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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.
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.