Elderberry Syrup for Back-to-School Immune Support

Reader Contribution by Veronica Worley
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Photo by RitaE on Pixabay

During back-to-school season, now more than ever, I’ve had a level of anxiety and stress about the return like never before. Whether you choose to homeschool, virtual school, or opt for online classes, or send your child to public or private facilities, these are my thoughts to help you and your child have a successful and healthy school year.

Nutrition and the Immune System

Everyone generally needs the same type of nutrients: vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and fat. But children need different amounts of each nutrient at different ages. To be healthy and ensure adequate growth of body and brain, among the important nutrients your child needs every day are calcium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin C, omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil), probiotics, as well as protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Eating these foods in abundance every day keeps the immune system humming, and keeps colds and the flu-bugs at bay.

Starting your child’s day with a good breakfast of quality protein with plenty of fruits and vegetables provide energy, a sharp mind, concentration, and it sets the stage for healthy eating the rest of the day.  I’ll share my Immune-Boosting Berry Smoothie Recipe as a morning option.

Nutrients children (and adults) need for health and growth:

  • Protein. Grass-fed meat, hormone-free poultry, wild-caught fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Vegetables.  Serve a variety of fresh, whole-food vegetables; avoid canned; frozen is 2nd best.  Include a variety of colors: dark green, red, yellow, orange, and purple. Aim for 4 to 6 servings a day.
  • Fruit. Fresh is best, canned, frozen and dried are good too. Encourage a variety; limit juice; no sugar. Aim for 2 to 4 servings a day.
  • Grains. Whole grains, such as whole wheat products (limit additives, sugar, preservatives), oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, brown or wild rice. Limit or eliminate refined grains such as white flour, pasta and rice.
  • Dairy or calcium-rich foods. Dairy products are a common food allergen and many people have a sensitivity or intolerance to this food. If your child gets sick often, has a runny nose, stomach issues, or is easily congested, consider eliminating dairy for a while. Eating plenty of fresh vegetables, (dark leafy greens, broccoli, spinach, kale, swiss chard), legumes, nuts, seeds, and fish are all good sources, and supply ample calcium, vitamins and minerals to the diet.  Many foods and juices are also fortified with calcium. 

Food to limit:

  • Sugar depresses the immune system; can cause mineral imbalance.
  • Saturated and trans-fats clog arteries that can put one at risk for heart attacks and strokes.
  • Processed foods and junk food are not whole foods, and contain chemicals, colorings, preservatives and are usually high in calories, sugar and fat.

Immune-boosting activities:

Having a healthy immune system is not just about what you eat, although that is a huge part of it and is a great place to start. A few other things you can do at home to enhance the immune system:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. This keeps the body humming, especially the immune system.
  • Avoid sugar. One piece of candy lowers the immune system by 60% for 4 to 6 hours afterward. (Scientific American, 2018)
  • Quality protein at every meal for growth and repair, which boosts the immune system.
  • Include lots of garlic, onions, ginger, spices, like oregano and turmeric into meals.
  • Eat multiple colorful fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Sleep. Encourage bedtime routine, getting to bed before 10:00 pm; limit technology 2 hours before bed
  • Exercise. I feel children need to have at least 15 minutes of activity of outdoor activity of any kind each day.

About Elderberries

Elderberries are a commonly grown fruit of the Sambucus tree. If you are lucky enough to have one of these easy-to-grow trees on your property, then you can easily make your own elderberry products to enhance your families’ health and vitality.

Elderberries are found along roadsides and in the wild, and are grown on a shrub or tree of the Sambucus variety. They are hardy to Zones 3 and 4. Elderberry shrubs produce tiny white flowers late June that develop into berries in late summer or early autumn that make a delicious sweet juice, jelly, or syrup.

Elderberries must be cooked before consuming, as raw berries are too astringent. Elderberry shrubs are a common “wild” tree found along the side of the road, are easy-to grow, and are very prolific.

Immune-Boosting Elderberry Syrup Recipe

Elderberry syrup on ice cream.

Purchased elderberry syrup can be pricey, so why not make your own, especially if you grow your own elderberries? Here is an easy recipe to make at home that your children will love! Elderberry syrup can be taken every day, especially during cold and flu season and has many health benefits. Elderberries are rich in antioxidants, which fight inflammation, and have been shown to relieve colds, help fight the flu, and boost the immune system. (Phytotherapy Research, 2009). Elderberries’ anti-inflammatory qualities also show promise to treat acne and reduce wrinkles when taken internally and applied topically (Today’s Dietician, 2019).

You can make this easy recipe with either dried or fresh berries.

Ingredients and medicinal properties:

  • ½ cup dried elderberries or 1 cup fresh – anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antidepressant, astringent
  • 2 teaspoons dried echinacea root (optional) – immune support, anti-bacterial, anti-viral
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice of orange juice – anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, Vitamin C, memory, endurance
  • 1 cinnamon stick – anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar control
  • 3 whole cloves – antibacterial
  • rind of one lemon or orange – Vitamin C, bioflavonoids for immune system
  • 1/ 2 cup raw honey – raw honey contains a higher concentration of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and is anti-viral, anti-inflammatory. It boosts the immune system, encourages sleep, and can be used as a natural cough syrup. Warning: Do not give honey to children less than 1 year of age.


1. Add all ingredients, except honey, to a 1-quart saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat, and simmer for 1 hour, or until liquid is reduced to half. If elderberries still appear hard or uncooked, simmer another 20 minutes or so until soft and tender. Warning: Consuming raw elderberries and juice can cause gastrointestinal issues; however flowers of the elderberry can be eaten raw or infused into a tea.

2. Strain and let cool until lukewarm for 30 minutes or so. Add honey and stir until well mixed. Do not add honey while boiling, or very hot, as this damages the important anti-bacterial properties as well as vitamins and minerals. Toss elderberries and spices into the compost.

3. Pour cooled mixture into jars or bottles. Seal with a tight lid and store in refrigerator. Keep up to 3 months.

Dosage: 1 tablespoon a day during cold season; 3 to 4 times a day if ill or exposed to illness. Elderberry syrup can be added to smoothies, juices, desserts or eaten as is. It also makes a delicious ice cream topping! I use it on my dairy-free, sugar-free Banana Ice Cream Recipe.

Veronica Worley is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and avid gardener, who helps men and women overcome chronic illness with functional lab testing, food and lifestyle changes. Connect with Veronica atVeronica’s Healthy Living, on Facebook, Instagram, TwitterandPinterest. Schedule an appointment with Veronica usingthis link, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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