This year, the flu ran rampant through our house (despite immunization). After this experience, I knew I wanted to have a backup plan to protect my family, so I whipped up this diy elderberry syrup recipe.

A few years ago, I had the flu. I missed my first day of teaching (something you just don’t do) because all I could do was sleep, shuffle to the couch to take my temperature, drink a little chicken stock, shuffle back to bed, and repeat.

Because of my scientific background, I checked into natural remedies as much as I could before choosing what to use. It turns out, elderberries are a safe and effective immune-system booster.

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So learn more about elderberries and how to make elderberry syrup in this post so you can keep your family healthy.

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(Psst! You can jump to the recipe here, or jump to my notes on how to make elderberry syrup in the Instant Pot!)

Can you take elderberry syrup while breastfeeding?

There haven’t been many studies into the use of elderberry syrup while breastfeeding. With that said, it has no uses related to lactation, and it rarely causes allergic reactions. LactMed’s (from the NCBI) official stance is that “No recommendations can be made on the use of medicinal doses of elderberry products during breastfeeding.”

MommyMeds, a high quality app from the Infant Risk Center, suggests using only high quality elderberries (meaning not containing leaves, stems, or unripened berries) and only for short periods of time.

With that said, I have personally taken homemade elderberry syrup while breastfeeding for up to a few weeks at a time with no ill effects in my baby.

Scientific research backing elderberries

Most of the time, there’s not a lot of information on natural remedies in scientific journals, so I wasn’t expecting much from my search. But this time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are hundreds of articles about elderberries!

And there’s some strong evidence in favor of them.  For example, several people have studied the action of elderberry extract on bacteria and viruses. For example, one study found that H1N1 (swine flu) was completely blocked from infecting cells treated with elderberry extract. Elderberry extract also inhibited several bacteria, including MRSA, in another in vitro (test-tube) study.

I found two different double-blind studies on the effectiveness of elderberry. In the first, patients were either given an elderberry extract lozenge or a placebo lozenge to take four times daily.  The patients were then observed by their doctor two days later. Most of those who got elderberry extract felt better after those two days, and in fact, over a quarter of them had no more symptoms. The other group, though, did not improve much (if any) during that time.

In an even more convincing study, flu or flu-like patients were given either elderberry syrup or a placebo. Both groups took the syrup four times daily.  The treatment group got better four days sooner than those who got the placebo. Plus, there were no negative side effects found from elderberry extracts in either study.

I’m not gonna lie, I was really impressed by these results. In fact, after reading this, I grabbed my sick husband and made him take a tablespoon of elderberry syrup, which I had been taking because I started getting sick a few days ago (by the way, my symptoms were much milder than usual this time around).

When to take elderberry syrup

A great time to start everyone on an elderberry syrup regimen is back to school season. Whether your kids are in daycare, just starting kindergartners, or are college age, trust me, they’ll share germs (as an aside, teaching college kids gets me just as sick as whatever my own children bring home from school. Seriously.) Keep it up until well into spring.

easy elderberry syrup recipe

Kids should take 1/2-1 tsp daily (NOTE: If the syrup is made with honey, DO NOT feed it to children under 1 year!). If your toddler or child starts having side effects like tingling or itching around the lips, mouth, or face, or if they have side effects like nausea, vomiting, or stomach cramps, stop using it. That can happen if you use low-quality elderberries.

Adults should take 1/2-1 Tbsp daily to boost the immune system.

If a cold or the flu does strike, up your intake to four times daily. It’s a lot, but it’s totally worth getting better more quickly (or better yet, not getting sick at all)!

Where to find elderberry syrup

I wanted to know that my elderberry syrup was fresh, though, so I chose to make my own. I bought some dried elderberries from our local natural health food store.

Elderberries were surprisingly inexpensive; I got over half a cup for less than $3.50. UPDATE: I would have been better off getting myself set for the whole season by just buying a pound of elderberries online (you should be able to get a pound for under $30).

After digging around the internet for a recipe, I settled on Wellness Mama’s elderberry syrup. As far as taste goes, it’s not bad, but there is definitely a distinct elderberry aroma and flavor going on. I actually kind of like it, but the kids aren’t so happy with it. After reducing the amount of cloves, my kids liked the flavor better.

If you prefer to make your own, here’s the recipe! Seriously, try out elderberry syrup and see how it helps your family.

NOTE:  Don’t eat elderberries. There are some potentially harmful compounds in them. Extracting syrup or a tincture of elderberries leaves behind the dangerous compounds, leaving you with the good stuff.

Elderberry syrup in an Instant Pot

UPDATE 9/12/19: I made elderberry syrup in my Instant Pot last night! I set it for 20 minutes using all the ingredients except the honey and did a manual release a few minutes after the timer was up. Afterwards, I set the pot to saute to let the liquid reduce for probably 15ish minutes (just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t run out of water and scorch). I then strained and added honey like normal. I liked this method!

Want to learn 11 easy swaps to reduce the chemical burden in your home (plus 4 no-cost ways to get rid of toxicants already in your home)? Sign up to get my Simple Swaps for a Healthier Home Guide. And because I’ve got a PhD in Environmental Health, you’ll know it’s info you can trust.

Elderberry Syrup recipe

Remember: Babies one or under CANNOT have honey to avoid risk of botulism. DO NOT give children under one elderberry syrup made with honey.
adapted from Wellness Mama

1/3 cup dried elderberries

1.5 cups water

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, cut into a few chunks

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 or 2 dried cloves (optional)

1/2 cup honey, preferably raw

Stir together the first five ingredients in a small saucepan and set to boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for at least 45 minutes or until the water level has decreased by half (next time I’ll probably let it go longer than 45 minutes to get the syrup further concentrated, but I was checking on it between trying to get kids to go to sleep and was afraid I’d forget and scorch it). Remove from heat and allow the extract to cool to at least lukewarm before pouring it into a strainer set over a glass jar or bowl. Use the back of a spoon to press any remaining juice out of the elderberries.

Finally, add the honey to the jar and stir with a fork or whisk to mix well. Keep syrup in the fridge. Kids (over one year!  Remember the honey!) can take 1/2-1 tsp daily (exact measurements aren’t a big deal here), while adults can take 1/2-1 Tbsp daily to boost the immune system. If a cold or the flu does strike, up your intake to four times daily.

That’s it! Please SHARE with your friends and family to help them keep their kids safe this upcoming flu season!

Prefer to buy elderberry syrup?  You can find elderberry syrup online or at a natural health store (here’s a good brand).