How to

24 January 2017

An Unlikely Cold Remedy: Elderberry Syrup

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Black elderberries (sambucus nigra) almost look like blueberries, that is, until you put them side by side. Elderberries are a rich, dark purple in colour and, unlike blueberries which grow on bushes, elderberries are spawned on the European elder tree. As such, these potent cold-killers are prominently grown in Europe and North America, areas native to the tree. Along with elderberries, the flowers blossoming on elder trees have been used for holistic treatments for centuries. Even the bark, stems, and leaves have their own medicinal properties, earning the elderberry tree the nickname the “people’s medicine chest.”

Elderberries are great for the body, containing flavonoid antioxidants, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and E. Studies have been conducted on their ability to treat autoimmune disorders or severe immune depletion following antibiotic use. A high level of anthocyanins mean that elderberries have an anti-inflammatory properties making them great for soothing aches, pain, and fever. The University of Maryland Medical Center claims that “elderberry outranks blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, and blackberries in terms of total flavonoid content. Consuming foods rich in these flavonoid anthocyanins is thought to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer, while also boosting brain function.”

A separate study examined the effects of elderberry in air-travellers exhibiting cold and flu-like symptoms. It was shown that elderberry reduced the duration of the cold by two days and lessened the cold and flu-like symptoms.

Another way in which elderberries differ from popular supermarket berries is that while it’s safe to consume a few raw, it’s recommended that they be cooked first. Raw elderberries are astringent; cooking them neutralises the astringency and enhances the flavour. Elderberries are great for use in pies, puddings, jams and chutneys. However, the most luxiorious way to enjoy the antioxidant-packed berries is as syrup. Elderberry syrup sounds ever-so-intriguing.

Imagine it drizzled over a nice batch of pancakes. It can be added to most breakfast foods (waffles, crepes, oatmeal), or added to tea for a fruity kick. Use it as a topping for fruit or mixed into salad dressing. It’s quite possible to make your own elderberry syrup, but, maybe the first time around at least, buy a bottle from a reputable source. It’s best practice to look for an organic variety free from additives.

Elderberry syrup can be administered daily during the cold and flu season as it effectively boosts the immune system. The Practical Herbalist says that “elder constituents do not cling to the tissue, which means daily treatment is not only safe but also necessary to block viruses.” Therefore, it can be used as a preventative measure or taken to lessen unpleasant symptoms.


If you decide to forage for elderberries in the wild, always pick black elderberries, steering clear of the red ones. Bear in mind that unripe elderberries contain sambunigrin, a mildly toxic compound.


Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).