeding moms can have honey and still breastfeed. The baby would not get sick from the honey.
Thanks for the information Kathy!
I need an elderberry remedy without sweetener, I am diabetic. Do you have one? Thanks
Hi Sherri! Perhaps an elderberry tincture could work:
I believe Sambucol (an over-the-counter elderberry that’s excellent) has a sugar-free version as well.
I make elderberry brandyeach year…i did steam some juice, but with some small stems. Should I discard?
Hi Diane! I think a few small stems are okay. If it’s the same kind that you’ve made each year & haven’t had a problem with it yet, then I would keep doing it like you have been, just try to keep stems to as minimal as possible.
Any suggested ratios for using alcohol as an additional preservative?
Hi Mary! You can try a rate of up to 1/4 cup vodka or brandy, or elderberry tincture, for every cup of syrup. :)
Hi there, I just made this and it is definitely tastey. I used 8 cups of berries and 16 cups of water. I used an entire jar of raw honey (500g) and felt it was enough but because of preserving I did add about 1 1/2 cups of vodka to help it’s shelf life in the fridge. Also – it looks more like a juice than a syrup to me.. did I do anything wrong?
Hi Sabrina! The vodka probably thinned it out; it should still be fine to use! :)
Hi I have tried freezing elderberry syrup before and it did not go hard so could not get the ice cubes out of the try. Also tried making elderberry leathers but they did not dry out and kept forming into a mass. I am going to try your syrup and maybe try drying berries and see if the leathers work better that way.
Hi Hilary! I hope that the syrup works well for you! :)
My first attempt at making the Elderberry Syrup, I have come down with Pnemonia and I am coughing up a Storm. I love this simple recipe. I did not know I had Elderberries growing in my own Yard. I only found out when I looked up cold remedies and Low and behold there is this perfect plant. I do have dried elderberries that I am yet to try out, but I have NO reason NOT to have it daily. I need to be rid of this never ending cough. Thanks so much for an easy recipe.
Hi Jeannie, I’m so sorry that you’re sick & I hope that the elderberry syrup helps! Feel better soon! :)
Hi, do you know if health food markets sell fresh elderberries?
Hi Sarah! I’ve not seen any in my local stores, and they’re quite seasonal, but you could call around your local health food stores and see what they say! :)
So if I use 1/2 cup of dried elderberries then add 1/2 cup of honey?
Hi Julia! You would need as much honey as the amount of liquid elderberry juice remaining after cooking. It will vary somewhat depending on how long you cook and at what temperature. So if your berries + water cooked down to 1/2 cup of juice, then you’d mix it with 1/2 cup of honey.
I love your post. Pictures are great and very easy and informative.
Hi Joseph, Thanks for the kind words & happy you like the post!
I just pulled out dried elderberries I have harvested from my tree over the spring to make a syrup… and unfortunately have ended up with a yellowy mixture!! :((
I have yet to find anything online to say as to why. This is not my first time making it, but it is the first time I’ve made it from the elder I grew… Do you think it could be the wrong variety? Or maybe I didn’t let the berries ripen enough before picking?
Hi Brenna! I would try to find a local plant expert who can double check that you have elderberries and not another type of berry.
Maybe a plant nursery, or county extension agent, or local university could help. I thought most elderberries ripen later in summer, instead of spring, and I’ve not heard of anyone’s elderberries producing a yellow mixture, so it would be good to make sure what berry you’re working with before tasting any!
I’ve made this a couple of years now. Thank you so much for the recipe! One question: is it because of the honey that it’s supposed to be more like a syrup? We have a very large bush/small tree in our yard, so I’m able to produce a huge cooking pot’s worth of juice. I can’t add as much honey as the recipe calls for, however, because it’d cost a fortune in honey. So mine turns out more like a watered-down juice versus a syrup. Very tasty, but essentially I feel like I could drink it by the glassful as it’s not too strong and only slightly sweet. I haven’t done that yet as I’m unsure of “dosage,” so to speak, but if you have any tips on what an appropriate amount to take with this version (during a cold/flu) I’d appreciate it!
Hi Holly! Even with the honey, homemade elderberry syrup tends to be on the thin side. I’ve seen a couple ideas that you might want to try:
First, Reformation Acres thickens their elderberry syrup with pectin:
while Healthy Christian Home used arrowroot powder:
I haven’t tried either of these ideas yet, but they both sound promising!
I know the feeling about wanting to drink it by the glassful! I’m not sure of any exact upper limit, but I tend to be very generous with the elderberry when colds and flu are going around my family & don’t really try to follow a dosing guideline, more of a frequent as-needed dosing. :)
If I add the 1/4 cup alcohol for every finished cup of product, can I use less honey, maybe half?
And does it still need refrigerating with the alcohol preserving method?
Would it be possible to use sugar instead of honey?
(I take raw honey every day anyway and it’s so expensive! Buying the honey, elderberries , and possible alcohol, may make it more expensive than store bought! lol)
Or maybe skip the sugar if using alcohol?
(If I add it to my tea for example, I’ll be adding sugar anyway…)
Hi Kat! Yes, you sure could use sugar instead of honey. The main thing is to have a 1:1 ratio of 1 part elderberry ‘juice’ to 1 part sugar (or honey) which helps maintain preservation.
I’m just not sure how shelf life would differ for elderberry syrup if you reduced the amount of honey/sugar when adding alcohol, but I do still refrigerate my elderberry syrup with added alcohol. :)
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