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 some elderberry syrup.
When 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.
(Psst! You can jump to the recipe here, or jump to my notes on how to make elderberry syrup in the Instant Pot!)
Dangers of the flu
Often, the flu is nothing more than several days of being hit hard with fatigue, a fever, and body aches. You can also have symptoms ranging from sore throat to vomiting. But sometimes, flu can be much, much worse.
Children and adults both can end up with complications such as inflammation in the heart or brain or even pneumonia, all of which can be deadly. Older adults (those over 65) and children under 5 are most susceptible to dangerous complications from the flu.
Our flu experience was especially scary when my kids got it since at the time my youngest was under a year old (children under 2 are even more at risk than those ages 3-5). Thank God our symptoms were nothing more serious than the general suckiness that is fever, achiness, and fatigue caused by flu.
Believe it or not, this was the first time I ever had the flu. After experiencing it, I hope to never deal with it again!
Risks from conventional flu treatments – Tamiflu
When our first child was hit with the flu, we took her to a clinic (because of course she got sick on a weekend). They did a test to tell us that yep, she had the flu. Afterwards, they asked if we were interested in Tamiflu.
SIDE NOTE: Antibiotics will NOT help with the flu. That’s because the flu comes from a virus, not bacteria. Don’t try to get an antibiotic for the flu!
I’m not averse to medicine. I’m a chemist and public health expert, and I know that modern medicine saves lives daily. But we asked the doctor how Tamiflu would benefit our child before we agreed to accept it.
We were told that the treatment would shave about 12-24 hours off the course of illness, and that there were side effects associated with the drug such as nausea and vomiting or (very rarely) even mental and behavioral effects.
Who wants more nausea and vomiting after having the flu?! Plus, the mental and behavioral effects scared me. The risks didn’t seem worth it to only take a day off of the illness, so we decided to forgo Tamiflu.
Scientific research backing elderberries
I started researching natural remedies and preventative measures we could take to avoid getting sick and to shorten illnesses with fewer side effects. A lot of people recommended elderberries to boost the immune system.
What I read sounded promising, but I couldn’t help but wonder, Is this legit, or is it just hype? After all, “natural” doesn’t always mean “effective” and sometimes is actually dangerous.
So I decided to deepen my search and see what I could find in the scientific literature about elderberry use.
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.
This all sounds great, right? The thing is, just because a product works in vitro does not mean that it’ll actually help a sick person. After all, a test tube and a human body are two very different environments. I wanted to see research that studied the use of elderberries or elderberry syrup in real, actual people.
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. Four. Freaking. Days. 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 too!).
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.
Kids (NOTE: If the syrup is made with honey, DO NOT feed it to children under 1 year!) should take 1/2-1 tsp daily (exact measurements aren’t a big deal here). 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
So how do you get elderberry syrup? You can find elderberry syrup online or at a natural health store (here’s a good brand).
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 (or the Crunchy People Store, as I affectionately call it).
Elderberries were surprisingly inexpensive; I got over half a cup for less than $3.50. UPDATE: I think I’d be 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 $27).
After digging around the internet for a recipe, I settled on Wellness Mama’s elderberry syurp. 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.
My kids will take it with only a little whining. I think part of the taste issue is that the cloves in the original recipe are really assertive, so perhaps taming that will help. I tweaked the recipe I found by reducing the amount of cloves. Note that I halved the recipe simply because I’d rather have to make it again instead of risk my syrup going bad before I can use it all.
If you prefer to make your own, here’s the recipe! Seriously, try out elderberry syrup and see how it helps your family.
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!
Elderberry Syrup recipe
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!