Recipe: DIY Elderberry Cough Syrup

Recipe: DIY Elderberry Cough Syrup

Yesterday my family and I went for a long walk through the countryside. We all started out a little tetchy from various pressures at the moment – Mum and Dad are busy with work projects while the kids have started back at school which is always a shock after the long summer holidays. Inspired by a lovely couple picking sloe’s to make sloe gin with we decided to do some foraging of our own and found it incredibly relaxing and lovely to bond. We even stopped long enough to see some deer roaming around. It was a great day in the end and a fruitful (!) walk.

We collected a bag (we had to use our clean dog poo bags as we hadn’t come prepared!) of apples and blackberries that we made apple and blackberry crumble with, loads of sloe’s we made sloe gin and sloe cordial with – Im not convinced anyone will drink the sloe cordial as sloe’s are just so bitter. Most excitingly, for me, we found a great source of juicy elderberries.

Elder berries
Juicy Elder berries

The Elder tree is a small deciduous tree native to the UK and Europe mainly found in woodland and hedgerows. It is also known as Black Elder or by its Latin name Sambucus nigra and belongs to the Adoxaceae family. To learn more about growing it yourself or spotting it visit the Woodland Trust website. The flowers of the plant gently splay out from their stems and are a pale cream colour with a delightful perfume. They flower in late Spring and are used for feverish conditions especially where the lungs or whole respiratory tract are involved such as influenza. They can also used to make elderflower cordial or elderflower champagne.

Elder berries are a more intense purple-black colour found in early Autumn. The berries are high in Vitamin C and are traditionally used for upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold or coughs. They are thought to be mildly poisonous if eaten raw (although I have often eaten them raw many times) and should be cooked before eating.

Elder berry syrup is often used for preventing colds, particularly in children as it is sweet and palatable for them. You can make this syrup and keep it for up to 3 months in the fridge or a cold cupboard.

Elder Berry Syrup

  • Difficulty: moderate
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Elderberries x 4 bunches
Water x enough to cover the berries
Honey or sugar x 1 tbsp
Glucomannan or Gelatine x 1gm (this is optional but will make the syrup thicker)

Place all ingredients into a small saucepan and heat slowly. Do not boil or simmer but rather keep a constant low heat going. The water will evaporate while the heat and sugar will release the active ingredients in the berries: volatile oils, tannins, flavonoids and mucilage.

Elder berry syrup
Elder Berry syrup brewing

Stir often and even press the berries to squish them (to encourage the release of the active ingredients).

Once the liquid turns to syrup you can leave it to cool a little to check it is thick enough for your liking (add the gelatine or glucomannan at this point).

Strain the mix through a fine mesh strainer (eg a tea strainer) or piece of muslin cloth into a sterilised jar.

Label with the date.

Elder berry syrup

Adults: Take 1 tsp 2-3 times per day (1 tsp TDS) at the onset of a cold or cough or to prevent colds at the beginning of winter.

Children: 1 tsp per day.

Nutritional info:
Sugar acts as a solvent, that extracts active ingredients in this recipe, instead of using alcohol which is the most common solvent used and can be interchanged here (I don’t as I use the syrup for my children). In this recipe it also acts as a preservative so I can justify its use for these two important reasons. Elderberries are known to be high in Vitamin C and have a broad range of effects on the respiratory tract; being neither relaxing or stimulating expectorants they can be used where a cough is dry or wet and have a broader therapeutic effect.

If you would rather buy a ready made Elder berry syrup I recommend this one by Sambucol.


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