Already wondering how to keep colds, sore throats, coughs and mild flu at bay in your family this Autumn? Why not make some elderberry syrup – it’s easy, free (far cheaper than buying the commercial bottles of elderberry syrup!) and great support for our immune systems, with evidence suggesting it prevents and speeds up recovery from upper respiratory infections (colds, sore throats, coughs, mild flu) and viruses.

Known as nature’s anti-viral, with anti-inflammatory & anti-catarrhal properties – it’s certainly helped my family through the winters. We drink elderberry syrup with hot water for breakfast before school throughout the autumn (sometimes with 1/2 teaspoon of honey to sweeten & soothe) – the deep red colour means it isn’t dissimilar to Ribena… albeit slightly less sweet & packed full of nutritional & healing punch.

Collecting elderberries

Picking elderberries (“sambucus nigra”) is also a great, free activity to do with children before the holidays end or at weekends: it’s great for everyone to get out in nature & slow down a little too. You’ll usually find elderberries in hedgerows and on wasteground – it thrives in woods – so keep an eye out on tracks around you. Be sure to know what you are looking for (see RHS website for tips) and I would advise picking from the upper branches to avoid any animal pee!

Take a bag with you to collect the berries – this will become very red from the berry juices so don’t expect to be able to re-use it without stains! And remember to ask the landowner’s permission if you are picking from private land.

However, do not be tempted to eat the berries as you pick – elderberries must always be cooked and never eaten raw.

Here’s the recipe I use:

  • 1 part elderberries (separated from stalks) to 3 parts water

  • place the elderberries in the water & bring to the boil

  • simmer for 30 minutes

  • strain the mixture through a fine sieve, being careful to ensure that only the juice/syrup is kept. To do this, I place the sieve over a large mixing bowl and, using a ladle, gradually ladle the berries/syrup into the sieve.

  • Once all the berries/syrup mixture have been strained, place the sieve full of berries onto an empty pyrex jug to catch any last drips. You can add these to the final bottle or drink with some hot water afterwards!

  • Use a second pyrex jug (if you have one – any jug will do) to pour the syrup into a bottle and/or ice trays/ice cube bags (see top tips below) for storage.

Storage top tips:

  • elderberry syrup will only keep in a bottle in the fridge for about 3 weeks before it ferments (in the wrong way!) – don’t store too much in the fridge or you will waste it!

  • freeze extra syrup in ice cubes trays or ice cube bags so that you can make plenty now & keep enjoying it throughout the winter.

  • taking the berries off the stalks is a little time consuming and stains fingers & clothes – I usually do this outside – be careful not to tread on any berries that run away or you will bring the stains into the house!

  • I’m told that freezing the berries makes it easier to take them off the stalks – definitely worth a try

  • If you don’t have time to make all the berries into syrup now, why not freeze some & make more syrup later?

To serve:

You can consume elderberry syrup alone (1 teaspoon at a time, up to 4 times a day) OR with1 teaspoon mixed with hot water as a hot drink.

If drinking hot, I like to add 1/2 teaspoon of honey and sometimes a little grated ginger for additional soothing and anti-viral benefits. Suitable for children from 2 years upwards.

Have fun – don’t wait too long as the berries wont be in the hedgerows for long!