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Natural Health

Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

Homemade Cough Syrup

An elderberry tree has been growing on the side of our house, and when it was found it clusters of ripe fruit sagged on the branches against the neighbor’s garage.

I was on my way out as the neighbors were cutting down the juniper trees long overgrown in front of their garage door. I made a mental note to take them when they ended up on the curbside the next garbage day.

“Hello, Erik,” said our kindest neighbor sincerely.Ripe Elderberry Fruit On Tree

“Hi?” I replied, questionably.

“Do you want the elderberries growing between your house and our garage before we cut down the tree?” she asked.

“No thanks,” I said with a half glance in the general direction.

“Oh. Because it’s full of elderberries right now and a lot of people like to make jelly or pies with them. I thought maybe your girlfriend would want them,” she continued in a persuasive manner.

A lot of what kind of people are you talking about? I know nothing of this nature.

“No thanks,” I said again. “But thanks.”

She looked at me weird. Real weird.

“Wait. What?” I nearly stuttered, this time with a curious passion. “What are they?”

Further insight into this generation’s disconnect from natural forces. My generation. To my own disconnect.  

I may have gone into a mild form of shock. Many times this mind has run off onto thoughts of how to get what source of fruit and where on-site. The sudden discovery of the elderberry tree confirmed once again that I am not the one in charge. I love that gust of wisdom which sometimes sweeps through the garden.

The elderberry tree is native to central and eastern North America. They line the roadsides of northeast Pennsylvania, and my only experience with them is throwing them at the guys I landscape with and getting hit by them in return. I had no idea what they were.

That surprises me. Packed with iron, calcium, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and anthocyanin, the Native Americans used them to treat the common cold, sore throats, fevers and even rheumatism.

Although Native Americans never had the tools to scientifically test the elderberry’s nutritional value, today universities do. Purdue University studied elderberries in order to test their market potential. In comparison to other small fruits, elderberries have a lot to offer nutritionally.




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From Elderberry as a Medicinal Plant by D. Charlebois

Over 100 different types of products contain elderberries, from shampoo and body lotions to herbal teas and supplements. One study suggested that juice from the elderberry may be healthier than the fruit itself.

Last year about this time I recall enjoying a craft beer brewed with elderberries. Because I do not see them in the grocery store I must have assumed they grew somewhere distant. Maybe that’s why I slipped into a state of shock when the neighbor asked me about elderberries growing on-site.

I took a look at the cluster of purplish-black berries and went inside to research them. Not only can elderberries be turned into pies and jelly, they can also be canned, frozen, made into wine, or elderberry dumplings, according to Faith B. Lasher, in a Mother Earth News article published in July/August 1973, which is packed with all sorts of recipes. But it gets better.

Elderberries can also be turned into a cough syrup used to treat the common cold. That sold me instantly. One quick glance over the ingredients of over-the-counter cold medicine is all it takes for me to put it back on the shelf. From high-fructose corn syrup, to caffeine, to gelatin, I choose to believe those products inflict harm rather than good.

Instead, I choose to believe in other forces to heal my body. Forces such as water, fasting, silver, plants, and in extreme cases of cough and cold a honey-based cough syrup.

Local honey

And that’s exactly what elderberry cough syrup is – honey-based. A quick trip to the farmers market, a short conversation with the Beekeeper’s Daughter, and off I was to the kitchen with a 5-pound glass jar of raw and unfiltered buckwheat honey. According to the woman bundled up in her winter coat, beanie and gloves behind the foldable sales table, buckwheat honey has the highest amount of antioxidants, making it the most popular choice for use in cough syrups. Off I was.

Once picked and washed, I had 2 cups of elderberries to work with. A good percentage was left on the tree for the birds to eat. That seemed most important.

Raw elderberries are not appealing to the taste buds. Besides their tartness, tiny seeds are in the middle. They made me spit it out when I tasted one. According to Lasher, the berries must be cooked in order to appreciate their flavor. I placed the 2 cups of elderberries in 6 cups of water, brought them to a boil and simmered them for 45 minutes. After smashing the elderberries with a potato masher, I strained them with cheesecloth and added 2 cups of buckwheat honey.

Full mason jars

I then stored the finished elderberry cough syrup in quart-size mason jars, where they will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. I plan on taking up to one tablespoon a day as a preventative measure. The taste is incredibly enjoyable and I may just start pouring sip-size cups every day. I have been recently experiencing a nasty tickle scratching in my throat. What great timing!

I have asked the neighbors to keep the elderberry tree right where it is. All I need to do is stake it against the west-facing wall of the house to keep it from leaning against their garage and the tree can stay.

As for the cut-down junipers, they never did make it to the curbside for me to take. But who cares about anything else once you can make homemade cough syrup from berries off a tree in your garden.

Hello forces of nature. I am re-connecting.

Wait. Did I say elderberry beer?

Top photo by Fotolia/Hellen Sergeyeva

I hope to learn to live off the earth, in harmony with its forces and elements, and inspire others to come in contact with both their natural environment and inner selves through organic gardening, and by writing about my experiences on my blog. “All Is One” through our interconnectedness is the important thing I believe needs to be addressed. 
11/15/2013 8:18:20 AM

for the disbelieving.... .

11/15/2013 8:16:42 AM

thank you for the article! you are right, those are elderberries. I checked. it seems like the cough syrup is easy to make. i'll get started soon then. thanks, good health to you.

11/7/2013 10:37:47 AM

Erin is correct. That's a photo of Pokeweed berries.

11/7/2013 9:43:54 AM

Lovely article, and your syrup looks beautiful! But that's not an elderberry :( Check out for pics and identification tips. Elderberry flowers and berries present in upright clusters and their leaves look very different as well. I think what you've got there is Pokeberry. Do your research--but I think that Poke berries are toxic. Please be careful! Also here's a link showing the difference between Pokeberry and Elderberry: