If you've walked the aisle of a health food store lately, you've no doubt seen a proliferation of homeopathic medicines, syrups, and tonics made with elderberries. Often including honey, these products are designed to prevent and treat cold and flu symptoms and generally boost your immune system.
According to the University of Maryland medical center: "some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, including the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-influenza, and anticancer properties."
Honey is likewise well-known for its medicinal qualities (read a history of honey and its medicinal uses in this Mother Earth Living article) — honey can boost the immune system, sooth a sore throat, calm a cough, or fight allergies, especially if it is from your local environment.
Its no surprise that elderberry and honey are being combined by herbalists everywhere. While I am a huge fanof herbal medicines and I have found success with some of these elderberry supplements, I have two complaints when I shop in the store: cost and ingredients. A small jar of elderberry syrup can cost upwards of $15 to $20 and many of these products contain alcohol which doesn't taste good to me and makes me not want to use the product for my children.
Rest assured, you can make a great elderberry syrup at home for a fraction of the cost with just a few simple ingredients and a little bit of time. This is especially true if you, like us, grow your own elderberries or keep your own bees!
Be sure to find a reputable source for dried elderberries, like an herbalist or a natural foods store. We grow black elderberries, the most common elderberry grown in North America. Many types of elderberries can be toxic when raw, so its important to cook the berries thoroughly.
Here is a simple elderberry syrup recipe that will keep for a few months in your fridge; you can doll it out in spoonfuls just like cough medicine or you can stir it into your morning juice or tea (stick to about a teaspoon for kids or a tablespoon for adults).
We add cinnamon, ginger, and cloves since these spices can also be beneficial in fighting colds — you can use powdered or ground versions, but I prefer dried whole spices because they are more fresh and also easier to strain out! If you are brave, you can experiment with adding a little cayenne pepper, but we don't think our kids would be quite so cooperative if we did that!
• 1 cup fresh or frozen black elderberries (or 3/4 cup dried)
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 tbsp fresh ginger, sliced
• 1 tbsp dried cloves
• 3 1/2 cups water
1 cup honey (from as local a source as you can find)
1. Place the elderberries, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and water in a saucepan (do not mix in the honey yet).
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes (liquid should reduce down by about half).
3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool, then drain out the berries and spices using a fine meshed sieve or colander.
4. Discard the berries and spices.
5. Add the honey to the remaining liquid.
6. Pour the mixture into a pint-sized mason jar to store in your fridge.
Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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