Homemade Elderberry-Herb Cold Syrup

Don’t let a cold get the best of you this winter. Use this simple herbal syrup to prevent colds and help recover from them faster.

by Lisa Steele
PHOTO: Lisa Steele

This month heralds the advent of cold and flu season. Winter animal care often requires several trips daily back and forth to the barn carrying water, often dashing outside without a coat or hat on or herding animals into the barn in the sleet or rain. All of this can leave you susceptible to catching cold. While no one ever wants to get sick, those of us who live on farms really can’t afford to.

Anyone who raises animals knows that there are no sick days. Staying in bed all day really isn’t an option because everyone still needs to be fed and cared for, no matter how badly you feel. Our animals rely on us completely for their food, water and basic care, so staying healthy is of utmost importance.

Herbs And Winter Health

Being proactive and building up your immune system is the best way to stay healthy. Drinking lots of fluids; washing your hands and not touching your eyes or mouth after you sneeze or cough; getting plenty of fresh air and exercise’ and eating nutritious foods filled with antioxidants, such as beans, cherries and apples, all help keep you and your family protected from germs and pathogens. Berries, such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, are all high in antioxidants, as are elderberries, a wild-growing native. In fact, elderberries are the star of this simple homemade syrup that can help knock down a cold when it strikes.

In addition to eating foods high in antioxidants, adding herbs to your diet is a wonderful way to stay healthy naturally. By combining several kinds of fresh herbs known for being antioxidants and antibacterials with the immune system boosting properties of the elderberries and adding in some honey, ginger and cinnamon as well (all of which help conquer colds and coughs), you can ditch the commercial cough and cold syrups and make your own.

elderberry syrup
Lisa Steele

Here are the ingredients I use in my homemade cold syrup and why they’re so great:

  • Cinnamon: antimicrobial; helps stop the growth of bacteria; treats the common cold
  • Elderberry: treats respiratory illnesses, colds and flu; relieves nasal congestion; antiinflammatory; antiviral
  • Ginger: digestive aid; clears sinuses; alleviates nausea; anti-inflammatory; antioxidant; antiviral
  • Honey: antibacterial; antioxidant; soothes coughs; may help reverse bacterial resistance to antibiotics
  • Mint: digestive aid; reduces nasal congestion; improves respiratory health
  • Rosemary: antioxidant; anti-inflammatory; cough suppressant
  • Thyme: quiets coughs; helps prevent infection

Making Your Own Cold Syrup

elderberry syrup
Lisa Steele

I prefer to use fresh herbs that I grow myself, but if you don’t grow your own, you can use store-bought herbs. Most grocery stores sell small bunches of the common culinary herbs used here. You can also substitute dried herbs in this recipe. There are many reputable sources for herbs online, including Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest Botanicals. You want to buy your herbs from a reliable source to be sure that they are pure and properly harvested to retain their health benefits. Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh, so not as much is required to get the same benefits.

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If you use dried herbs in place of the fresh in the recipe below, 1/4 teaspoon of each should suffice. You can use fresh or dried elderberries in this recipe as well, just adjust the amounts you use as noted below.

Yield: 1 pint


  • 1 cup dried elderberries (or 2 cups fresh with stems removed)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 spring fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh mint
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 cup raw honey


In a saucepan, bring elderberries, water, rosemary, thyme, mint, ginger and cinnamon sticks to a boil, then cover and reduce to a brisk simmer for an hour or until the liquid is reduced to about a cup, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, strain out the solids, and let the liquid cool. When cooled completely, whisk in the honey and then pour the cooled liquid into a pint mason jar or two half-pint jars. Store the cold syrup chilled in the refrigerator where it should keep for several weeks.

Using Your Cold Syrup

Working on building a strong immune system can ward off most minor coughs and colds, but sometimes the germs still manage to get the upper hand. This easy-to-make elderberry cold syrup can not only be used to treat a cold, it can also be used as a preventive during the cold season to help protect you from getting sick in the first place.

Take 2 teaspoons of syrup at the first sign of a cold, then repeat every three to four hours until your symptoms are gone. Alternatively, as a preventive, take 1/2 teaspoon daily as an immune system booster.

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