Elderberry for Immune Support

Elderberry is one of my favorite herbs for upper respiratory support. Elderberries are a potent and evidence-based option for reducing the severity of colds and the flu. You can buy elderberry syrup, but making your own is simple. I always keep stock on hand year-round, but I make extra for the winter months. Below are a few of my favorite kid-friendly recipes, information on this beneficial plant, dosages, and contraindications.



  1. Basic Elderberry Syrup

·      ¾ cup dried elderberries

·      3 cups of water

·      ¾ cup raw honey (not appropriate for children under 1 year of age)

·      Optional ingredients to boost healing properties:

·      2 tbsp. fresh ginger or 2 tsp. ground ginger

·      1 cinnamon stick or 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

·      ½ tsp. whole cloves

·      Sprig of thyme

·      Sprig of rosemary

Combine elderberries, water and optional herbs and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes. Strain liquid using a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth and discard berries and herbs. Stir in raw honey and store in glass jars. The syrup should keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

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2. Elderberry Gummies

·      1 cup elderberry syrup

·      4 tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

Heat elderberry syrup and slowly whisk in gelatin until fully dissolved. Pour into silicone molds and let set in the fridge.

Coat the molds with a thin layer of coconut oil to make removal easier. Use a medicine dropper to fill the molds, which cuts down on the mess.

3. Elder Berry Popsicles

·      1 cup elderberry syrup

·      1 cup organic apple juice

·      Juice from 1 lemon

(You can substitute lemonade for the apple juice and lemon)

Mix all ingredients and pour into popsicle molds and freeze. These are perfect for kids and soothing sore throats.

4. Elderflower Tea

·      2-4 fresh flowers or 1 tbsp. dried flowers

·      Boiling water

·      Raw honey (optional)

Pour water over flowers and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain flowers. Sweeten with honey if desired. Enjoy!


Elderberry Monograph
by Jessica Titchenal

Botanical name: Sambucus nigra (the blue/black berry group)

Common name: Elder, elderberry, European elderberry, black elder, black elderberry, sambucus

Family: Adoxaceae

Parts used: Berries and flowers

Form: Dried, whole berries, fresh flowers, dried flowers
Most sources recommend avoiding the raw berries, bark, leaves and roots due to toxicity, but well-trained herbalists indicate preparation is key to the safe use of all parts of this healing plant.

Native origin: Elderberries are shrubs native to Europe, but have become naturalized in many parts of the world, including the United States.

Main cultivation area: Grows throughout North America, Europe, western Asia, northern Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. Elderberry is a hardy perennial that can survive in USDA zones 3-8. It likes sun or partial shade. They tolerate most soils but prefer moist, fertile, well-drained soil.

I have a bush in my backyard that thrive without much effort on my part. The hardest part is beating the birds to the berries.

Production: The white flowers appear late spring to early summer, depending on the region, and should be harvested when they are fully open. Be mindful of how many flowers you harvest, which can impact how many berries are produced. The berries are harvested when they’re ripest and are a dark, rich purple/black in color, usually between mid-August to mid-September, depending on the region. The bushes are most productive starting their second year.

Storage: Elderberries are best stored frozen or dried, and the flowers can be used fresh or dried. When dried, the flowers and berries should be stored in glass containers in a cool, dark location.

Energetics: The ripe berries are purple black in color and have a tart, slightly sweet, sour, and bitter flavor. The white flowers are slightly bitter and pungent. Both are thought to have cooling energy.

Constituents: Applications of elderberry can be attributed to the chemical composition, which includes essential oils, essential fatty acids (EFAs), flavonoids and their glycosides, phenolic acids, carotenoids, vitamins and minerals. They are especially rich in polyphenols, anthocyanins, and flavonoids.

History: The ancient Greeks thought elders were the primary plant of the god Pan, and believed it could cure all the ills of humankind. The ancient Celts believed a spirit lived in the elder who must not be angered. It was planted around homes for protection from lightening, and near the graves of their loved ones. They believed the blossoms were evidence of happy souls. In old England, they believed you could see witches if elder juice was smeared around your eyes. Pregnant Celtic and Germanic women would kiss the elder to ensure their babies would have good fortune. In the language of flowers, elder flower means purification and love, or compassion and zealousness.

Actions and medicinal use: The beneficial properties of Sambucus nigra include antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antiallergic, vasoprotective, anti-carcinogenic, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, antitumor and antihepatitic.

Both elderberries and elderflowers have a long tradition in herbal medicine of being used to reduce inflammation, diabetic symptoms, as diuretics, and in the treatment of colds and flu. The flavonoids in elderberry extract inhibit Human Influenza A (H1N1) infection, and consumption of the juice may contribute to the prevention of several degenerative diseases such as cancer, inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. In one study, elderflower infusions had higher antioxidant activity than those prepared from berries.

From an Ayurvedic and folklore perspective, it is an antioxidant, immune tonic, astringent, expectorant, diaphoretic, digestive, carminative, and relaxant. Sambucus nigra is not as widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Dose: Elderberry syrup—2-4 tbsps. every 2-4 hours during the initial stages of a cold or flu, or 1 tbsp. daily for general immune support
Flowers--Standard Infusion 2-4 ounces, 3 times a day
Leaves--Cold Infusion 1-2 ounces, 3 times a day

Culinary and other uses: Elderberries and flowers are used in food and beverages, infusions, tinctures, syrups, winter cordials, and medicated wine. Cosmetic uses of elder flowers include reducing facial wrinkles, lightening freckles and age spots, helping heal skin rashes, eczema, measles, diaper rash, and in salves for chapped hands and sunburns.

Contraindications: Can cause gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation. It is also recommended that patients with autoimmune disorders avoid elderberry due to strengthening and modulation of the immune system. Sensitivity varies from person to person.

Fun Facts: Elder has a history of use for musical instruments due to the flexibility of the wood. In the popular Harry Potter fiction series, the Elder wand is considered the rarest and most powerful wand.



Buhner, S. H. (2013). Herbal antivirals: natural remedies for emerging resistant and epidemic viral infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Chowdhury, S. R., Ray, U., Chatterjee, B. P., & Roy, S. S. (2017). Targeted apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells through mitochondrial dysfunction in response to Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Cell Death & Disease, 8(5), e2762–. http://doi.org/10.1038/cddis.2017.77

Dass, V. (2017, November 19). Elderberry for Immunity. Retrieved from http://www.bluelotusayurveda.com/elderberry-for-immunity/

Gladstar, R. (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s medicinal herbs: a beginner’s guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Grant, A. (2015, December 30). Harvesting Elderberry Fruit – When Are Elderberries Ripe. Retrieved from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/elderberry/tips-for-picking-elderberries.htm

Ho, G. T. T., Wangensteen, H., & Barsett, H. (2017). Elderberry and Elderflower Extracts, Phenolic Compounds, and Metabolites and Their Effect on Complement, RAW 264.7 Macrophages and Dendritic Cells. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(3), 584. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18030584

Johnson, J., ND. (2015, December 22). The Joy of Harvesting and Using Elder Flowers. Retrieved from https://theherbalacademy.com/the-joy-of-harvesting-and-using-elder-flowers

Koby, T. (2010, November 5). Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Retrieved from http://www.herbs.org/herbnews/2010/11/elderberry-flavonoids-bind-to-and-prevent-h1n1-infection-in-vitro-2/

Kress, H. (2006, January 16). Elder toxicity. Retrieved from https://www.henriettes-herb.com/blog/elder-toxicity.html

Moore, M. (1996). Herbal materia medica: outlines of over 500 major botanical medicines ... Albuquerque, NM: Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.

Book Review--The Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Foret

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love reading books on herbs, and The Alchemy of Herbs was no exception. I was happy to see a foreward by Rosemary Gladstar, who is one of my go-to herbal experts. This book is organized well, and offers relevant and well-researched information on the most common (and healing!) herbs we can incorporate into our daily lives. The author does a great job outlining the healing properties, uses, recommended amounts and forms, and contraindications for each herb. And I love that she offers multiple recipes for each herb to highlight the many ways they can be used--everything from skin care products to drinks to meals. I bookmarked more than a few to come back to.

The overall tone of the book is a conversational style, and she deftly weaves in herbal terms the average person might not be familiar with (the glossary of terms is also helpful). She offers insight into how other herbalists use each herb, and I appreciate the scientific studies she refers to, which helps to support the recommendations. 

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about the healing power of easy-to-find herbs. I'll definitely refer back to this book.


*This review is also posted on my Goodreads page.