Making and Canning Elderberry Syrup

More Elderberries!!

Just a short time ago, I wrote a blog post about making elderberry tincture. Near the end of the post, I suggested that elderberry syrup is much more palatable and is a great way to boost the immune system – especially for kiddos. A couple of weeks after our tincture extravaganza we were on yet another walk. Once again, we happened upon a boat load of ripe elderberries. Hooray!

Ripe elderberries, still on the umbrels

These bushes were actually the same ones we had harvested from previously, but since we were harvesting later, the berries were even more ripe! As soon as I saw the masses of berries I began to picture little jars of elderberry syrup sitting on my kitchen counter. With cute little labels on them. Awwww.

Here is how I went about making and canning elderberry syrup. 

1.) Harvest and Separate Berries
Our second batch of berries was much easier to de-stem than the previous batch because they were more ripe. It only took an hour or two this time, instead of 5 hours. Whew! If you want some info on how to properly take the berries off the umbrels, you can find out here on my previous elderberry post.  Here is what the berries look like after they are separated and de-stemmed.

2.) Boil
Once the berries were separated, I poured them into a large stock pot (I actually used 2 pots because I had so many berries). I then covered the berries with water. Not a lot of water, just about an inch above the berry line. The goal is to add water without diluting the berry juice too much. As you can see in the picture above- there were still some bits and pieces of stems left in the pot, but any leftover stems or flowers will rise to the top once you add the water, so you can spoon them out. I then reached in and squished the berries up by hand. You dont have to do that- I just felt like it.  :) Anyway, I then turned the stove on and brought the water/berries to a boil. After removing my hand of course.

3.) Simmer
Once the berry mixture is boiling, let it simmer gently for 25 minutes or so. This will help to soften the skin of the berries and extract the glorious purple juice within.

This is how the berries looked after I squished them up a bit, just before being boiled.

4.) Strain
After the berries have simmered, strain the elderberry juice into a large container. We are not going to use the berries in our syrup, so the goal here is to get as much juice out of the berries as possible and leave behind the skins and seeds etc. Here is the contraption I came up with. Costa Rican coffee maker + organic cotton bag = great straining device!

Pour the berry juice through a sieve or cheese cloth to catch all the juice

Another good way to strain the juice out,  it is to lay a clean cotton cloth over a colander and pour it through. This will allow all the juice to be used but none of the other debris will make it through. After all the juice has been poured out, I would recommend you put all of the berries into a cheese cloth or a mesh bag, and squeeze the life out of them. Milk those babies for all their worth!!

The berries, after being squeezed to death. (and Norah’s hand)

5.) Add Ingredients
I then added approximately 48 ounces of honey to the juice. I had about 2.5  gallons of elderberry syrup and I basically did it to taste. I have a tendency to ignore recipes and just do my thing. But I tried to stick to a method this time. Tried. I also added 4 cinnamon sticks to the mix because cinnamon is just amazing and is also a great cold killer.

6.) Re-boil the syrup
Once I got every ounce of juice out of the berries, I poured the elderberry syrup back into the large pot to boil again for a short time. As you can see, I am by no means an expert pourer. Sadly, I spilled a couple of ounces during the transfer. Sad day.

No use crying over spilled milk- but ederberry syrup? That’s a different story *sob*

So, after I dried my tears and cleaned up the mess, I then re-boiled the syrup.

Look at that beautiful purple syrup!! Mmmmm

6.) Prepare Jars
While the syrup was heating up again, I prepared my canning jars. The jars need to be sterilized so that all bacteria is dead. For long term storage, this is a vital step. Its actually important even if you plan to use your syrup within the week. Just better all around. You dont want a bunch of nasty bugs getting into that liquid gold. I also sanitized the lids by pouring boiling water over them.

7.) Distribute
Once the jars are clean and the syrup has boiled for a few minutes, I let it cool for a bit and then poured it into the jars and put the lids on.

If you dont wish to can/preserve your syrup, you can stop reading here. The following steps detail how to can the jars for long term storage. If you plan to use the syrup within a month or so, you can keep it in the fridge and take it daily or as needed. Skip to the bottom for some suggestions on use and dosage.

8.) Canning
We choose to preserve our syrup.  #1 We cant see ourselves using 2.5 gallons of elderberry syrup within 3 month’s time (3 months is about as long as you can keep elderberry syrup on the shelf/in the fridge). #2. We want to be able to give it away to friends without a “use by date” printed on the label. We dont have a pressure canner. In fact, all I have is a huge stock pot and some jars. Guess what? It works! Simple, affordable, and fun!

Here is how to use a water bath canning method for your syrup:

  • Fill a stock pot halfway with water
  • Once the water is heated add the filled jars
  • The jars need to be separated with a wire rack like this. Or with random objects you find in your kitchen. Like we did.
  • Add more water until the water level is about an inch above the top of the jars
  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Allow the jars to boil for 20-35 (the amount of time depends on the size of the jars and your current altitude.) Here is a chart that details the various boiling times.
  •  Remove the jars from the water. Most people like to use these handy dandy jar grabbers if they dont have a rack, but since I dont have either, we just tipped some water out and grabbed the jars with a pot holder. Only a few minor burns were sustained :) Kidding. We are fine.
  • Let the jars cool and check the seals before storing
  • Store in a cool dry place and use as needed.Here is the fruit (literally) of our labor! *sigh* Looks good, eh?

    Tada!!! 21 jars of canned elderberry syrup! Ain’t she a beaut?

If you dont have elderberries, or dont feel like buying any and making your own syrup- you can also buy elderberry syrup online. It’s pricey, but boy does it work!! Kicks those germs right out. Not to mention the other benefits that I mentioned in my tincture post.

Here are some great ways to use your elderberry syrup:

*For adults: Take 1 tablespoon per day, or 3 per day if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*For kiddos: Take 2 teaspoons per day, or 2 tablespoons if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*In homemade yogurt as a sweetener and an extra immune boost
*In carbonated water- the girls love it! Just add a couple of tablespoons to a glass of seltzer water. It makes a wonderful and healthy “soda” as a treat for the kiddos
*Pour over pancakes, baked oatmeal, or in tea instead of honey
* Drizzle over ice cream
*Use as a sweetener in baked goods

What would YOU do with elderberry syrup??

Making Elderberry Tincture

Finding Elderberries in the Mountains

Around this time last year, the girls and I were on a stroll and happened upon an elderberry bush. I was shocked. I never expected to find elderberries in the mountains of Colorado! I picked a ripe cluster of the berries and brought them home and did a bunch of research to make sure that I was right in my herb identification. I was! We went out later that week and harvested as many berries as we could find and made 2 large bottles of tincture from that one bush. We felt like such pioneers. Well, imagine my surprise when we found over 10 elderberry bushes this year on our foraging adventures! Thanks to Mark’s keen elderberry spotting.  We decided to make as much tincture as we could. Little did we know what that was going to entail. Before detailing our little venture into herbal remedies though, here are some important rules of elderberry use.

Safety Rules of Elderberry Harvesting and Use

  1. You can ingest the flowers of the elderberry bush- some people put them in champagne for a light springy flavor. Here is what the elder flowers look like

    Elderflowers

  2. Do not ingest unripe berries. They contain a mild cyanide which can cause nausea and vomiting etc.

    Unripe elderberries

  3. When using ripe elderberries, use them when they are purple and the stem has turned reddish/pink.

    Ripe elderberries

The Health Benefits of Elderberry

When I was a kid, my aunt used to make elderberry tincture and send it to us so I was somewhat familiar with it. I knew it was good for fighting off the flu or common cold because the second I complained of a stuffy nose or headache, out came the elderberry tincture. What I didn’t realize is that it can also improve heart health, lower cholesterol, lessen asthma, help with diabetes, and improve vision. It is also helpful in reducing inflammation in the bladder and urinary tract. Elderberry juice was used as a treatment in Panama during a flu epidemic in 1995 and in Israel, at Hadassah’s Oncology Lab, it was determined that the anthocyanins in elderberry enhance immune function greatly. In fact, it does such a great job that they are now treating AIDS and Cancer patients with elderberry!!! So that’s the scientific side of things. On to the making of the tincture. Be prepared to get dirty and have some fun!

My awesome hubby getting the berries at the top of the bush and his mum holding on to his ankles, “just in case”

Making Elderberry Tincture and Syrup

1.) Harvesting We spent about 30 minutes picking the ripe berries, and filled an entire reusable grocery bag. Hooray! You can also buy dry berries from herb stores like this one.
2.) Separating Guess how long it took us to separate those berries? Oh….about 5 hours.
Yep, talk about labor intensive! Oh well, its a labor of love, right? Anyway, to take the berries off of the umbrels, you simply have to use your finger tips and lightly pluck the berries off making sure to not take any stem along. If the berries are super ripe you can use a fork or wide tooth comb and run it downward along the stem. Some people freeze the berries while still on the umbrel and separate afterwards, but I havent tried that method yet.

Berries: separated and rinsed

3.) Recipe and Process There are a few different ideas on how to properly make tincture. Some people use only berries and alcohol. We decided to add a few extra ingredients. One thing is certain though- you have to use alcohol that is 80 proof or higher in order to extract the medicinal properties and preserve the berries. We used 90 proof rum for some of the jars and 90 proof whiskey for others. Some people say that vodka is the only proper alcohol to use when making tincture. But, I like to live on the edge so we didn’t use vodka. Anyway, here are the steps we took.

  • Separate and wash the berries
  • Mash them lightly
  • We added raw honey to the berries (about 1/4 cup of honey per 1 cup of elderberries) just because we wanted to make it a bit more palatable.

    Filling the Jars

  • Fill each jar about halfway with the berry/honey mixture
  • Add alcohol to the berries until the jar is nearly full (ends up being about a 50-50 mix).
  •  (Optional) Add a couple of cinnamon sticks, 3 or 4 cloves, 1 tablespoon dried echinacea, and 2 teaspoons dried lavender to each jar. We added these things because we had them on hand, and because they all have specific medicinal qualities that are also helpful in fighting illness and boosting the immune system.

    The finished product.

  • Seal the jar and shake the mixture until well combined.
  • Store in a dark dry place
  • Shake lightly every couple of days
  • The tincture will be ready after 2-3 weeks.

Suggested Use: You will want to strain the tincture before consuming it. You can do so 1 serving at a time or strain the entire content into a new jar and discard of the berries entirely. A daily serving (1 tablespoon) of tincture is great for keeping your immune system up and running. You can take it 3 times per day when you feel the first signs of flu or cold coming on. For kids, I would suggest making elderberry syrup since its more palatable and  kids love it!