Only a few days remained before my first batch of homemade kombucha would be ready to drink. The growing anticipation of trying my finished kombucha, a drink I had previously just purchased from the grocery store, felt empowering, and I wanted to further customize the fizzy kombucha with some type of flavoring. At the time, I was reading John Moody’s The Elderberry Book: Forage, Cultivate, Prepare, Preserve and I decided that elderberry syrup would provide a healthy and delicious flavoring to the kombucha.
Photo by Getty Images/madeleinesteinbach
After reading about the health benefits of elderberry and its potential for boosting immune systems, I bought an elderberry syrup kit with organic sugar from the Mother Earth News Store to make in my tiny kitchen at home. Knowing that the elderberries in this syrup kit were organic put my mind at ease and assured me that I wouldn’t be ingesting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or unknown chemicals.
My curiosity about the elderberry was piqued, and I reached out to John Moody for more information about this ancient plant. Moody was quick to acknowledge the historical significance of the entire elder plant, saying, “When most people in America think of the elder, they think of the elderberry, and that’s basically where it ends for them — elderberry syrup, elderberry wine, elderberry supplements. Until very recently, it was the rest of the plant that was primarily thought of as medicine.” When the ancient Greeks and Romans used elder for medicinal purposes, they were primarily focused on the leaves and roots, and not necessarily on the berry. “You’re probably going to start with the berries, but there’s so much that this plant has to offer,” Moody said.
When visiting the health food store across the street from my house, I’ve seen a number of different elderberry syrup products offered, so I asked Moody whether there’s anything specific I should watch out for with those products. He replied, “A lot of shelf-stable, store-bought elderberry products are full of low-quality ingredients and sugars. Even ones that have honey on the label will usually have a small bit of honey, so it can confuse consumers, and then it’ll have other sugars.”
If you want to take matters into your own hands and try growing elderberries in your backyard, Moody recommends his book as a quality reference tool for beginners. He doesn’t consider growing the elder plant to be especially difficult if you have practice with perennial plants. Moody said, “A lot of people just aren’t familiar with growing perennials, even if they are familiar with growing annuals.” One of the most important factors when growing elderberries at home is ensuring that you have the proper environment for the plant. “They like a moister area. They like more sun, than less sun.”
As our conversation was winding down, I shared my plans for flavoring homemade kombucha with elderberry syrup, and I asked if he had any other tasty ideas for using elderberry syrup. “I like using it as a marinade for meats,” he said. He also shared a delicious breakfast idea: “Instead of throwing a few blueberries in your yogurt, you can throw a tablespoon of elderberry syrup in your yogurt.”
I’m not someone with much skill in the kitchen, but I found the elderberry syrup kit with organic sugar surprisingly easy to make! After tasting a few spoonfuls of the sweet, sweet syrup, I stored the rest in a glass jar and put it in the fridge. When the kombucha was finally ready to drink, I poured a big glass and lightly stirred in a spoonful of the homemade elderberry syrup. The result was a delightful and refreshing drink that I felt proud to have made at home. In addition to flavoring the kombucha, I used my elderberry syrup to flavor fruit smoothies, and I tried spoonfuls of the syrup as a tasty supplement! I would definitely recommend this syrup kit to anyone who’s curious about elderberries.
Our kit has all the supplies you need to make one pint of elderberry syrup in the comfort of your kitchen. Includes: organic dried elderberries, organic chai spice blend (ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and orange peel), organic cane sugar, cheesecloth and an elderberry syrup recipe. Both the Elderberry Syrup Kit and The Elderberry Book are available at the Mother Earth News bookstore or by calling 800-234-3368. Item #9944 and #9811.
Reece Rogers is a lifelong Kansas resident who loves camping, healthy living, and fermenting sauerkraut at home. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Creative Writing.