Simple Elderberry Syrup Recipe
How to make elderberry syrup using foraged elderberries and sugar. Keeps for up to a year and is a delicious and healthy way to boost immunity and beat colds and flu.
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If you walk along hedgerows and the borders of fields this time of year you’re bound to come across Elderberries. These juicy berries grow right across the northern hemisphere and have been used for generations as both food and medicine. They have a beautiful earthy taste that reminds me of tart raspberries and blackberries along with a little something else that I just can’t put my finger on. Trees are laden with fruit right now and though they’re an important food for wildlife there’s usually plenty for people to enjoy too. One of the best ways to prepare them is to make this elderberry syrup recipe.
With just a few hundred grams of berries, you can make small batches of jam, wine, infused alcohol, and fruity desserts. However, the most versatile product you can make with your berries is elderberry syrup. Used in the kitchen it can be a gorgeous and unique topping for pancakes, ice cream, cakes, and puddings.
Elderberry Syrup as a Medicine
Elderberry has a second and perhaps even more important use since the sweet and rich liquid can also be used as a medicine. Preliminary studies have shown that ‘Sambucol’, a natural extract taken from elderberries, appears to “short-circuit flu symptoms” by inactivating the flu virus. This just serves to validate what people have known for years since Elderberries feature heavily in folk medicine in both North America and Europe.
Though elderberries shouldn’t be eaten raw, they preserve and cook well. That’s why elderberry syrup is a fantastic way to prepare it for both food and medicine. When you’re feeling a little unwell, have a tablespoon on its own, or mix it with raw honey. Honey is another amazing natural medicine that is used in winter remedies to help soothe sore throats and fight infection.
Forage Elderberries from Elder Trees
Though the Elder tree (Sambucus) comes in various sub-species, the variety we have growing on the Isle of Man is the European Elder, also known as Sambucus nigra. Ripe berries from this tree can be used both cooked and fresh but if you’ve foraged berries from another variety then make sure to only use them in cooked preparations since they could be mildly toxic when raw.
Other parts of the world will no doubt be different but it’s been an amazing season for the elder tree on the island. The warm sunshine we’ve had this year resulted in masses of flowers in June and those flowers have transformed into juicy berries over the summer. You can’t really find fresh elderberries in shops so this delicious wild food is a perfect excuse to slip on some wellies and plan a foraging expedition.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
This is a simple elderberry syrup recipe that makes about 800g or two small bottles. Once bottled, it will keep at room temperature for one year. Refrigerate and use within a month of opening. To make it, you will need:
Elderberry Syrup Ingredients
- 335 g (11.8 oz) elderberries, plucked from the stems and rinsed
- 1 cup water, plus a little extra
- 454 g (1 lb) white sugar
Elderberry Syrup Equipment
Find and Pick Elderberries
The first part of this recipe is actually finding and picking your berries. I can’t think of anything you could confuse Elderberries with (in the UK) so it’s safe to say that you can forage for them without much fear of accidentally picking something dangerous. Look for clusters of bead-sized plump berries with reddish stems hanging on small to medium-sized trees. The leaves of trees are pinnate with an odd number (usually five or seven) of leaves arranged opposite one another.
More Foraged Food Recipes
- Elderflower Cordial Recipe
- Elderberry Jelly Recipe
- How to Dry Rose Hips for Tea
- Blackberry Gin Recipe
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
1. Pluck the berries from the stems using your fingers or a fork. Make sure to discard any green or unripe berries since they’ll taste bitter and can be slightly toxic – the same goes for the stems and leaves. Weigh the berries and adjust the recipe based on what you have. Optional: It’s said that you can intensify the flavor of the syrup by freezing the berries overnight.
2. Place the berries (fresh or frozen) into a pan with a cup of water and bring it to a simmer. Hold it there for around ten minutes and use a potato masher to press the berries to get as much juice out as possible.
3. Pour the berry mixture into a jelly bag and allow the liquid to drain into a bowl for at least a few hours but preferably overnight. If you don’t have a jelly bag then it’s easy to rig one up by placing a piece of muslin in a strainer/colander. After this time has passed, compost the berry mass left in the jelly bag and measure how much liquid you have. You’ll need two cups of juice so if it’s needed, add water to make up the difference.
4. Heat the oven to low and place the sterilized jars inside. You need to warm the jars before pouring the hot syrup inside or else the glass will crack. If you’d like to sterilize your jars at the same time as warming, put the oven to 130C / 265F and let the jars sit inside for thirty minutes. Lids can be sterilized by placing them in a heat-proof container and pouring boiling water over them. Leave them in the water and dip them out when they’re needed.
5. Bring two cups of juice up to a simmer and then add the sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved then bring the syrup up to a rolling boil. Boil for five to ten minutes or until the liquid starts to feel a bit tacky when dribbled on a cold plate and allowed to cool. You’re not looking for a set like you would in making jam. So if you bottle the liquid too soon you’ll just have a more liquidy syrup than if you boiled it a bit longer. Either way, you’ll have delicious syrup.
6. Take the jars out of the oven and, using a funnel, pour the hot liquid inside leaving only a centimeter (half an inch) of space at the top. Fix the lids on tightly and water bath them as per the next step. I’ve had elderberry syrup mold over in the bottle before without doing this important step!
7. Water-bath the jars to ensure that they’re fully sterilized. I always recommend doing this, since I’ve lost an entire batch of elderberry syrup before. It’s a disaster to open jars and find mold growing on top. Fortunately, water bathing is easy and will ensure your syrup will last sitting in the cupboard. Fill a tall pan with water and place either a rack at the bottom. Bring to a boil then lower the jars/bottles in so that they’re not touching and that there’s at least an inch of water above. Bring back to a rolling boil and leave the jars in the boiling water for five minutes. Lift them out vertically (not tilted) with a jar lifter and set them on the counter to cool. The lids will seal as the jelly cools – you’ll hear a pop as the seal closes. It may take twelve or more hours for the seal to take.
8. Store elderberry syrup for up to a year in a cool cupboard. Once open, refrigerate, and use within six months.
Hi ,Tanya ,it never fails ,you always bring back memories of days gone by. my grandmother and I going out and picking Elderberries, then Grandma making a delicious Elderberry Soup ,with little dumplings . There was nothing better. I planted 2 elderberry bushes in my garden this year and looking forward to making the Syrup. Love your website.
Such a lovely message…thank you Blanca and so happy to bring back fond memories :) Hoping you get many lush elderflower and elderberry harvests in the years to come!
The syrup is also good when topped up with prosecco…. A bit like kir.
The berries are much easier to work with if you FREEZE them before separating them from the stems.
I just bought some dried Elderberries and would love to make your syrup. Do you think the recipe should be tweaked at all? Thanks in advance!
Use half the amount of dried berries and you should be good to go!
Great article. I love this syrup an take it every time I’m starting to feel not so great. I’ll also make elderberry tea with it. I haven’t processed it like you do, but will start in the future. Thank you.
I just want to let you know, here in the states, we have pokeberries which can be confused with elderberries. They both have the red stem the berries grow on, but the pokeberries main stems are hollow, whereas the elderberries’ are woody. Also pokeberries grow more like a cluster and elderberries like a fan.
Pokeberries…interesting. I’ve just googled them and see that they are indeed similar looking, but toxic! Thank you for the tip Linda.
One way to avoid that would be to source your bush’s early summer when they bloom, the pokeberry flowers are nothing like Elderberry so you will know for sure then you just go back in Autumn/Fall to get the berries :)
Hmm…..no if you have ever walked up to an Elderberry bush, or tree where I live, you could not really confuse them for Poke Berries. Elderberry stems are only red/purple when the berries are ripe and then only about the last 6 inches of stem turn red.
The berries do not grow in the same “grape like clusters” that Poke Berries grow in.
Do you know if you can use dried elderberries for this recipe? Would you adjust any of the other ingredients?
You can do Gillian but I've never tried myself. My rule of thumb when using dried herbs/berries is use half as much dried as you would for fresh.
just this minute finished making the elderberry syrup…. thanks Tanya for the recipe. Might make some vanilla ice cream for the first time to go with it.
Make some Vanilla ice cream? Excellent!
Sounds wonderful…OI love to make syrups as they are so versatile!!
and don't forget…delicious! :)
A beautiful and informative post! I really like that you are telling the story behind as well! I might have to go and see if there are some berries left to pick – I've been looking at them while walking the dog but never got around to taking them home with me.
It might be a bit late for them now but it doesn't hurt looking :)
This sounds lovely. But, like Caro, I have picked elderberries in the past and they have smelled like cat's wee! Any ideas what we are doing wrong? Xxx
You've done nothing wrong Fran! Some varieties of Elder (of which there are many) will have an unpleasant scent/taste. Just avoid picking berries from that tree again and try to find another tree(s) that smell more like something you'd like to eat :)
Hi Fran, mine tasted okay (actually, delicious!) but started to ferment in the bottle so had a yeasty undertone and I binned it. I'm wondering now how to recognise the "good" berries – I hadn't realised there were so many varieties! Let me know if you find out! Caro x
I'm going to ask your advice here, Tanya. I made elderberry syrup a few weeks ago when it seemed the last of the berries were available. I used a recipe very similar to yours, sterilised my muslin and the bottles used, had a taste (oh so delicious!!) sealed the bottles with sterilised lids and a few days later found that the syrup/cordial had started to ferment! Fizzy on the tongue with a slight yeasty undertone. Not pleasant. I did toy with the idea that perhaps I could turn it into elderberry wine (if I knew how!) but, eventually, just ditched it. Have you ever had this happen? I'd love to know how to prevent it happening again as I think this syrup is just the business! Caro x
PS. Wonderful photos and a great foolproof recipe for anyone new to making this!
How did you sterilise your bottles and lids Caro? Did you boil the syrup again after you strained it though the muslin? This hasn't happened to me before but there seems to be some step that is introducing yeast/bacteria into your syrup.
If the syrup is not pleasant then probably throw it out and start afresh!
Jars were washed and then dried in the oven for 20 mins at 150C, lids were boiled for 15 mins on the stove, muslin was freshly washed and pressed with a very hot iron and the berries were boiled again after being strained. The only thing I'm unsure of is the funnel used to decant the syrup from pan to bottle. It was washed thoroughly but a bit tricky to clean the spout! Perhaps that's the cause …
Thanks for your advice anyway, Tanya. I'll certainly be on the lookout for some elderberries to start again. It's such a simple and quick process (compared to making rosehip syrup), that it won't be a bother if I can find the berries!
Sounds all fine so you could be right about the funnel! Good luck with hunting down more berries :)
I use Elderberries in my 8 fruit hedgerow jelly this year.
I also made elderberry syrup and at stage 1 put into the pan, 2 cinnamon sticks,about 2" piece of ginger peeled and chopped fairly fine and 12 whole cloves, then went to stage 2 and let it strain gently.
It is lovely in the same uses you mention. One of my favourite ways to use it is with slightly cooled boiled water and a slice of lemon quartered in it, deliscous and both refreshing ans soothing.
Great spice tips Sandie!
A great recipe Tanya. And very interesting to know about the health benefits of elderberries.
Nature provides :)
i've seen these growing wild here but have never used them. i will have to look for them now. this looks wonderful.
It really tastes wonderful too Jaz…see if you can find them again and give the recipe a go :)
The flowers are also excellent, you can make a cordial or an Elderflower champagne which is delicious. Lots of recipes online. The flowers have a lovely delicate flavour and the kids love it (the adults will love the Champagne too) :) We made Elderflower ice-blocks since they flower early summer.
as a side note, if you don’t have many bush’s around make sure to leave some flowers so they turn into berries :) the berries are ready at the beginning of Autumn (or fall if your’e American)