The Fall and Winter months bring with them perfect Autumn weather followed by the Traditional Holiday Season that warms everyone’s soul. It also brings with it an abundance of Viral Infections such as the Common Cold, Influenza A and B, and many bacterial conditions secondary to their viral counterparts (ie. pneumonia or ear infection). There are a multitude of reasons why cold and flu season occurs every year at the same time, the most undeniable reason being the dramatic reduction of natural Vitamin D due to lack of exposure from the sun (as compared to the Spring and Summer months when it is more accessible and pleasant to spend time outdoors). We are also at higher risk being indoors and in closer contact and proximity of others which promotes the spreading of germs. There are also suggestions that cold either preserves germs more effectively on surfaces, as well as reduces our body’s ability to fight off infection. Regardless of the source, we all know the cold and flu season all too well. We try our best to avoid contracting viral infections and I personally have a regimen that I keep my family on that feeds the body with immune boosting vitamins and minerals to keep viral infection at bay. One of my favourite ways to do this is to use elderberry syrup as a supplement and therapy to reduce the duration of infection.
* Disclosure: I am not a certified medical professional in the area of physical health care and suggest you discuss any and all treatment options with your own health care provider (Medical Doctor, Nurse Practicioner, Naturopathic Doctor, Functional Medicine Doctor, etc.) before adding it to your regimen. My blog posts are meant to provide information and ideas so that you may gather information, continue your own personal research, and bring forward to your healthcare provider *
The Basics: What are Elderberries?
Elderberries (or Sambucus nigra) are dark small round berries that grow on the Elder (Sambucus) tree/bushes in clusters. They grow in areas of both North America as well as Europe. While the Berries you can find in stores are safe to consume and create tinctures and syrups from, there are parts of elderberry bush that are poisonous. Unless you are an experienced Harvester or Herbalist, I wouldn’t suggest going into the wild looking for your own Elderberries, they should be harvested and prepared properly by an expert in the field to avoid any adverse reactions (this really goes for the harvesting of any plants for medicine).
Elderberries: Application for Viral Infection
Using Elderberries as a medicinal prevention and treatment of viral infection is not a new phenomenon, as this is a traditional medicine that has been passed down from Herbalist history. It is, however, beginning to gain public attraction as an alternative to pharmaceutical medicines to ward off illness. There are studies being conducted that are showing the benefits of these berries in their application for viral infection specifically. According to a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in Norway from 1999-2000 by Zakay Rones Z. et al. (2004), the duration of infection was reduced by four days as compared to those in the study who did not receive the elderberries. The study also cites Elderberries as being safe and cost-effective for the treatment of Viruses. This is good news for those who want to avoid using conventional pharmaceutical drugs during viral infections, though pharmaceuticals will only really suppress the symptoms and do little to build the immune system to fight off an illness quicker. In fact, there are studies that suggest these drugs will actually hinder your bodies natural ability to fight infection, but that’s another article for another day.
While Elderberries will reduce the duration of cold and flu symptoms, they also have been touted as a great option for preventing viral infections. Their application as a preventative measure has been used by many people who know they may be exposed to certain illnesses. I have used this tactic before going on play dates with families of school aged children who are more likely to have been exposed to infections, as well as on trips. In a study conducted by Tiralongo et. al, (2016), they found that the duration of cold symptoms in air travelers was much less for those who had supplemented with elderberries as opposed to the placebo group.
Recipe for Elberberry Syrup and Gummies (as an option for kids)
There are many options to purchase good quality Elderberry Syrups from Health and Wellness stores. I personally have used and love THIS one. However, it is highly cost effective and very simple to make your own syrup at home. Not to mention, its fresh and contains complete whole food ingredients without the need for stabilizers or preservatives that would be required to lengthen shelf life in a store. Once you’ve purchased your organic elderberries, many of the ingredients will likely already be in your kitchen cupboard and the entire recipe is made on a regular stove top (the recipe I use also has an option for using an instant pot, making it even more efficient to make your own syrup if you have one of these at home. I personally use stove top and find it very easy).
Before making Eldberry Syrup, you will need:
- A large sauce pan
- A wooden spoon (for stirring)
- A mason jar with lid
- A small strainer (one that fits easily over the mouth of your mason jar)
- At least 1/3 cup of organic elderberries (I’ve included where I get elderberries below)
- Filtered water
- Ginger (dried or fresh), Cinnamon, Cloves
- Organic Raw Unpasteurized Honey
- Alternatively, you can use maple syrup in place of honey. This is particularly important if you’re giving the syrup to a child under the age of 1 as honey is not recommended. Or, if you prefer maple syrup over honey. I choose to use honey if possible as it contains anti-oxidants, is anti-bacterial, has been shown in studies to alleviate allergies, and can be used as a natural cough suppressant. I also find that honey is incredibly beneficial for soothing and healing sore throats which often accompany viral infections.
At my first attempts making my own syrup I made it up as I went. I made a simple syrup from elderberries, filtered water and honey. I would simply place the elderberries and filtered water in a sauce pan until the mixture cooked down to about half, mashed and strained berries into a jar, and then added honey or maple syrup to my mason jar.. sometimes I would add fresh ginger into the pan as I cooked down the berries for added benefits. This recipe was what I used for one cold and flu season until I found THIS recipe from Wellness Mama which incorporates more healing spices and provides exact measurements making it a little easier to follow each time (she even has an option for using an Insta Pot, which I imagine, could be less messy). The Wellness Mama recipe is what I now use during this time of year and highly recommend. It tastes amazing, is relatively simple to make, and you will likely have a lot of the ingredients already in your pantry. I have made a few adjustments to the exact recipe from her website, so I’ve listed them below in case they might help anyone with their first attempt at making this wonder syrup.
My Personal Edits to Wellness Mama Syrup Recipe:
I have had to play with the recipe and made a few edits that could be helpful to those making it for the first time.
(a) Cooking the mixture in the sauce pan for 45-60 minutes proved to be too long for my stove top. It boiled the mixture down too far until I had very little liquid left in the pan. I suggest keeping an eye on your sauce pan and boiling the mixture down until the liquid is at about half of its original amount.
(b) If you’re also making this for children, I reduce the amount of ginger by about half. Many young children have taste buds that read much more sensitively than us and I find that my own toddler will take it more willingly when the ginger isn’t as potent. Sometimes I will make a separate batch for myself and my husband with the full amount of ginger as it has benefits for cold and flu season in itself. This is simply a suggestion for those who have small children who may be sensitive to strong tastes.
(c) For elderberry Gummies (listed below): I use boiling water instead of warm water as it helps mix and dissolve the gelatin. I have used warm water before and found that it caused lumpiness from the gelatin not dissolving and some gummy molds came out as liquid as there was not equal parts of the gelatin throughout the mixture.
Head to the full recipe for the Elderberry Syrup with quantities and steps HERE.
Wellness Mama has also created a gummy bear recipe for children who may not take to a syrup as easily. My little one feels like she is getting a treat when I give her these gummies and they are SO simple to make. You’ll need to find yourself some silicone trays in the shape of your choice that are around the size of a gummy bear. I’ve linked some of my favourite molds below from the modern gummy which would work for this recipe (which come with droppers and will make it SO much easier to make these without a huge mess.. this syrup is on the sticky side).
To make your own Elderberry Gummy Bears, I’ve linked to Wellness Mama’s recipe HERE.
Where to find Elderberries
I opt for organic freeze dried elderberries as I want to ensure they have retained the most nutrients but I order in bulk so purchasing fresh (and paying the additional shipping costs on fresh food) isn’t exactly economical when making the syrup for my family only. Freeze dried berries will store well in your cupboard (ensure it is dark and dry) until you’re ready to make your next batch of syrup. I always ensure that the elderberries I choose are certified organic, as conventional (pesticide laden) options will simply burden your immune system further when its already compromised.
I have always purchased SURO’s organic freeze dried elderberries from well.ca HERE. They come in 50 g. bags and I usually purchase a few at at a time to avoid the additional shipping fees of purchasing separately and to ensure I always have them on hand in my cupboard to make a new batch when needed.
I recently did some digging to see if I could find an alternative for anyone outside of Canada (though, well.ca does ship certain items outside of Canada) and was able to find a bag of organic dried elderberries in a bulk option. I found THIS bag of elderberries (1 lb.) from Amazon which is actually more economical. I haven’t used the brand yet myself (will report back once my current supply is out and I have) but they appear to be the same as the ones I have bought previously and are sourced from Croatia. Most importantly, they are also Certified Organic.
Elderberries are something I have personally supplemented with for years during cold and flu season. I have found personally that it helps reduce symptoms and the time that a viral infection will stick around. As I’ve mentioned before, this is something that should be discussed with your health care provider before adding to your regimen.
I am happy to answer any questions in the comment field below!
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Zakay-Rones Z., Thom E., Wollan T., & Wadstein J (2004). Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 32. Retrieved from http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/elderberry-significantly-reduces-duration-infection-influenza-safe-manner
Tiralongo E., Wee S.S., & Lea R.A. (2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air Travellers: A Rabdomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients 8(4). Retrieved from http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/elderberry-supplementation-reduces-cold-duration-and-symptoms-air-travellers