Elderberry Syrup

Make homemade elderberry syrup for daily use, as a homemade cold remedy or for simply stirring into cocktails and tea! It’s easier than you’d think to make this delicious syrup.

a bottle of elderberry syrup on a wood board with cinnamon sticks and a gold spoon

Elderberry syrup is all the rage these days, but boy is it pricy!

Learn how to make your own with real, dried elderberries, whole spices and raw honey.

Like making simple syrup at home for cocktails, it is so much easier than you’d think to make homemade elderberry syrup.

If you like making your own syrups, try mint syrup and pumpkin spice syrup.

What is elderberry syrup?

Elderberry syrup is made from black elderberries, which grow on the Elder plant, AKA Sambucus nigra. These flowering plants are native to Europe.

Elderberries contain antioxidants and vitamins that may boost the immune system, like Vitamin A and Vitamin C among others. Many people enjoy a sugary syrup made from elderberries, honey and spices to ward off and quell illnesses like the common cold, a sore throat or flu symptoms. (I’ve heard people call it a natural cough syrup.)

However, elderberries must be cooked before eating them, as they are mildly poisonous in their raw state. Cooking eliminates these toxins, so making syrup is a delicious way to avoid disaster.

The color of this syrup is a dark red in small doses, but altogether it looks very dark in a bottle. (You can see why they’re called “black elderberries!”)

a small grey bowl of dried elderberries

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or wellness expert myself, so I cannot claim there are any health benefits to drinking elderberry syrup. Please use this syrup as a natural remedy at your own risk and consult your health care provider if you have any concerns.

Health properties of elderberries

Elderberries have long been used in folk medicine. These days products like elderberry gummies and syrup are seen on the shelves of pharmacies all throughout flu season, as it is said these berries have medicinal properties.

Studies have shown that European black elderberries are naturally high in antioxidants and immune-boosting compounds.

According to the National Institute of Health, some preliminary research suggests that elderberry may relieve symptoms of flu or other upper respiratory infections.

Keep in mind that raw elderberries are not safe to eat. Thanks to a toxin called sambunigrin, unripe berries can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Cooking elderberries resolves this issue, so cook them into syrups, tea, shrubs or jams to enjoy elderberries safely.

Elderberry vs. Elderflower

Both the elderberry and the elderflower grow on the elder tree, called Sambucus nigra.

Elderberries are the black and purple berries that grow on the plant, whereas elderflowers are the white blooms with a delicate fragrance.

Both the berries and the flowers have culinary uses. Elderflowers are commonly used in liqueurs like St. Germain. You can use it to make an Elderflower French 75, an Elderflower Rose Gimlet or an Elderflower Old-Fashioned.

You can also use elderberry syrup to make a bevy of cocktails. See the end of this post for a list of ideas.

an array of ingredients for elderberry syrup with labels

Ingredients

You only need a handful of ingredients to make your own elderberry syrup. This makes a small batch, so double up if needed:

  • ¾ cup dried elderberries
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 (3-inch) pieces orange zest
  • 1 (3-inch) piece of ginger root
  • ¾ cup honey

Dried Elderberries

You can buy dried elderberries online or find them at specialty shops and health food stores. I like to buy a bigger bag so that I have a stash ready to make more when I get close to running out.

You may also use fresh elderberries if you can find them — use twice as much fresh. (The recipe below calls for ¾ cup of dried, so use 1½ cup of fresh berries.)

Remember that elderberries have to be cooked — they are not safe to eat on their own.

dried elderberries in a silver measure cup

Water

Tap water works just fine, but if you happen to have access to filtered water or bottled water, I recommend using that for an even purer taste in your syrup.

At our house, we use this Soma water pitcher because it is faster (and tastes better) than the water that comes from the fridge.

Fresh Ginger

Real ginger will provide much more spice and flavor. You will need about a 3-inch piece of ginger root.

I cut my fresh, peeled ginger root with a sharp knife to dice it into small pieces, but you could also use a microplane zester.

You may use ground ginger instead if you prefer. Use ¾ teaspoon.

Cinnamon Sticks

Cinnamon sticks infused into the mixture will create a lovely spiced flavor for this syrup (and for my cinnamon syrup). I buy these cinnamon sticks from iGourmet.

Whenever I can, I use high-quality spices that are single-origin and ethically sourced. Spices do go bad and lose flavor over time, so it’s a good idea to replenish your stock from time to time.

You may use ground cinnamon instead. Use 1 teaspoon.

Whole Cloves

Cloves bring their warmth and sweet, spiced aroma to the syrup. When simmered in the syrup, they will release their essential oils into every spoonful.

You may use ground cloves instead. Use ¼ teaspoon.

Star Anise

The star-shaped pods of star anise will give off a slight licorice flavor to the syrup.

Since you will be straining out the whole spices, the licorice flavor won’t be very strong but if you are sensitive to licorice, you can leave this ingredient out.

Orange Zest

The pièce de résistance is a piece or two of orange peel. Just like in mulled wine, the orange peel imparts a delicate, fresh and zesty flavor into our syrup.

I like to use a vegetable peeler to get a 2- to 3-inch piece of peel, but you can also use a knife. Try to peel lightly so you don’t get as much pith (the white part underneath the peel) which will give off a bitter flavor.

You can also use lemon zest or lime zest instead or in addition to orange zest. A little bit of lemon juice would also be lovely if mixed in at the end.

Honey

Make sure you are using pure, 100% honey, and that no high-fructose corn syrup or other additives are added. If you can, use raw local honey from your farmers market. I prefer to use organic honey whenever possible.

Sugar, maple syrup or agave would also work in place of the honey.

A sweetener does more than sweeten here — it also acts as a preservative and helps the syrup to last longer in your fridge.

a shot glass with elderberry syrup

How to make elderberry syrup

Elderberry syrup is essentially a honey simple syrup, in which the water is infused with elderberries and spices.

  1. First, you will cook the elderberries in water with the spices to create an infusion. This also helps to cook out the poisonous parts of the elderberries — once cooked, they are safe to eat.
  2. The mixture will need to simmer for about 45 minutes. Don’t skimp here!
  3. Once ready, strain out the solid berries and spices with a fine sieve.
  4. Then, while it is warm, we will mix in honey to sweeten the deal. (See below on how to make it without honey.)

The shelf life of this elderberry syrup is about 1 month. Store it in the fridge in a glass jar or airtight container.

a gold spoon in a spill of elderberry syrup

Variations and substitutions

If you prefer to make this syrup without the spices, feel free! You can eliminate any ingredient on this list — except the elderberries, water and honey!

You are also welcome to make it without honey and substitute real sugar, maple syrup or agave nectar instead.

Make it sugar-free by using a sugar substitute like coconut sugar or erythritol. (I have not tried this, so let me know if you do!)

Elderberry syrup recipe without honey

If you’d like to make this elderberry syrup without honey, you absolutely can! You may use cane sugar, agave nectar or maple syrup in its place.

You don’t have to use a sweetener at all to make it more like an elderberry tea, or you can add in your favorite sugar substitute like coconut sugar or erythritol.

a shot glass of elderberry syrup next to a bottle and a spoon

How long does elderberry syrup last in the fridge?

I recommend enjoying your elderberry syrup within 4 weeks.

If you think you will consume more than the 16 ounces this recipe makes, you may wish to make a double batch!

If you don’t think you’ll consume it all, you can pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it. Thaw it when ready to consume.

Uses for elderberry syrup

Elderberry syrup can be used in so many ways! It’s the perfect time to try making your own syrup with your own elderberries.

It can be enjoyed in small doses as a supplement. (Please see disclaimer above with notes about perceived health benefits.)

Similar to grenadine syrup, this black elderberry syrup can also be used to flavor cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks like lemonade or iced tea. See more ideas below.

You can also serve it poured over ice cream or pancakes!

a bottle of elderberry syrup on a wood board with cinnamon sticks and a small bowl of dried elderberries

Elderberry cocktails

Now that you have made elderberry syrup, you can use it to make a bunch of elderberry cocktails! Though elderberry syrup is most popular in the colder months, you can enjoy these drinks year-round.

In the winter, mix elderberry syrup into a cocktail like an old-fashioned or a hot toddy. At the holidays, make this festive Pomegranate & Cherry Elderberry Cocktail.

For the spring months, try it in a French 75 or a mint julep.

In the summer, an ice-cold Elderberry Margarita will be so refreshing.

For the fall, try this apple cider punch that’s sweetened with elderberry syrup.

a shot glass with elderberry syrup

Elderberry Syrup

Yield: 16 ounces
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Filled with antioxidants, elderberry syrup is delicious on its own, mixed into cocktails and spooned over ice cream.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup dried elderberries
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 (3-inch) pieces orange zest
  • 1 (3-inch) piece of ginger root, finely diced
  • ¾ cup honey

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine elderberries, water, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange zest and diced ginger root.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. The mixture will have reduced by half. Remove from heat.
  3. Use a fine-mesh strainer to remove the elderberries, spices and citrus peels.
  4. Stir in honey until combined.
  5. Let cool completely. Store in the fridge in an airtight container, like a bottle or jar, for up to 1 month.

Notes

Elderberries: You can find dried elderberries at health food stores, specialty shops and online. You may also use fresh elderberries — use twice as much fresh. (The recipe calls for ¾ cup of dried, so use 1½ cup of fresh berries.) Remember that elderberries have to be cooked — they are not safe to eat on their own.

Spices: If you prefer to make this syrup without the spices, feel free! You can eliminate any ingredient on this list — except the elderberries, water and honey! If you prefer to use ground spices, use the following measurements:

  • ground ginger: ¾ teaspoon
  • ground cinnamon: 1 teaspoon
  • ground cloves: ¼ teaspoon
  • ground anise: pinch

Honey substitute: You may make it without honey and substitute real sugar, maple syrup or agave nectar instead. Make it sugar-free by using a sugar substitute like coconut sugar or erythritol. (I have not tried this, so let me know if you do!)

Uses for elderberry syrup: Elderberry syrup can be used in so many ways! It's the perfect time to try making your own syrup with your own elderberries. It can be enjoyed in small doses as a supplement. (Please see disclaimer above in the post with notes about perceived health benefits.) It can also be used to flavor cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks like lemonade or iced tea. See more ideas below. You can also serve it poured over ice cream!

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1 ounce
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 54Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 1gSugar: 13gProtein: 0g

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