Elder trees usually grow in scrubland and hedgerow areas, although I am lucky enough to have one in my garden. I always make sure I don’t harvest too many elderflowers in the spring, so that I can make enough syrup with the berries in the winter! If you don’t happen to have any nearby though, or you decide to make this after the birds have eaten all the berries (!) then you can also buy dried elderberries instead.
These little purple berries can make a lot of mess, in fact they used to be used historically as dye, and you will see why! I’ve been making this for years and am rather a lot neater now, but it used to look like somebody had murdered Clangers in my kitchen!
You can either make this with just sugar (or just honey) but I make it with half sugar mixed with some honey, just to be awkward. The sugar helps to preserve it (if you sterilise your bottles correctly and make it with sugar it will last about a year in the fridge!) but I do also like the added health benefits that honey brings. If you can afford Manuka honey that would be the perfect addition, but I have also recently discovered that Scottish Heather honey has the same bacteria-fighting properties as Manuka and may be cheaper for us in the UK (and certainly has less air miles).
Elderberry Syrup Recipe:
- Root Ginger
First you need to get the elderberries off the stalk. For this I use a fork and gently comb them off the stalk. I have seen recipes where people claim that you must get out EVERY bit of stalk and unripe berry or you’ll be ill, most of which have been American, and I’m not sure if they have a slightly different species of tree over there that is more toxic, but with this honestly a few teeeny bits of stalk and some unripe berries are going to be fine!
(I got my daughter to hold the stalk while I took the photo!)
- Pop the berries in to a pan with enough water to cover them and bring to the boil. Chop up some root ginger and chuck that in along with some cloves and cinnamon sticks to taste. I used two cinnamon sticks and the whole lump of ginger in the ingredients photo. The cloves were shaken in a bit willy-nilly so I can’t really say how many of those there were!
Simmer for 10 minutes. Then let the mixture cool for a bit as you’re going to manhandle it next!
- Pop a muslin or something similar over a bowl and pour the mixture in to it, the liquid will drain in to the bowl and then you need to twist up the muslin and squish out the berry-ness! This is messy and potentially still a bit hot depending on how impatient you are! Once it’s all squeezed through you want to tip it in a jug to see how much you have. I had 350ml.
If you are JUST using sugar, then you want to measure out the sugar on a 1:1 ratio, so if you had 350ml you want 350g of sugar. If you are using HALF sugar (like me) then you want half of that amount, so 175g of sugar.
Pop your juice and the sugar back in the pan on the hob and heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let it simmer for about another 5-10 mins, just to thicken slightly and then let it cool down again. If you are doing a very small batch it might take less time than this to dissolve and thicken so keep an eye on it!
If you are doing the JUST sugar method you can bottle it now.
If you are using HALF sugar then you really do need to wait until it has cooled to a luke-warm temperature and then mix the honey in so that the heat doesn’t destroy the beneficial effects. I used 100ml in mine as I didn’t want it to be too sweet, so I would say just add some to taste and then bottle it!
You can store this in the fridge for up to a year. To take it I just dose everyone with one teaspoon a day during winter and then if anyone gets a cold then up the dose to a couple! You can also use it as a cordial by mixing it with warm water to make a hot drink (maybe not boiling water though as I don’t think the honey would appreciate that). Also remember that the advice is not to give honey to babies under 1yr.
Super Easy Cheating Version:
Buy this elderberry juice (it’s 100% elderberry juice)
Mix it with honey
Hope that this helps you and your family stay well during cold & flu season! I’m going to make extra to send to my Mum! ❤