Elderberry Syrup: Benefits, Precautions, and Preparation
Elderberry syrup is a preparation that comes from the fruit of the plant that goes by the same name. The elder (Sambucus nigra) is a tree that measures between four and five meters (13 and 15 feet) high. It has brownish leaves and yellowish-green flowers. The fruit is dark, of a violet, almost black color.
Traditional botany uses its leaves, flowers, and fruits for medicinal purposes. In particular, elderberry syrup has been used to treat diseases of the respiratory tract. What other uses does it have? What does its preparation involve? Keep reading!
Benefits of elderberry syrup
Experts have yet to determine the chemical composition of the plant, flowers, and fruits of the elderberry. However, they’ve identified various nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins) and compounds, as follows:
- Citric acid
- Cyanogenetic glycoside (cyanide producer)
The most common use of elderberry syrup is as an adjuvant to combat various symptoms associated with the respiratory tract. For example, when there’s an increase in the secretion of the mucous membranes, stuffy nose, asthma attacks, laryngitis, cough, among others.
Several studies have tried to prove the effectiveness of this preparation for the treatment of various diseases. Indeed, studies showed that patients with influenza symptoms, who received daily doses of the product showed signs of improvement, even without other types of medication.
Other studies suggest that this plant can also be useful as a supportive agent against the common cold. People who had to make continental air travel and consumed elderberry extract were, on average, less likely to suffer from colds. Similarly, the duration of symptoms, as well as the intensity of symptoms, was significantly less.
In addition, recent research has found antibacterial, antiviral, antitumor, anti-lipid, and even antidepressant properties in elderberry.
Thus, experts anticipate that this plant and its fruit have potential as a complement to the treatment of diabetes, obesity, various metabolic dysfunctions, and even problems of the urinary system.
You can also read: Sore Throat Relief Options
Precautions regarding the consumption of elderberry syrup
According to what we’ve said so far, elderberry syrup seems not only to be effective but also safe and even beneficial for the treatment of various diseases. However, science has yet to confirm all of these findings by larger studies. What’s more, they have yet to assess the risks and possible side effects.
In this sense, you must be careful when consuming elderberry syrup, and not exceed the indicated doses. Higher doses may have dramatic effects, since, for example, elderberry is also a strong laxative as well as a potent diuretic. Therefore, you should never combine it with other medicines that have similar effects.
Also, consuming the unripe berries or uncooked flowers can cause nausea, vomiting, and even severe intoxication. Both the bark and the seeds, and the fruits when they’re green, contain substances known as lectins, which can cause stomach problems.
At the same time, keep in mind that the branches, leaves, roots, and seeds are potentially toxic, because of the above-mentioned cyanogenetic glycoside. In allergic people, rashes or breathing problems can occur after consuming a product with elderberry or just coming into contact with the plant.
Elderberry isn’t recommended for children and adolescents, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. Although there are no data to show that it’s dangerous, there are no data to confirm that it’s safe to eat either. Therefore, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid products with elderberry.
Read on: What Are the Evidence-Backed Benefits of Elderberry?
Preparation of elderberry syrup
On the one hand, you can purchase ready-made elderberry syrup. However, it’s relatively simple to make. Of course, due to the effects we mentioned in the previous section, it’s essential to be careful at the moment of preparation.
The main ingredient is elderberries, which can be fresh or dried–you can find the latter at the market or from an herbalist. Or, you can pick your own fresh elderberries from a field, as long as you know how to recognize the plant and the ripe fruit. You must also take precautions in this regard because there are other plant species that are very simpler, but toxic.
Although you can purchase elderberry syrup at herbal stores, you can also prepare it in your home.
- 2 cups of berries (if dry) (400 g)
- 4 cups of water (1 liter)
- 1 cup of honey (250 g)
- Ginger root; can be in powder form (20 g).
- Cinnamon, vanilla, or cardamom to taste.
- Optionally you can add a cup of an alcoholic beverage, such as vodka; although this shouldn’t be done if the syrup is for children
- Put the berries, ginger, and cinnamon (vanilla or cardamom) to boil over the stove together with the water. Preferably in a ceramic or glass container.
- Once it boils, reduce the heat and keep at low for 45 minutes.
- Remove and let it sit until it cools down.
- Then strain it, using a soft cloth.
- Next, mix the resulting liquid with the honey and with the alcoholic drink, if you choose.
- Finally, store the product in a sterilized glass bottle and keep it in a cool and dry place.
Take elderberry syrup in moderation
Some natural products and recipes have traditional uses that lack scientific verification. This isn’t the case with elderberry syrup, as research has already recognized its virtues and properties.
Just the same, it’s a product that you must use with moderation since, in excess, it can have counterproductive effects. In addition, it should be only a complement when calming the symptoms of illness, since it’s not yet considered a first-line treatment.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Perkins-Veazie P, Thomas AL, Byers PL, Finn CE. Fruit Composition of Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) Genotypes Grown in Oregon and Missouri, USA. Acta Hortic. 2015;1061:219-224. doi:10.17660/ActaHortic.2015.1061.24
- Clapé O, Castillo A. Caracterización fármaco-toxicológica de la planta medicinal Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis. Revista Cubana de Farmacia. 2011; 45(4):586-596.
Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb;42:361-365. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Epub 2018 Dec 18. PMID: 30670267.
- Grajales B, Botero M, Ramírez J. Características, manejo, usos y beneficios del saúco (Sambucus nigra L.) con énfasis en su implementación en sistemas silvopastoriles del Trópico Alto. Revista de Investigación Agraria y Ambiental, 2015; 6(1): 155-168.
- Muñoz O, Montes M, Wilkomirsky T. Plantas medicinales de uso en Chile: química y farmacología. Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 2004.
Dellagreca, M., Fiorentino, A., Monaco, P., Previtera, L., & Simonet, A. M. (2000). Cyanogenic Glycosides from Sambucus Nigra. Natural Product Letters, 14(3), 175–182. https://doi.org/10.1080/10575630008041228
Ulbricht C, Basch E, Cheung L, Goldberg H, Hammerness P, Isaac R, Khalsa KP, Romm A, Rychlik I, Varghese M, Weissner W, Windsor RC, Wortley J. An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2014 Mar;11(1):80-120. doi: 10.3109/19390211.2013.859852. Epub 2014 Jan 10. PMID: 24409980.