Fight the Flu with Elderberry

Elderberry, a common bush, produces berries that can be utilized in tinctures and extracts which, when taken during early stages of the flu, can dramatically help fight it off.

A study presented at the 15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research and referenced on WebMD confirms that taking Sambucol, an elderberry extract, lessens flu symptoms from almost a week to just a few days.

The last few years I made both an extract (as a syrup) and a tincture. Our family took both at the first signs of any type of illness (sore throat, general aches, sniffles, etc.) and while it is only anecdotal evidence, we never broke out with a full case of the flu when all those around us were and most years did not even get sick. Even during the particularly nasty year for the flu with many people not only getting it but also being confined to bed for days with the symptoms we were fine.

The tincture was used by adding 3-5 drops to a cup of tea. The syrup was taken in anywhere from teaspoon to tablespoon size portions 2-4 times a day for a few days when feeling like were we “coming down with something”.


The elderberry is a medium to large sized shrub that produceElderberryBushs white edible flowers in the early summer. Flowers can be used in teas, jellies or even battered, fried and eaten.

Once the flowers are spent and gone the berries start to form.  Initially they will be green and not really rounded yet. At this point there are not ripe and should not be used.


Unripe berries

Patience pays off and soon the berries will plump up and start to ripen. From green they will transition into pinkish and into a deep red color. They’re still not ready but they are getting closer.


Starting to ripen, not ready yet

Continue waiting until late summer, mid August to mid September in our area, and the berries will go to a deep purplish black coloration. Gently shaking the branch will have them falling off into your hand or down to the ground.

They are finally ripe and ready to be harvested. A large bowl underneath each cluster is usually sufficient to catch them. Use the shaking technique or just gently run the clusters through your fingers and they’ll drop right off and into the bowl. Your hand will turn a deep pink or light purple color but this easily washes off.


Ripe and ready to pick

Berries can be used immediately, just be sure to pick out and stem pieces. You can dry them for longer term storage or just toss them in a container or bag and put them in the freezer.


Making a tincture is pretty easy. Put some berries in a jar, add enough high proof alcohol (like Vodka) to cover them. Cover and let sit for at least 4 weeks and as long as 3-4 months. Every week or so give the jar a few shakes. At the end of the time strain out the berries and bottle your tincture.


Making syrup is not much more difficult. The recipe I used includes:

  • Berries
  • Water
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Star Anise Pods
  • Raw Honey

Elder Berries


Fresh Ginger




Star Anise Pod

The base recipe can be scaled up or down depending on the quantity you want to end up with. This recipe produces about two and a half cups of syrup. Cutting it half gives you a bit over a cup and of course doubling gives you a little over a quart.

Elderberry Syrup

  • 2/3 cup berries
  • 3 & 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, large slices.
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5-6 star anise pods
  • 1 cup raw honey

Add everything except for the honey to a pot and bring to a boil. For the ginger I use a piece about the size of my thumb and cut it into 6-8 slices. The anise pods are added whole.

Once boiling, reduce and summer for 45 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain out the solids and retain the liquid.

Cool the liquid to a lukewarm temperature and then stir in the honey. Adding the honey to the hot liquid will destroy many of the beneficial enzymes and reduce the effectiveness of it.

Once mixed and cooled to room temperature you can pour it into a bottle and keep it in the the refrigerator for use as needed.

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry Syrup


Besides medicinal uses, it’s also good on pancakes or over ice cream.


The star anise, a major component of Tamiflu, complements the benefits of the elderberry. Ginger helps to benefit with upper respiratory issues, cinnamon contributes to fighting the common cold and flu and honey is good with cough symptoms and the common cold.

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