Folk Elderberry Syrup

There are many tricks to help prevent getting sick in the cold weather, the main being to just slow down. Winter is a time to go to bed early and sleep in late. It's time for introspection, spending time with yourself, and indulging in nourishing, comforting foods. Including immune boosting ingredients such as ginger, garlic and turmeric in your winter curries and soups is a great way to ward of getting sick as well. Personally, I usually start drinking echinacea tea daily to help protect against marauding bacteria. However we aren't all super heroes and inevitably either yourself or your loved ones end up sick. In these cases it's good to have a remedy or two up your sleeve to help ease the symptoms. 

This traditional, folk recipe for elderberry syrup is a delicious ally in not only preventing illness but in easing symptoms once you feel a cold or flu come on. It utilises cloves, cinnamon, ginger and honey which bring individual properties to fight off infections, stimulate your body's immune response, and clear and soothe the respiratory tract (being the lungs, throat and sinuses). Plus, it tastes great. Bonus for compliance if you were thinking of making this for the little ones in your life. 

Elder, Sambucus nigra is a flowering tree which produces prolific bunches of fragrant white flowers, followed by juicy, dark berries, rich in bioflavonoids. These antioxidants ensure that Vitamin C is properly absorbed in the body, which is found in abundance in the berries. They also have an antiviral effect, suppressing cold and flu viruses and in turn lessening their length and severity. Elderberries are useful in maintaining overall respiratory health, and have an immune-boosting effect on the body, due to their complex sugars. Taking a spoonful of syrup everyday could also help in preventing the onset of viruses in addition to speeding up recovery. 

This recipe also takes advantage of the medicinal benefits of cloves. Cloves are the dried flower buds of the tree Syzygium aromaticum, and have unique medicinal properties. They are an expectorant, meaning they help produce phlegm and make coughs less severe and more productive. The oil produced from the bud has an analgesic or pain relieving effect, useful in this case to soothe and slightly numb sore throats. Cloves have also shown antihistamine effects, so important in keeping the sinuses open and clear when you need it the most. The antimicrobial action of clove oil also acts in fighting off infection and reducing the severity of colds and flu. 

Finally, this recipe calls for a little powdered bark of the Cinnamomum Zeylanicum tree, otherwise known as cinnamon. Cinnamon is an analgesic, and has antibacterial properties, so it soothes aches and pains while fighting off infection. Together with ginger, cinnamon is also said to be a "warming" herb, and is traditionally used in stimulating circulation.  

The great thing about this syrup is the taste! Compliance is so important when you are sick, which can be hard when you are forced to take drugs and medications that aren't too kind on your taste buds. Making your own version at home also allows you to choose which sweetener you prefer, so the honey requirement in this recipe could be swapped out for molasses, maple syrup, coconut sugar - whichever is the right one for your situation. Honey does give you the added benefit of it's antibacterial and soothing properties. The addition of ginger, cloves and cinnamon is totally optional, but by omitting them you will, of course, lose the healing benefits. 

Elderberry Syrup

  • 4 cups cold water
  • 2 cups dried elderberries
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon powder, or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger root
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • Raw manuka (tea tree) honey (you can substitute for coconut sugar, molasses or whichever natural sugar you prefer). The idea is to have a 1:1 ratio of sugar to liquid, so it's best practice to measure how much liquid you have at the end, then use the equivalent amount of sugar. So 1 cup of liquid would use 1 cup of honey. I prefer to use manuka or tea tree honey for it's additional anti bacterial properties. 


  1. Combine the berries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves with the cold water in a pot and bring to a gentle boil.
  2. Simmer the berries on a low heat until the liquid has reduced by half, about 45mins. 
  3. Remove from the heat. Once the berries are cool enough to handle, strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. You may choose to strain through a cheesecloth, but I find a sieve works fine. Really mash the berries though to make sure all the juice is strained out. 
  4. Measure the liquid and return to the pan. On a very low heat, add a 1:1 ratio of honey until melted through. 
  5. Pour the syrup into sterilised glass bottles and keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. 
How ToJustina Edwards