The Fall and Winter months bring with them perfect Autumn weather followed by the Traditional Holiday Season that warms everyone’s soul. It also brings with it an abundance of Viral Infections such as the Common Cold, Influenza A and B, and many bacterial conditions secondary to their viral counterparts (ie. pneumonia or ear infection). There are a multitude of reasons why cold and flu season occurs every year at the same time, the most undeniable reason being the dramatic reduction of natural Vitamin D due to lack of exposure from the sun. We are also at higher risk being indoors and in closer contact and proximity of others which promotes the spreading of germs. There are also suggestions that cold either preserves germs more effectively on surfaces, as well as reduces our body’s ability to fight off infection. Regardless of the source, we all know the cold and flu season all too well. Viral infections are inevitable a few times a year, but we try to support the body to ensure they pass successfully. One of my favorite seasonal wellness tools is organic elderberry syrup. This syrup can markedly reduce the duration of infection.
* Disclosure: I am not a certified medical professional in the area of physical health care and suggest you discuss any and all treatment options with your own health care provider. My blog posts are meant to provide information and ideas so that you may gather information and continue your own personal research *
The Basics: What are Elderberries?
Elderberries (or Sambucus nigra) are dark small round berries that grow on the Elder (Sambucus) tree/bushes in clusters. They grow in areas of both North America as well as Europe. The portion of the Berries you find in stores are safe to consume, however there are parts of elderberry bush that are poisonous. Unless you are an experienced Harvester or Herbalist, I wouldn’t suggest going into the wild looking for your own Elderberries. They should be harvested and prepared properly by an expert in the field to avoid any adverse reactions. This really goes for the harvesting of any plants for medicine.
Benefits of Elderberries: Application for Viral Infection
Using Elderberries as medicinal prevention and treatment of viral infection is not a new phenomenon. This is a traditional medicine that has been passed down from Herbalist history. It is, however, beginning to gain public attraction as an alternative to pharmaceutical medicines to ward off illness. There are studies being conducted that are showing the benefits of these berries in their application for viral infection. According to a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in Norway from 1999-2000 by Zakay Rones Z. et al. (2004), the duration of infection was reduced by four days as compared to those in the study who did not receive the elderberries. The study also cites Elderberries as being safe and cost-effective for the treatment of Viruses. This is good news for those who want to avoid using conventional pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmaceuticals will only suppress the symptoms and they do little to build the immune system and fight off an illness. In fact, there are studies that suggest these drugs will actually hinder your bodies natural ability to fight infection.
While Elderberries will reduce the duration of cold and flu symptoms, they also have been touted as a great option for preventing viral infections. Their application as a preventative measure has been used by many people who know they may be exposed to certain illnesses. In a study conducted by Tiralongo et. al, (2016), they found that the duration of cold symptoms in air travelers was much less for those who had supplemented with elderberries as opposed to the placebo group.
Homemade Elberberry Syrup Recipe
There are many options to purchase good quality syrup, I personally love this Organic Elderberry Syrup from Seattle Elderberry. However, it is highly cost effective and very simple to make your own syrup at home as well. Not to mention, its fresh and contains complete whole food ingredients without the need for stabilizers or preservatives that would be required to lengthen shelf life in a store. Once you’ve purchased your organic elderberries, many of the ingredients will likely already be in your kitchen cupboard and the entire recipe is made on a regular stove top (the recipe I use also has an option for using an instant pot, making it even more efficient to make your own syrup if you have one of these at home. I personally use stove top and find it very easy).
Before making Eldberry Syrup, you will need:
- A large sauce pan
- A wooden spoon (for stirring)
- A mason jar with lid
- A small strainer (one that fits easily over the mouth of your mason jar)
- At least 1/3 cup of organic elderberries (I’ve included where I get elderberries below)
- Filtered water
- Ginger (dried or fresh), Cinnamon, Cloves
- Organic Raw Unpasteurized Honey
- Alternatively, you can use maple syrup in place of honey. This is particularly important if you’re giving the syrup to a child under the age of 1 as honey is not recommended. Or, if you prefer maple syrup over honey. I choose to use honey if possible as it contains anti-oxidants, is anti-bacterial, has been shown in studies to alleviate allergies, and can be used as a natural cough suppressant. I also find that honey is incredibly beneficial for soothing and healing sore throats which often accompany viral infections.
At my first attempts making my own syrup I made it up as I went. I made a simple syrup from elderberries, filtered water and honey. I would simply place the elderberries and filtered water in a sauce pan until the mixture cooked down to about half, mashed and strained berries into a jar, and then added honey or maple syrup to my mason jar.. sometimes I would add fresh ginger into the pan as I cooked down the berries for added benefits.
• 3.5 cups of filtered water
• 2/3 cup of freeze dried elderberries
• 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
• 1 cup raw unpasteurized honey OR maple syrup
1. Place water, elderberries and ginger into a sauce pan and cook down for 45-60 minutes OR until the original liquid level is boiled down to about half.
2. Mash the berries in the pan to release the medicinal properties
3. Strain the liquid from the sauce pan into a glass jar
4. Add honey or maple syrup into the glass jar and mix the syrup together
5. Store in the fridge and enjoy as needed!
My Personal Edits/Tricks to the recipe:
I have had to play with the recipe and made a few edits that could be helpful to those making it for the first time.
(a) Cooking the mixture in the sauce pan for 45-60 minutes proved to be too long for my stove top. It boiled the mixture down too far until I had very little liquid left in the pan. I suggest keeping an eye on your sauce pan and boiling the mixture down until the liquid is at about half of its original amount.
(b) If you’re also making this for children, I reduce the amount of ginger by about half. Many young children have taste buds that read much more sensitively than us and I find that my own toddler will take it more willingly when the ginger isn’t as potent. Sometimes I will make a separate batch for myself and my husband with the full amount of ginger as it has benefits for cold and flu season in itself. This is simply a suggestion for those who have small children who may be sensitive to strong tastes.
(c) For elderberry Gummies (listed below): I use boiling water instead of warm water as it helps mix and dissolve the gelatin. I have used warm water before and found that it caused lumpiness from the gelatin not dissolving and some gummy molds came out as liquid as there was not equal parts of the gelatin throughout the mixture.
How to make Homemade Elderberry Syrup Gummies
Pro Wellness Mom tip: make this gummy bear recipe for children who may not take to a syrup as easily. My little ones feel like they are getting a treat when I give them these gummies and they are SO simple to make. You’ll need to find yourself some silicone trays in the shape of your choice that are around the size of a gummy bear. I’ve linked some of my favorite molds below from the modern gummy which would work for this recipe (which come with droppers and will make it SO much easier to make these without a huge mess.. this syrup is on the sticky side).
To make your own gummies you’ll need a good quality organic gelatin powder. I really love Perfect Supplements Organic Bovine Gelatin (pictured below). Note that when you purchase from Perfect Supplements brand, you can bundle three of their products to get a 20% off bundle deal. If you buy six perfect supplements or more, you get a 25% bundle discount. You can stack my discount code: HOLISTICVANITY to save an additional 10% off when purchasing from their website. I love perfect supplements because they are high quality, third party tested for contaminants, and affordable. This gelatin comes from organic grass fed cows so no need to worry over pesticide contamination. It is also certified glyphosate free. Gelatin itself offers health benefits. When you add gelatin and elderberry together, you have a great option for kiddos when illness hits.
What you’ll need:
- Organic Elderberry syrup (homemade or bought)
- Organic bovine gelatin
- Organic coconut oil
- Warm filtered water
- Silicone gummy molds (I’ve linked some of my favorites below)
Gummy Recipe Steps:
- Use the coconut oil to grease your silicone molds. This ensures that the gummies will not stick to the mold or break when you pop them out at the end.
- Place 1/4 cup of room temperature elderberry syrup in a bowl and quickly whisk in 1/4 cup of bovine gelatin.
- Add 1/2 cup of warm water and stir until mixture is smooth
- Pour mixture into silicone molds and pop the mold trays into the fridge for at least 2 hours
- Take gummies out of molds and store in an airtight container, keep them refrigerated
Where to Buy Elderberries for Homemade syrup
I opt for Organic Freeze Dried Elderberries as I want to ensure they have retained the most nutrients. I order in bulk so purchasing fresh (and paying the additional shipping costs on fresh food) isn’t exactly economical. Freeze dried berries will store well in a dark and dry cupboard. You can store them until you’re ready to make your next batch of syrup. Always look for certified organic elderberries. Conventional pesticide laden options will burden your immune system when its already compromised.
I always buy Starwest Botanicals 1lb bag of Organic Freeze Dried Elderberries. They are high quality, affordable and will yield a few batches of syrup for your family. They are sourced from Albania then tested, certified and freeze dried in California.
Pre-made Organic Elderberry Syrups
If you’re not into making your own and want the no mess convenience of having a bottle shipped to your door, I really love Seattle Elderberry’s Organic Elderberry Syrup . I have used and loved them for years. Their syrup is sweetened naturally with honey or maple syrup and it tastes so great. This is a small business that has grown just enough to provide good quality organic elderberry syrup to Families. One of my favorite products from them aside from their syrups is their Organic Elderberry Tincture that is shelf stable so you can take with you on the go. I keep one bottle in my purse and take when I think I need an extra immune boost. This is especially helpful with kiddos if you happen to see your little one playing at the park with another child who has a cough. It is a very convenient option for busy Families and it is also less messy to take. No need for a spoon or the potential of missing a mouth. The tincture comes as a concentrated tincture that comes in a dropper bottle.
Whether you decide to make your own syrup from immune boosting elderberries or purchase from a small batch organic company like Seattle Elderberry, you can assure that you have stocked your medicine cabinet with a beneficial medicine. One thing to note is that some people do better using immune modulating herbs rather than immune stimulating herbs like elderberries. For sensitive individuals or for when your body is showing signs of a ramped up system (ie. post viral rash, cytokine storm), I would suggest grabbing for an immune modulating herb like these Medicinal Mushroom tinctures from Wild Wholistics. I prefer mushrooms as an everyday preventative and post illness, while we grab for elderberry when illnesses first start for those who tolerate it.
Hopefully these wellness tips make your Fall and Winter months a little more tolerable.
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Zakay-Rones Z., Thom E., Wollan T., & Wadstein J (2004). Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 32. Retrieved from http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/elderberry-significantly-reduces-duration-infection-influenza-safe-manner
Tiralongo E., Wee S.S., & Lea R.A. (2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air Travellers: A Rabdomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients 8(4). Retrieved from http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/elderberry-supplementation-reduces-cold-duration-and-symptoms-air-travellers