As a young mother in rural Ontario, I celebrated the elderberry harvest by making pies. Local lore taught that the best pies are made from a mix of elderberries and apples – truly a delicious combination.
Oh yes, I must mention that we were warned about the pith in the branches. “Poisonous,” they told us. “Don’t let your children make peashooters from them.” I don’t recall my children ever wanting to make peashooters, but still, you never know, right?
In the intervening years I’ve come to an even greater appreciation of black elderberry for its value as a medicinal food. It is loaded with antioxidants and vitamins that boost the immune system, and is valued as a weapon against cold and flu. It can help reduce inflammation and supports heart health too. I don’t bake pies any more, but black elderberry syrup is always in my refrigerator.
Black elderberry syrup is available commercially from natural health stores. Such a high price tag! I wonder if purchasers realize that the half-life of the syrup is only a few hours. At the onset of a cold or flu, you’ll need to take it around the clock for several days to battle sickness effectively.
That’s a lot of sugar, and a lot of money. But if you make your own …
I embarked on the quest. Wild black elderberries are not common in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Some Pacific Northwest foragers argue that it’s fine to make medicine with the red elderberries that are so abundant here, but I preferred to hold out for black elderberries (Sambucus nigra, also known as Sambucus canadensis in North America). My opinion has been influenced in part by this article from Bellingham ethnobotanist and professor Abe Lloyd. https://arcadianabe.blogspot.com/2013/07/red-elderberry-experiment-1.html.
After several years of diligent searching, I’m thankful to report that I’ve found a supply of local black elderberries. We gather and freeze bags of them every summer to make the syrup that flavours Jim’s Sambucus Kombucha. We also have been known to have a few doses straight up if we are feeling a little under the weather.
Black Elderberry Syrup Instructions and Method
Remove the berries from the tiny stems that connect them to their clusters. We find this is easiest to do at the time of picking, or even while the clusters are still on the tree. Remove as much stem material and green berries as possible. The stems and seeds are toxic when raw, which explains the long cooking time in this method.
Medicinal Elderberry Syrup
Use these measurements for a consistent strength of medicinal syrup.
- Measure 3½ cups of elderberries into a large saucepan. Add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
- When the cooking time is finished, strain out and discard the berries. Measure the juice and adjust the amount to make 4 cups by either adding water or by continuing to boil down if necessary .
- Add 2 cups of organic cane sugar to the juice in the saucepan. Bring back to a boil and continue to simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly, then pour into prepared bottles.
Store your elderberry syrup in the refrigerator and use it up within 60 days. For longer storage, freeze it in canning jars. Be sure to leave an inch of headspace so your jars don’t crack.