Elderberry syrup is best known as a home remedy for immune support, but it’s also a delicious ingredient to use in winter cocktails, mocktails and other drinks. This easy to make syrup has a deep berry flavor and can be made with or without honey.
Elderberry syrup is often used as a natural remedy for colds and flu, as elderberries are believed to have immune-boosting properties. Elderberry syrup can be taken by the spoonful or added to drinks like tea, juice, sparkling water, or even a whiskey sour.
What are elderberries?
Elderberries are the fruit of the elder tree, which is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. They are small, dark purple berries that grow in clusters and have a tart, slightly sweet flavor. In addition to syrup, elderberries are used to make jams, syrups, and even wine.
Elderberries are known for their potential health benefits. They are rich in antioxidants and may help boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve heart health. Some studies have also suggested that elderberries may be effective in treating cold and flu symptoms. This makes them a great addition to winter beverages of all kinds.
What do elderberries taste like?
Elderberries have a unique berry flavor that is both slightly tart and sweet. They are often compared to blackberries or blueberries, but with a more pronounced tartness. When cooked, elderberries can have a deeper, earthy or musky flavor as well.
Flavors that pair well with elderberry
Elderberry syrup is great in hot or iced teas, sour-style cocktails, or simply mixed with sparkling water and a squeeze of lemon. Here are some addition flavors that pair well with elderberry:
- Citrus: The tartness of elderberry can be balanced by the sweetness of citrus fruits like lemon or orange.
- Spices: Warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom can complement the earthy flavor of elderberry.
- Other berries: Elderberry is great with other berries like raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry.
- Vanilla: Adding vanilla to elderberry syrup or recipes incorporating it can enhance the flavor of the berries.
- Chocolate: The rich, slightly bitter flavor of dark chocolate can be a good match for the tartness and deep berry flavor of elderberry.
How to make elderberry syrup with honey
The most popular way to make elderberry syrup is with honey, rather than sugar. To make elderberry syrup with this method, you’ll add 1 part dried elderberries and 2 parts water (for example, 1/2 cup elderberries and 1 cup water) to a saucepan and bring the liquid to a boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to steep for 20 minutes. Next, strain out the elderberries and stir in 2 parts honey (or 1 part honey, 1 part sugar, for a more mild honey flavor).
Once all of the honey has dissolved into the elderberry tea, pour the liquid into a clean glass container and store, covered, in the refrigerator for at least two weeks. Help the syrup keep for longer by adding 1 ounce of vodka or other neutral flavored spirits.
How to make elderberry syrup without honey
To make elderberry syrup without honey, you will add 1 part dried elderberries, 2 parts water and 2 parts sugar to a saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the berries to steep in the syrup for at least 20 minutes, then strain out the berries and bottle your syrup as desired. Be sure to store any homemade syrup in a closed container in the refrigerator for 2+ weeks.
Elderberry syrup add-ins
You can opt to make a very easy three ingredient elderberry syrup, or add more flavor and nuance with spices, citrus or even other berries.
It’s common to see cinnamon sticks or ginger root added to elderberry syrup recipes. These warming spices add complementary flavor to the rich berry notes. Cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg give the syrup a particularly wintery or holiday feel, if you’re making it during that time of year or using it in holiday recipes. Vanilla enhances the syrup’s flavor overall and complements the earthier notes of the cooked berries.
Ginger and turmeric
Ginger is a great flavor pairing for elderberry, and it’s also known for its ability to soothe the stomach, adding to the health “tonic” vibe of the syrup. I’ve also added ground or fresh turmeric to my elderberry syrups. Turmeric lends an earthy flavor and also another boost of antioxidants.
Orange or lemon zest
I first made elderberry syrup for a fun winter mocktail recipe for Eating Well. That recipe made me realize how fantastic elderberry pairs with orange! My current favorite way to make elderberry syrup is with a long strip of orange peel added during the simmering phase. Orange oil brightens up the deep berry notes and gives the syrup a dramatically fresher taste and aroma.
I find that blackberries have a very similar flavor to elderberry. Adding blackberries to your elderberry syrup enhances the sweeter, summer berry notes and add depth overall.
Pro tip: For the most flavorful, delicious elderberry syrup that you’ll want to enjoy year round, I recommend adding a small piece of peeled ginger root, a handful of blackberries, a vanilla bean, and a long strip of orange or lemon zest. The flavor and the color of the syrup are incredible!
Elderberry vs. elderflower
Elderberry and elderflower come from the same plant, but they are different parts of the plant with distinct flavors and uses.
Elderberries are the fruit, while elderflowers are the flowers of the elder tree. Elderflowers have a delicate, floral and also fruity flavor that I compare to ripe pears. They are often made into syrups, cordials, teas, and liqueurs, such as the famous St. Germain.
Elderberry vs. pokeberry
Pokeberries have a similar appearance to elderberries. However, these two plants are quite different, and it’s important to know that pokeberries are toxic. If you’re picking your own elderberries, be sure than you can accurately identify the fruit before consuming it.
A helpful rule of thumb is that pokeberries are typically the size of peas, while elderberries are similar in size to BBs. Also be sure to thoroughly cook your fresh elderberries before eating them. Elderberries do contain a mild toxin that can cause stomach discomfort, but cooking destroys the toxin.
How long does elderberry syrup last?
Like any homemade syrup, elderberry syrup should be stored in the refrigerator in a clean, closed container. The longer your syrup is cooked, and the less water it contains, the longer the syrup may stay fresh. Syrups that contain more sugar will naturally keep for longer. However, plan to consume your syrup within two weeks or check it frequently for any signs of spoilage after the two week mark.
Pro tip: Help your syrup last longer by adding 1-2 ounces of neutral-tasting alcohol like vodka.
Want to keep your elderberry syrup indefinitely? Store it in the freezer!
How to freeze elderberry syrup
To make freezer-friendly elderberry syrup, it’s helpful to make a rich syrup (rather than a simple syrup). This means that instead of using equal parts water and sugar, you’ll want to use twice as much sugar. Using this recipe, that would look like: 1/2 cup dried elderberries, 1 cup water, and 2 cups of sugar.
Prepare the syrup following the instructions below, but rather than storing your syrup in the refrigerator, you’ll pour it into a freezer-proof container and store it in the freezer. Rich syrups stored in the freezer are still very easy to use because they contain too much sugar to become frozen. It will be very cold, but it should pour freely. And as long as the syrup is stored in a covered container, it will stay fresh pretty much indefinitely!
How to store the syrup
Like we discussed above, freshly made elderberry syrup should be stored in a clean, closed container in the refrigerator. Stored like this, the syrup should last at least two weeks. I like to use small glass bottles from Amazon for storing my syrups. Some good options are Boston round 8 oz bottles, swing-top bottles, or even simple mason jars.
Ways to use this syrup
Elderberry syrup is wonderful by the spoonful, mixed into drinks, drizzled over pancakes, or swirled into yogurt or oatmeal. There are so many ways to enjoy it!
A simple way to use elderberry syrup is to add one ounce to a glass of iced tea, or a half ounce to a cup of hot tea. It’s great with black, green, white, or herbal teas.
A less common but still very delicious way to use it is in coffee! Believe it or not, the rich berry notes and subtle earthiness make it a natural pairing for both coffee and chocolate. Add 1 ounce to tall glasses of iced coffee and 1/2 ounce to smaller servings of hot coffee.
Make a simple elderberry cocktail by combining 2 ounces of your spirit of choice with 1 ounce of elderberry syrup and 1 ounce of lemon juice. Add the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill it 3/4 with ice. Shake until the liquid is thoroughly chilled, then strain the cocktail into a rocks glass filled with ice. Add a splash of sparkling water or club soda, if you like. Garnish with an expressed orange peel.
Make my Elderberry Elixir Mocktail.
Make a simple elderberry soda by mixing 1 ounce of elderberry syrup with 6-8 ounces of sparkling water in a tall glass filled with ice. Add a squeeze of lemon to cut through the sweetness and give the soda a more balanced taste. Garnish with a lemon wheel or wedge.
Other syrup recipes you might enjoy:
Easy Elderberry Syrup Recipe (With or Without Honey)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar or honey or half sugar, half honey
- ½ cup dried elderberries
- 1 strip of orange peel
- 1 vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, piece of ginger root, or other spice
- Combine the dried elderberries, water, sugar (if using), and any of the optional spices or add-ins in a small sauce pan and bring the liquid to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to steep for about 20 minutes.
- Strain out the elderberries, reserving the liquid. If using honey, add it to the reserved liquid now. Stir until all of the honey has dissolved.
- Store your elderberry syrup in a closed container in the refrigerator for 2+ weeks.