Elderberry Syrup & Cordial: How To

So, you want to fall in love with elderberries. 

It's super easy. My family members who usually hate the taste of herbal things I make still love elderberry syrup.

I had the best discovery last summer, taking a walk near my development. There's a huge patch of wetlands where no one is allowed to build, so no one goes there. Then these beautiful berries caught my eye:

I think I shrieked when I saw them. Haha.

Elderberries come from the Elder plant. Elder has two main parts that are typically used: the flowers and the berries. The flowers help to reduce fever, and they bloom in the spring. The berries are helpful for strengthening the immune system and can fight off a cold or flu. In NEPA, the berries started getting ripe around mid-August. You really have to pay attention and be quick, though - birds also love elderberries :)

The difference between the syrup and the cordial is that the syrup is mostly honey, while the cordial has a good bit of alcohol. The syrup is more appropriate to give to children, and it's probably also what you'd want to take as a preventative. The benefit to the syrup too is that it can be ready that day, while the cordial needs to be made ahead of time. The cordial is more powerful, I think - it hasn't been boiled with water, and the alcohol helps to extract medicinal properties out of the berries. The cordial also has a shelf life of pretty much forever, while the syrup might start to go bad in a month or two (and needs to be kept in the fridge.) Both feel reallly nice on a sore throat, and help with a congested cough.

Okay, so without further ado!

Elderberry Syrup

Ingredients:

2 cups fresh elderberries, or 1 cup dried (I like to buy from here)

4 cups filtered water

2 cups raw honey (it doesn't need to be raw, but you'll get more medicinal benefits if it is)

You can also adjust the amounts to adapt to how much you want to make - this makes around a quart. This is a slightly different recipe than many others you'll find on the internet. This is because I don't think that quicker is necessarily better, and because I think it is important to be gentle with the plant. I think the end result of this process is that the medicine is more powerful.

Bring your water to a boil. Turn off the heat. Once it has just stopped boiling, pour in your elderberries. If you're using the fresh berries, you can lightly crush them a bit first. Cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes - but not longer than that. Berries are a delicate part of the plant! 

After 30 minutes, strain out the elderberries. It's good to use a cheesecloth, or a bag like this, because then you can really squeeze the berries and make sure all the juice ends up in the liquid. 

Now, put the liquid back in the pot. To make the medicine more potent, you need to reduce the liquid by about half. Still, though, don't let the water boil. Keep the setting on super low heat and leave it for an hour or so, until you have 2 cups instead of 4 left. Be patient!

Once the liquid has reduced, pour in your honey. Stir to mix, and then store in a jar in the fridge. This should last about a month or so - it's not going to go bad, but the syrup could start to ferment if it goes longer than that. You can add a tbsp of vodka or brandy to help preserve the shelf life.

You can also play around with adding different things to your syrup - sometimes people add things like ginger, cinnamon, or cloves. I'd suggest starting with the plain syrup, and then if you feel like it's in need of a particular quality, to add another herb next time. Just keep in mind that when you add something else, that means you are getting less elderberry.

Dosage-wise: I always take more than I'm supposed to! The main key with herbal products is that you need to be super consistent in order for it to work. It's not like a drug that you can just take one time and expect to work magic. For prevention, it's usually good to take a tsp a day. If you feel like you're starting to get sick, take a tsp every 1-2 hours. For me, it's more like a big spoonful every 1-2 hours. I also have found that herbal medicine works best if you start taking it right away. Like, immediately once you feel a little "off." If I wait until I have a full-blown cold, it just doesn't work as well.

Elderberry Cordial

This is my favorite and I take it all the time when I'm sick! I use brandy, because that feels a lot better to me, but you can use vodka instead if you want.

Ingredients:

Equal parts brandy and honey

That same amount of fresh elderberries, or half that amount of dried ones

This is super simple. Take a jar that's the size of the amount of brandy you want to use (the key here is that you don't really want that much empty head space in the jar unless it's necessary.) Fill the jar either halfway with dried berries, or almost all the way with fresh ones (crush them a little first.) Fill the jar to the top with brandy. Put a lid on the jar, shake it up, and leave in a dark place in your house for 4-6 weeks (the longer, the better.) If you remember, it's good to shake it every so often. 

After that, strain the berries out of the liquid. Squeeze them to get every little drop out. Put the liquid in a new, bigger jar. Match that amount with the same amount of honey. Shake it up. You now have elderberry cordial :)

Dosage: Again, this is a problem for me, because I usually take a shot of it every couple hours when I'm sick, because it tastes good and it's fun. You really don't need that much. I would say you could probably get away with the same dosage of the syrup - a tsp every 1-2 hours. But a tablespoon is yummier!