2013 Food Preservation Season: Elderberry Syrup

September 16, 2013 · 15 comments

elderberry syrup // Wayward Spark

What: elderberry syrup

Main ingredients and where I got them: Henry harvested blue elderberries (Sambucus caerulea) from the tree in front of the cabin. I used honey from our own bees.

How much: just shy of 7 cups

Recipe: I read through David Lebovitz‘s recipe and the recipe on the Mountain Rose Herbs website and then did the following…

~3 pounds fresh blue elderberries picked off the stems
6 cups water
2 1/4 cups honey
juice of 1/2 lemon

In a large saucepan, bring the elderberries and water to a boil.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes until berries have softened and/or exploded. Run everything through a food mill or press it through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the skins and seeds. Pour the liquid back into the pot. (If you food mill it, you might want to pass it through a fine strainer again at this point.) Simmer for another 15-30 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in the honey and lemon juice. (Let the liquid cool for a while before stirring in the honey if you’re very concerned about maintaining a “raw” honey classification.)

Store elderberry syrup in the fridge for several months or freeze for longer storage.

harvesting elderberries // Wayward Spark

Other Comments: 

It is very very important that you use an appropriate species of elderberries for this syrup. DO NOT COOK WITH OR EAT RED ELDERBERRIES. They are highly toxic. Edible elderberries should be cooked before consumption. If you buy dried elderberries to make syrup, they will probably be the European black elderberries (Sambucus nigra). When in doubt about species identification, consult with someone who really knows what he or she is talking about.

I’m not much of an herbalist, but I have a couple friends who absolutely swear by elderberry syrup for abating/curing winter colds and such. We have a pretty robust blue elderberry tree right in front of our house, and it was heavy with ripe fruit, so I decided to try my hand at making some syrup. For the record, we will all be getting flu shots in the near future as well, but hopefully the elderberry syrup will fend off some of the kindergarten germ-factory illnesses we are already experiencing.

Blue elderberry trees, often more like multi-trunked shrubs, are common in Western Oregon, growing primarily in recently disturbed soil like clear cuts, road cuts, and stream banks. The blue berries ripen up around this time of year and are usually covered in a whitish bloom.

Picking elderberries off the stems is a pain in the butt and takes a long time. Henry told me that his friends at Seven Oaks Native Nursery throw the whole clusters in the freezer and supposedly the berries come loose much easier when frozen. My freezer was stuffed full at the time of this operation, so I didn’t try that method, but I definitely will next time.

I used a little less sweetener than I saw in other recipes from around the web. I found it plenty sweet, though I’m not sure if it will last as long in the fridge as some claim (up to a year) before going “off”. I looked around for canning directions, but everyone seemed so obsessed with storing their syrup in the fridge that I didn’t find specific instructions. Instead of chancing it, I opted to keep one jar in the fridge and throw the rest in the freezer. If you plan on freezing jars, be sure to leave extra headspace to prevent blowouts.

You can make elderberry syrup with dried berries. You’ll want to use about half the quantity as in the recipe above. I have another pound or so of berries that I plan on drying for future use.

Jess has a recipe for alcohol-based elderberry tincture if you want to go that route.

wild elderberries // Wayward Spark

This is part of a collection of posts documenting my food preservation activities this summer/fall (more info here). Please feel free to comment with a link to food preservation activities on your own blogs or links to recipes you’re following or you’d like to try from other blogs.

elderberries // Wayward Spark

And just for fun, here are two photos that Levi shot with my camera…

keeping the streets safe // Wayward Spark

Charlotte refuses to pose for any sort of photo if I have the camera in my hands, but she loves it when Levi’s shooting.

mums // Wayward Spark

I bought a couple pots of mums the other day because every front porch needs mums in the fall.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Luckybeans September 17, 2013 at 8:55 am

I made elderberry syrup yesterday, too (to almost exactly the same proportions/ method, except I didn’t know about adding lemon). Freezing did help with getting the berries off, but it sure made my fingers numb! That must have been quite the endeavor to yield seven cups! I only did three, and firmly classified it as medicine (mostly so I could make sure it stretches out and lasts longer).


JB September 17, 2013 at 9:33 am

My grandpa made Elderberry Wine….and my grandma said it was “medicinal”! Maybe she was right!


Katie Miller September 17, 2013 at 9:56 am

I remember the year my oldest went to kindergarten…we sure could have used some elderberry syrup! Good luck with that! If it’s any consolation, there was never a sickness year as bad as that again.


Kris September 18, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Followed you here from the PPS Facebook page–
What a nice write-up of your elderberry adventure! That is one huge elderberry bush/tree! I have two black elderberries (two different varieties for cross-pollination) and I thought they were huge at 1/3rd the size. :)
Enjoy your syrup!
If you are swimming in elderberries, you might also enjoy an elderberry shrub like the one here: http://www.thekitchn.com/drink-recipe-elderberry-shrub-152923
and this past spring my neighbor made a fantastic elderflower liqueur. If you’re in to that sort of thing, I can get the recipe for you.


NM September 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Here’s a link for canning elderberry syrup:
I’ve made elderberry liqueur, intended as a medicinal replacement for expensive Sambucol, but mine always ferments and turns into horrible fermented prune juice, for some reason. Even if I’ve boiled the dickens out of the berries, to kill off any yeast. So I gave up, and turned to elderberry jelly instead. If it’s flu season, I call it medicinal. Excellent on pancakes, for the non-ailing.


Theresa September 21, 2013 at 7:55 am

I use the recipe from the blog ‘Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook’, but add honey and a little ginger. The first time I made elderberry syrup I swore that I’d never do it again, because it IS a pain, but my son loves it so much that I have made it every year since. It helps if you have your own bushes (we don’t-yet), so that you can pick only the ripest bunches. They are easier to pick off of the stems then.



Christen November 17, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Best method I’ve found for stemming elderberries is to freeze them in a paper bag. When completely frozen, shake the bag (with the top rolled down to close the bag) and all the berries will fall off, leaving the stems easy to just pick out of the bag. You’d have to be awfully convincing to get me to do it any other way!


Sylvia M. Coker July 24, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Hey Camille!

Long time follower and just love your blog! I’m going to try this recipe with my dried berries from Mountain Rose and was wondering- above you mentioned to “half the quantity”. Did you mean to half only the amount of berries and everything else stays the same or to halve the entire recipe? Sorry for the silly question. :) Thank you!


Camille July 24, 2014 at 10:05 pm

I think half the poundage of dried berries would work if you kept the other ingredients the same as written. Dried berries would be more concentrated than fresh already .


Lizi August 18, 2015 at 10:24 am

When you squeeze an elderberry in between your fingers, is the color red or blue? Mine dont give that much color but they have the white powder on them so I assume they are ripe? Thanks!


sal August 15, 2017 at 3:22 pm

thot occasional white dusting on elderberries was bird residue.


Joanna October 5, 2017 at 10:36 am

Thanks for sharing great info! I’m new to the elderberry fruit and it’s benefits but excited
About all the healthy goodies it provides so I’ve canned syrup and jelly. I have many more berries I don’t want to go bad,I read your suggestion
About jar freezing the juice an leaving head space, what about storing in freezer Zip lock bags?
Do you think the syrup or plain juice will keep just as well?


Mary Ann Hancq October 9, 2017 at 4:10 pm

We just returned from an 11-day vacation to find our fridge stopped. We have no idea how long the power was off, but nothing inside was the least bit cold. Yep, we lost a lot of meat and other things, but what really upset me was the seven cups of elderberry juice I had frozen. My husband says it’s fine – I’m skeptical. My plan was to make syrup for Christmas gifts. Help – do I pitch or use???


cheka August 30, 2018 at 6:04 pm

how long have you had a jar of syrup in freezer. does freezing is take away from any of the benefits? i make my own syrup but never tried freezing it, just curious.


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