Elderberry Syrup: A Seasonal Immune Tonic

Sambucus nigra, or Black Elderberry

As the world grasps for preventative measures against the Covid-19 virus, many have turned to Elder as an immune-supportive remedy with a long history of use among Native American and European herbalists. The Sambucus genus contains over 20 different species of Elder from disparate regions of the world: Europe, North Africa, Western Asia and North America.1 Many of these species contain similar constituents, including flavonoids, Vitamins C, B1, B2 and B6, and flavonoid and anthocyan glycosides.1

The majority of scientific research has focused on the fruit of Sambucus nigra, also known as Black Elder or European Elder.1,2 Known for its antiviral, immune-modulating, and antioxidant properties, Sambucus nigra has been shown to inhibit viral replication, promote production of both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and to help protect cells against oxidative stress.1,2

It is important to note that no studies have been conducted to assess the efficacy of elderberry in the treatment, prevention, or relief of Covid-19. However, in a 2020 review paper, Australian researchers concluded that S.nigra berry extracts, “when taken close to the onset of symptoms and for up to two weeks, may assist in relieving the symptoms of the common cold and influenza”2. Furthermore, they concluded that S. nigra extracts may be effective in reducing the severity and duration of symptoms of acute viral respiratory infections, including fever, headache, nasal congestion and nasal mucus discharge.2 So, while it is far from a magic bullet, it is a great supportive remedy to add to other important measures (like mask wearing, washing hands, social distancing, sleep, etc.) to prevent Covid-19 and the other colds and flus that arise this season.

This beautiful, dark purple syrup has a velvety texture and an earthy taste with fruity, chocolatey notes. In addition to being a great immune tonic, it is a tasty treat to drink by the spoonful, to drizzle on food, or to add to tea or brandy. The recipe was inspired by Dr. Tieraona Low Dog’s Classic Elderberry Syrup recipe (see link below). To it, I added a number of herbs that help support the immune system and prevent viral infections.

Huang qi (Astragalus membranaceus) is a major herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is used to support a weakened immune system and prevent recurrent viral infections.4 Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) grows prolifically in the Pacific Northwest, and is used to prevent and treat outbreaks of herpes simplex virus and to reduce anxiety.5 Recent investigations have identified constituents potentially active against Covid-19.6 Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an antiviral and demulcent herb, and is used to soothe and moisten irritated mucus membranes. Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus), is an immune-modulator that has specifically been shown to inhibit the release of nitric oxide and other cytokines, a phenomenon involved in the Covid-19 “cytokine storm”7.

Fresh Black Elderberries (Sambucus nigra)

Winter Tonic Elderberry Syrup

  • Ingredients:
    • 3 cups of dried organic elderberries OR 6 oz of fresh elderberries
    • 5 cups of water
    • 2-3 tsp of dried ginger root
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 5 grams (about 1 tbsp) of dried licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root
    • 15 grams of dried Huang qi (Astragalus membranaceus root), or about 3 long astragalus slices
    • 15 grams (or 3/4 cup) of dried, crushed Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)
    • 1/2 cup dried Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) or 1 cup of fresh leaves, chopped
    • 1 cup of honey (or maple syrup for a vegan recipe) (you can double the amount of honey to increase the shelf life)
    • 1 cup of brandy (optional, to increase shelf-life)
Melissa officinalis, or Lemon Balm
  • Directions:
    • Combine berries, herbs and water in a pot and bring to a boil.
    • Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes.
    • Remove from heat and let steep for one hour.
    • Strain herbs and berries using a fine mesh strainer, squeezing the juice out of the plant material.
    • When liquid is still warmer than room temperature, mix in honey.
    • Add brandy (optional) and stir.
  • This recipe makes about 4 cups of syrup without the brandy, and 5 cups with it. For storage, jar in sterilized containers and refrigerate. You can also can the product if you don’t want to refrigerate it.
  • You can enjoy it straight by the spoonful at 1-2 tsp per day. It is also great sprinkled on oatmeal, pancakes, and desserts. Lastly, you can add it to tea or add more brandy to taste for a wintry cocktail. It is a great gift for the holidays.
Elderberry Syrup Decoction


  1. The American Botanical Council. The ABC Clinical Guide to Elderberry. Herbalgram. 2003. http://www.herbalgram.org
  2. Harnett J, Oakes K, Carè J, Leach M, Brown D, Cramer H, Pinder TA, Steel A, Anheyer D. The effects of Sambucus nigra berry on acute respiratory viral infections: A rapid review of clinical studies. Adv Integr Med. 2020 Dec;7(4):240-246. doi: 10.1016/j.aimed.2020.08.001. Epub 2020 Aug 22. PMID: 32864330; PMCID: PMC7443157.
  3. Low Dog, Tieraona. How to Make Elderberry Syrup for Immune System Support. Mountain Rose Herbs. https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/elderberry-syrup-recipe
  4. Qi Y, Gao F, Hou L, Wan C. Anti-Inflammatory and Immunostimulatory Activities of Astragalosides. Am J Chin Med. 2017;45(6):1157-1167. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X1750063X. Epub 2017 Aug 22. PMID: 28830214.
  5. Shakeri A, Sahebkar A, Javadi B. Melissa officinalis L. – A review of its traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Jul 21;188:204-28. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.05.010. Epub 2016 May 7. PMID: 27167460.
  6. Elekofehinti OO, Iwaloye O, Famusiwa CD, Akinseye O, Rocha JBT. Identification of Main Protease of Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (Mpro)Inhibitors from Melissa officinalis. Curr Drug Discov Technol. 2020 Sep 17. doi: 10.2174/1570163817999200918103705. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32957889.
  7. Shahzad F, Anderson D, Najafzadeh M. The Antiviral, Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Natural Medicinal Herbs and Mushrooms and SARS-CoV-2 Infection. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 25;12(9):2573. doi: 10.3390/nu12092573. PMID: 32854262; PMCID: PMC7551890.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: