Monday, February 28, 2011

Elderberry (and other) Syrup Recipes

Juicing the Elderberries - multiple times! - for a batch of
"All Power to the People! Eldercampane Syrup."

Stirring the local honey in. Juicing the limes, while the Cinnamon and honey look on.

Measuring out the tincture. The finished syrup. Yum.

Word on the street is that a bunch of folks have Elderberries in the freezer from last Autumn and are seeking recipes. Ask and ye shall receive! I'm including not only recipes for immune-supporting Elderberry syrups, but ones for building Iron, protecting or decongesting the lungs, and settling the stomach. Please see the glossary below if you're unsure of a term. And if something is unclear, please ask! Information like this means little if you can't put it into practice to make medicine for your community!

As with everything herbal, there are a gazillion recipes and methods to making your remedies. I make my food and medicine using pinches, dashes, and handfuls. However, in order to re-create good creations and to share recipes with others, I've been recording general directions and amounts. So, I'm sharing these recipes that I've used, adapted, and created over the years. Feel free to experiment and please post your comments, questions, and recipes!

Why syrups? Herbal syrups are remedies that are more concentrated than teas (though less concentrated than tinctures). They take time to simmer, but they also keep for months, making them more convenient than simmering tonic herbs daily or making decoctions when you’re not feeling well. Using good local honey, rather than the white sugar that some syrup recipes call for, creates not only a sweet tasting remedy but also soothes the mucus membranes of our throats and digestive tracts. Depending on the herbs you choose, you can make a daily tonic with herbs to build blood or give immune support, or a syrup for acute situations, such as an expectorant or sore throat remedy for cold and flu season. Syrups can also be made alcohol-free for kids, those in recovery, those allergic to alcohol, etc, and they usually taste gooooood. If possible, keep your syrups refrigerated so that they keep longer.

A note on sugar and honey: Many syrup recipes call for loads of refined sugar. When I'm feeling under the weather I definitely don't want to be taking sugar, which depletes the immune system, so in my recipes I use local honey and refrigerate my syrups.  I love to use local honey in my syrups. Simmering the honey with the herbs creates a thicker, more syrupy consistency, but also cooks some of the vitality and medicinal properties out of the honey. Oh no! But the bees worked so hard! And the humans, too. So I don't cook the honey, or sometimes I cook just a small amount of it and add most of it later once the syrup has cooled a bit. I would rather have a more liquidy medicinal syrup than a less medicinal thick syrup.

A note on consistency: The recipes below (besides the goopy Horehound Syrup recipe), come out with a liquidy consistency.  They are like a really concentrated tea-concoction, rather than a thicker syrupy consistency that you may be used to.  You can experiment with adding ingredients that will thicken your syrup, such as Slippery Elm powder (from a cultivated, organic source, as this tree is at-risk), to achieve the consistency you're seeking.

Most syrups, especially ones containing honey, are recommended for children over 2. Check in with your health care provider or trusted friends to see about dosages for little ones.

General Syrup-Making Info:
I like to make my syrups when I can be at home and take my time - time to let it simmmer, to let it cool, and to clean up the mess afterwards. Especially if I'm using Elderberries. As always, its a good idea to read over the recipe before embarking on your syrupy adventure to be sure that you've got what you need for ingredients and supplies, or at least that you've got a general idea so that you can improvise.

When I was living somewhere with pretty heavily-chlorinated water, when I would visit friends and family with good water from a well or spring I bring along a half gallon jar so that I can use it for making medicine. Use what you've got access to, but if you can get your hands on good water your medicine will be that much stronger. That being said, I'd rather use tap water than give a penny of my money to Poland Springs/Nestle and other water-stealing corporations.

In general, I don't measure my herbs by weight, as many herbal recipes do. I prefer to measure my herbs out in a measuring cup. I add the herbs and water into a large pot and simmer the brew until I've reduced the liquid by half, i.e. simmer 2 cups of water down to 1 cup. I then remove the pot from heat, strain out and compost the herbs, return the liquid to the pot, and let the hot liquid cool before adding 1/2 the amount of local honey (1/2 cup honey to 1 cup of concentrated tea). I usually let it cool for about 15-20 minutes before adding the honey so that heat doesn't kill the living enzymes and other good stuff in the honey, but it's still warm enough that the honey will dissolve. Many recipes call for far more sweetener, but I feel like this amount is plenty. If I'm adding additional ingredients - tinctures, apple cider vinegar, lemon/lime juice, etc. - I let the liquid cool even more, almost down to room temperature, so that the alcohol doesn't evaporate off and the heat doesn't kill the vitamin C or living enzymes in the other ingredients.

Pour your syrup into sterilized bottles, using brand new ones or washing reused ones with hot soapy water and rinsing carefully with boiling water. Label your syrup with the ingredients and date, and record your recipes if you wish. It's often recommended to use up your syrup within a few months, but depending on the ingredients you choose that may have anti-bacterial, preservative properties, they may last longer.

Elderberry Syrup
This simple syrup combines elderberries, long praised for its anti-viral properties, with sore throat-soothing honey.  Be sure to use only blue-black Elderberries, Sambucus nigra. (The red ones can be toxic.) Here in Northern New England U.S., the Elder trees that you want to harvest from are in bloom in June and ripen in early September. Don't eat Elderberries that haven’t been cooked first, as eating too many can make you sick.

1 cup fresh or ½ cup dried Elderberries
3 cups Water
3/4-1 cup Honey

1. Add the berries and water to a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer over low heat for 30-60 minutes.
2. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, being sure to squeeze or crush as much of the juice out of the berries that you can.
3. Let the liquid cool, but while it's still warm enough to dissolve honey, add the honey and stir. 
4. Pour the syrup into clean containers (preferable narrow-mouthed containers for easily pouring) and store in the refrigerator, where it should keep for a few months.  If you would like to preserve your syrup for longer, you can add a few ounces of alcohol or tincture.

Elecampane Syrup
Elecampane is an amazing medicine for infections that settle deep in the lungs.

1/2 cup dried Elecampane root
2 3” Cinnamon sticks broken up into bits, optional
2 1/2 cups Water
3/4 cup (or more) local Honey
1+ ounce Elecampane tincture

Bring the first three ingredients to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer until the liquid is reduced to half. Strain and compost the herb. Add honey after the tea has cooled, but is still warm enough to dissolve the honey. Once cooled to room temperature, add the Elecampane tincture and stir.

Elder starting to bloom by the stream, Old school print of Elecampane (aka Elf Dock)

Elecampane blossom and ripe, heavy Elderberries with dewy spider web 

All Power to the People! Eldercampane Syrup
One time I had a wee bit of Elderberry syrup and a wee bit of Elecampane syrup and so I combined them. It was so delicious and medicinal. This is how the Eldercampane syrup came to be. And then one day I was making a batch while listening to a Democracy Now! program on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton on our local community radio station 91.1 WGDR. As I made medicine, I reflected on the concept of supporting and strengthening our defenses. I make this syrup with gratitude in honor of all those who’ve organized past and present for community health, including the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords.   (I don't make this syrup available for sale, if I did I'd only use that name as a fundraiser for political prisoners, Black Lives Matter, etc)

I gather the Elderberries from my friend's thriving, abundant bushes, and the Elecampane that I harvest grows prolifically along the tree line in the moist lower pasture at my family's farm. The faraway spices I try to get from the most ethical sources I can find - friends have brought them back from markets visited on their travels or family visits or I try to get my hands on fair-trade, worker-owned, organic, etc. sources. The Ginger and Cinnamon are both great for respiratory/ immune health and the Cinnamon helps make the syrup a bit more viscous, once cooled. This recipe makes a delicious, anti-viral syrup to speed recovery during cold and flu season. I like the taste so much that I integrate it as a food, pouring it on my buckwheat pancakes, or just taking a shot of it when folks around me are sick, I'm not getting enough sleep, or am feeling stressed or under the weather. This is a big batch, feel free to decrease it. Or make a lot and share it!

Here we go! Combine the following ingredients in a large pot and simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half:

3/4 cup dried Elecampane root
4” fresh Ginger, grated
3 3" Cinnamon stick, broken into bits
9 cups Water

While the herbs are simmering, juice your fresh Elderberries. I put my berries through the juicer at least three times to get all their good juice out. If you have frozen Elderberries, remove them from the freezer before making the syrup so that they can thaw out. If you have dried Elderberries, simmer 1 or 1 1/2 cups with the herbs above.  If you don't have a juicer, just add the Elderberries to the Elecampane, Ginger, and Cinnamon and let them all simmer together.

Letting the liquid cool as mentioned above in general instructions, blend together:

2 1/2 cup of Elderberry juice
3 cups local Honey
5 ounces local Apple Cider Vinegar (my favorite is Honest-To-Goodness)
juice of 2 fresh Limes
6 ounces Echinacea tincture (whole plant - root, leaf, flower, bud, and seed)
3 drops homemade Self-heal flower essence per bottle (to support the body in healing itself)

When the hot liquid has cooled enough, but is still warm enough to dissolve honey, add the juice-honey-vinegar-lime-tincture-flower essence blend and stir.  Pour your syrup into bottles, label, and share! The honey, apple cider vinegar, and tincture are all natural preservatives, prolonging the life of the syrup. It's often recommended to use up your syrup within a few months, but with this recipe, I've had the syrup last over a year.

Variations: You can add other herbs that you’d like to simmer along with the elderberries. For a cold and flu prevention syrup, you can add Astragalus root, simmered with the Elderberries and/or added as a tincture. For syrup to take when you’re sick, you can add other herbs such as Thyme for anti-bacterial respiratory support, and/or Marshmallow root for its soothing qualities.

 (You can buy Honest to Goodness Apple Cider Vinegar in C. Vermont Coops, or buy it in bulk directly from them.  Call: 802-685-3061 )

Instant Ginger Syrup
Alright, technically this is really an infused honey rather than a syrup, but the infused honey is just as good (I think), quicker to make, and uses less fuel/electricity.

This "syrup" is great when you want the benefits of fresh ginger root, but you’re not able to brew up tea. You can bring it with you to work and on trips, though it is best to refrigerate it and I like to make small batches and use it up within a few days. It’s powerfully decongesting, soothes a sore throat, boosts the immune system, and helps to ease motion sickness. Simply grate a couple handfuls of fresh grated ginger to a medium sized jar and cover with local honey. As the ginger releases its moisture, the honey becomes more liquidy and spoon-able. I take the syrup as is, but if you don't like to eat lil bits of ginger, you can strain them out. If the honey is more granular, you can gently heat it by placing your glass honey jar in warm (not HOT! - it may crack and/or you may cook the good stuff out) water to liquefy it before straining.

The roots and leaves of Iron Building Syrup.

Iron Building Syrup
Iron Building Syrup is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron.  This syrup helps build up iron in the blood with herbs that are more absorbable by your body than synthetic iron pills, which can cause constipation. This syrup is great for those who menstruate, as we are cyclically building and shedding our blood, and especially helpful for vegetarians and others who may tend to get anemic! I like to take this syrup throughout the month or during and after my period to build up nutrients that are lost with my flow.

1/2 cup each dried: Dandelion leaf, Dandelion root, Burdock root, Yellow dock, Nettle leaf, and Raspberry leaf
12 cups Water

Simmer this brew down to 6 cups. Strain the herbs from the liquid. Pour the liquid back into the pot. Remove from heat. Letting the liquid cool as mentioned above in general instructions, blend together:

2-3 cups local Honey
7 tablespoons fair-trade black strap Molasses

Once cooled, to add more medicinal properties and help preserve your syrup, you can add:

4 ounces brandy or tincture of any of the above herbs

Your syrup is all made!  Bottle, seal, and label. Store in the refrigerator. Take 2-6 tablespoons daily.

Old school print of Licorice 
Old school print of Coltsfoot and Coltsfoot leaves

Persistent Cough Syrup
Early this past winter many folks just couldn't kick the persistent cough that held on long after their cold or flu had passed. My neighbor asked for help. Ginger and Thyme came to mind initially. Then he told me he'd tried Echinacea, Elecampane, and Goldenseal roots, and Garlic. When I got home to my apothecary the remedies that I thought would be helpful weren't the ones calling to me. Licorice was loud. Then I went to my lung tonic blend - the leaves of Plantain, Mullein, Lungwort, and Coltsfoot. The Coltsfoot wanted to join the Licorice root and be made into a syrup. I love Licorice root. It's a great syrup herb because it's anti-viral, relaxing, soothing to mucus membranes, and supports respiratory health. I didn't have as much personal experience with Coltsfoot, however, so I took the opportunity to look it up in some of my herbals. And in her writings on Coltsfoot, Mrs. M. Grieve recommends a Licorice-Coltsfoot Syrup. !!!  So here's what I made:

7 large dried Coltsfoot leaves (harvested away from roads, where it commonly grows), crushed into bits
3 small handfuls Licorice root, cut and sifted herb (if long, tongue-depressor like slices of roots, break into bits)
2 1/4 cup Water

Simmer down to 1 cup of strong tea. Add:

1/2 cup local Honey

Take a teaspoon as needed to soothe a dry, irritated, sore throat and to ease coughing. If you're concerned with Licorice's affect on those with high blood pressure, you can keep your daily dosage low or choose a different blend of herbs.

Bitter, fuzzy Horehound.

Horehound Syrup
From Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West:  “Horehound is an old and revered bitter expectorant. For coughs and lung congestion in general, a syrup is often preferable. This is my recipe (there are endless variations): Boil an ounce of Horehound in a pint of water for twenty minutes, strain and reduce the liquid to a cup. Add two cups honey and stir over low heat. Remove from heat and add one ounce powdered Slippery elm bark or powdered Comfrey root, the juice from one lime, and one-half cup brandy. If you are fortunate enough to have some handy, several tablespoons of powdered Osha Root can also be added. Mix thoroughly and bottle. Take a tablespoon or two as needed.”

A note on Osha Root, since this plant is at-risk: “Use the wild plant only when absolutely necessary; otherwise use only cultivated resources. Thyme, elecampane, marshmallow, lovage, angelica, and rosemary are all good alternatives.” From Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs edited by Rosemary Gladstar and Pamela Hirsch.  Slippery Elm is also at-risk, so please get it from a cultivated source.

And just be aware that when you add the slippery elm bark powder to this syrup the consistency radically transforms from a liquidy liquid into a snotty globby mess! Hooray (as long as you don't mind)!

Making Elderberry-White Pine syrup with an afterschool program.
tinctures - alcohol-based herbal extracts
decoction - a tea made by simmering the more tenacious parts of plants - i.e. roots, barks, certain seeds.
herbals - herb books. It's a good idea to have at least 3 reliable herbals to turn to for information.
Did I use any other unfamiliar terms? Let me know!


  1. Where do you get the ingredients for the Iron Building Syrup?

  2. Thanks for being in touch! I dig up the roots and harvest the leaves for the Iron Building Syrup recipe. Then I get the honey from local bee keeper friends, and buy the fair-trade Molasses, Fruit Concentrate, and Spirulina from the local Coop. If you don't harvest your own herbs, you can check your local herb shop or food coop. If you're in Central Vermont, you can check out Zack Woods Herb Farm herbs in various Coops, like Plainfield Community Coop. If you can't find these ingredients locally, or you'd like to buy in bulk, you can check out mail order companies like Mountain Rose and Jeans Greens. I use my own Hawthorn (or other herb) tincture, or you can purchase this, preferably supporting a local herbalist/herb shop in the process. Straight brandy can be used instead of tincture.

    You can make a great iron-rich syrup with just the herbs, water, honey, and molasses. The tincture/brandy helps preserve the blend, but this as well as the Spirulina and fruit concentrate are all optional ingredients. Good luck! Let me know if you have other questions.

  3. Is it safe to use with blood pressure medication?

  4. One more question about the iron building syrup..

    How long does it keep and in the fridge, right?

    I've never had low iron before, so I want to safely build it back up.

    Thank you so much.

  5. I apologize for the multiple posts, but another thought came to me.

    How many mg's of iron is in each teaspoon or dose of 2-6 per day?

    Thank you, again. -Lisa

  6. Thanks for being in touch. I don't know how many mgs of iron is in a dose. I imagine quite a bit less than iron pills (which can be quite constipating), but perhaps better-absorbed as a food/herb source of iron. I would check in with a clinical/medical herbalist with any questions about medications.

    Yes, I keep my syrups in the fridge so that they last longer. And I also add tinctures, so that the alcohol content can help preserve it. Straight alcohol (ie brandy, vodka) can be added, but I like to add tinctures, to give the blend the medicinal properties of the herb-infused tinctures. Good luck with your syrup-making!

  7. Hi! I noticed you decocted the coltsfoot leaves with the licorice root. Is this normal practice, as I have been taught to separate the two parts when extracting as leaves do better as in infusion. I’ve been wondering how to combine flowers/leaves with roots/berries for syrups? Any advise? Thank you!