Photo by: kinga_cich

It’s the “battle of the bugs” season, as families everywhere find themselves trying to ward off various viruses at school, in the home, and in the outside environment. Thankfully, there’s a tiny, yet potent botanical sentinel that can help tip the scales in our favour: the elderberry.

Making elderberry syrup is a winter ritual in my household as we enter the height of the viral season. Elderberries are a centuries-old herbal remedy, packed full of antioxidants and high in Vitamin C. It’s the most popular herbal cold remedy in Europe, plus – it’s delicious!

You can find fresh elderberries in the summer at your local farmers market, or dried at your local herbal or health food store. You can also gather the wild berries here in North America in the mid-to-late summer. If gathering in the wild, be sure to harvest only the blue/black berries, as the red ones are potentially toxic if eaten in large quantities. Also, never eat elderberries raw, as they can cause nausea. The leaves and stems are also toxic, and should not be consumed. Elderberries need to be cooked to render them safe, and to reap their benefits.

With that said, Elderberry is a medicinal powerhouse specifically effective against colds, flus, bronchitis, and other upper respiratory infections. It works by inhibiting viral replication, so it is best taken at the very first sign of illness. Most recipes call for using just the berries, but the dried flowers can also be added, as they offer similar flu-fighting properties. As the flowers are more delicate, they are best added later by gently infusing at the end of the recipe.  I also like to use ginger to help with symptoms of cold and flu, and to offer a more balanced remedy. Ginger helps soothe chills with its naturally warming effect, and it’s also a diaphoretic, which helps promote perspiration and reduce fever conditions, as well as aid digestion and nausea.


  • 1 cup of fresh or ½ cup of dried elderberries
  • ¼ cup of dried elderberry flowers (optional)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp of fresh grated ginger
  • 1 cup raw honey


  • Place berries and ginger in a saucepan and cover with warm water. Bring to a boil.
  • Simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and add elderberry flowers, if using. Let sit for another 20 minutes.
  • Smash berry/flower mixture.
  • Strain all through a fine mesh strainer and add 1 cup of raw honey, or adjust to taste.
  • Allow to cool slightly and transfer to a bottle or jar. Yield is about 2 cups. Will last 2-3 months when refrigerated.


  • 1 teaspoon to children, 1 tablespoon to adults every 2-3 hours until symptoms disappear.