A Spoonful of Elderberry Syrup Kicks the Winter Off Right

As snow hits the homestead, we stock our "medicine" cabinet with homemade elderberry syrup to help us navigate cold-and-flu season.

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: Rachael Dupree

And just like that, winter has overtaken the homestead. It seems like the trees just turned their beautiful golden hues, but now the leaves are in piles on the ground and limbs are covered in snow and ice. The first snowfall has hit the Bluegrass, and now things can officially slow down and turn inward.

I have to admit, life in the country has turned me into a cold-weather lover. There’s nothing cozier than hunkering down in cuddly PJs in the evening or more fulfilling than taking a brisk hike through a shower of sparkly snowflakes. Plus, it gives me an excuse to do more of what I love most: play around in the kitchen.

We’ve been busy this summer putting up the food that we foraged, grew or received from friends, and now we have much in the way of winter treats. This year, one of the focal points of our outdoor endeavors was the elderberry—we planted some new canes and harvested berries and flowers from the ones already growing along our creek—so it seems fitting that one of the first indoor projects of the season was to make elderberry syrup.

Elder is my go-to herb during cold and flu season. At the first sign of a sore throat or sniffles, I start myself on an elderberry regimen, as elderberry has been proven to fight flu and lessen symptoms. My go-to way of consuming elderberry is through tincture, a high-proof alcohol infused with the berry. A dropperful several times a day usually does the trick for me; however, for the little one, I’m trying out syrup this year.

Making elderberry syrup is simple: Make a strong tisane (aka herbal tea) with the berries, strain, and then add honey. Because I can’t let anything be that easy, I tried three different versions: a plain elderberry syrup, an elderberry-echinacea syrup, and an elderberry-rose hip syrup with cinnamon and cloves. Unfortunately, they all came out tasting about the same—I probably could have added more warming spices in the third variety for true flavor variation—but I’m excited for my family to put them to use. We decided plain elderberry would be our daily tonic, the elderberry-echinacea would be for when we feel the twinges of illness, and the spiced version would for when we want an extra treat and high dose of vitamin C (rose hip is great for that).

Because the little human doesn’t love taking “medicine” via spoon or syringe, I put a teaspoon in her water bottle daily. I also take some myself so she can get the goods when she nurses. I’ve also thought we could add the syrup to her fruit to make it an extra sweet treat. Maybe I’ll also try making elderberry gummies for her to eat … another project for another day.

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After last year’s string of illnesses to hit our household, we’re not messing around. We’re arming ourselves with flu-season prevention, and dreaming about cultivating more berries in the coming year as we enjoy the view of this season’s snowfall.

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