Spiced Wild Elderberry Syrup

by Kristin on September 26, 2011

An elder tree isn’t much to look at most of the year, but it comes into its own at the start and then again at the end of summer. Using its delicate white flowers to make a cordial (or even better, an elderflower Bellini) in June is like bottling the taste of an Irish summer. Then a few months later, it will reward you with elderberries, which can be made into jam or a syrup.

I’ve been watching the elderberries ripen on the tree outside my kitchen window for the past few weeks, right next to the wild blackberries growing in my hedge. Elderberries are in season during August and September and the berries are ready to pick when they’re an inky purple-black colour and are heavy-hanging on the tree. And when they’re ready, act fast before the birds get them all.

Elderberries are an old folk remedy and are rich in vitamin C, amongst other things, so they’re commonly used to boost the immune system and to fight off coughs, colds and the flu. I made this syrup with medicinal purposes in mind for the coming winter, but the sweet, fruity syrup can be used many other ways. Stir it into natural yoghurt, drizzle it on top of pancakes, porridge or ice cream, add a tablespoon or two to sparkling water, Prosecco, vodka or to spice up a hot toddy, add a dash to make a gin elder sour, or stir 2 tablespoons of the syrup into a mug of just-boiled water along with a spoonful of honey and a squeeze of lemon juice (and maybe a splash of whiskey?) for a warming drink or to soothe a sore throat. It seems there’s no end to the benefits of this small but mighty berry.

Spiced Wild Elderberry Syrup
adapted from Food & Wine Magazine, September 2011

Makes about 750 ml (3 cups)

Not all varieties of elderberries are edible (and even the edible kinds should never be eaten raw), so always check first to make sure yours are safe for consumption. The elderberry juice will stain everything it touches, so wear an apron and cover your work surface with a tea towel you’re not too precious about so you don’t stain your counters. This recipe can be doubled.

1 kg (2 lb) elderberries
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves

Pick all the berries off their stems, then wash the berries well (get yourself comfortably set up at the kitchen table, put on some music and maybe pour yourself something nice to drink — picking off all the berries will take awhile!). Put the berries, cinnamon and cloves in a non-reactive pot and cover the berries with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the berries are soft. Strain into a glass bowl through a fine-mesh sieve, a jelly bag or clean muslin, pushing on the berries with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible.

Now measure the juice — for every 500 ml (2 cups) of juice, add 450 g (1 lb) of sugar. Place the juice and the sugar back in the pot over a high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and allow to boil for 10 minutes. Pour the syrup into clean, sterilised bottles and seal. The syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 year or you could pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it, then pop the cubes out and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Imen McDonnell September 26, 2011 at 7:36 am

Oooh, nice one. Hadn’t heard of this tinction even here on the farm! Must try :) was out picking berries this wkend as well. It’s been so windy this autumn that elder and blackberries are few and far between, but still fun. I prob do a hedgerow martini post this week :)
Thanks for sharing this recipe. Imen xx


Kristin September 26, 2011 at 10:01 am

I’d never heard of it before either until I picked up the Food & Wine Magazine last month, which had a feature all about foraging recipes. Now I’m on the hunt for more elder trees so I can make more of this syrup – I picked all I could off my own trees this weekend.


Imen McDonnell September 26, 2011 at 7:39 am

Oops! I meant tincture and it autocorrected me. Elderberry tincture :) sorry!


Kristin September 26, 2011 at 10:00 am

Don’t worry, I knew what you meant. ;)


Imen McDonnell September 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

Does it taste good?


Kristin September 26, 2011 at 10:23 am

It’s delicious! There’s a pound of sugar for every 2 cups of juice, so it’s very sweet. The kids had some last night straight from the spoon. And next time I buy some vodka, I’m going to try using it as a mixer. ;) It’s absolutely worth making, I’m sorry I never made it before this year, what with having a couple elder trees right in my own garden.


Móna Wise September 26, 2011 at 7:45 am

I love the sound of this. When we lived in Zurich we used to get a natural cough syrup for the kids (that tasted rotten) but was very effective. I look forward to making this one, it sounds like it might taste better!
Lovely images Kristen. I might have to stop visiting your website, because I always leave feeling so envious of your talent xxx


Kristin September 26, 2011 at 10:03 am

Móna, you’ve got to try this – it’s so sweet the kids will be happy to take a spoonful of it straight up (mine did yesterday!). It’s chock full of sugar so it goes down very nicely. And thank you for your compliment about the photos – it’s amazing what an all-white background can do! That, and taking about a hundred photos and hoping just one will be a keeper (seriously, that’s my method!). x


Móna Wise September 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

Oh – that makes me feel so much better. I have a gazillion ‘awful’ shots for every keeper ;0) and we will try it for sure!


Karen O'Connell September 26, 2011 at 10:20 am

I never knew some varieties of elderberry weren’t edible. Sounds like a gorgeous way to drink yourself healthy! I need to go foraging around my place to see if some of these lovelies turn up. Beautiful pics as always Kristin


Dorcas Barry September 26, 2011 at 11:19 am

Love this syrup, made some last weekend and have been so enjoying it. Just wondering if I could find some more at this stage to make it again it was so nice!! Just finishing blog post on this topic also :) ps. lovely photos!


Kristin September 26, 2011 at 6:40 pm

I’m wondering the same thing myself – it’s so good I’ll be scouring the countryside to find more elderberries to try to have a steady supply of this all winter!


Stef September 26, 2011 at 11:35 pm

This looks great, there’s a huge elderberry tree behind my work that I think I’ll be raiding on Friday evening now!


Kristin September 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm

I need to find more trees to raid myself so I can make more of of this syrup! Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Stef October 10, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Made this last week and it was absolutely gorgeous! Have a big jar of it in the fridge now, should last me a good while.


Kristin October 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Excellent! So glad to hear you like it too.


Hester @ Alchemy in the Kitchen September 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Kristin, what beautiful photos! The Elder is the tree that just keeps on giving. I love your idea of an elderflower bellini and I can think of lots of uses for the syrup – all that Vitamin C will probably help your cold too! Feel better soon.


Kristin September 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Thanks Hester! Looks like I need to take some of my own medicine already. Good timing or what?


Terry December 6, 2011 at 4:27 am

I made some elderberry syrup in the early fall and kept it in the fridge, saving it to use this winter if I start to come down with something. I just checked it and did not find any film on it, but wondered if it is still good as it’s very fizzy. When I poured some out of the jar, there was some carbonation. Is this okay?


Kristin December 7, 2011 at 10:51 am

Sounds like there might be some fermentation going on? To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s still good.


wildcraft diva July 26, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I have included a photo and link to this in my list “What to do with Elderberries”.
Hope that’s ok with you?
Great post, thanks for sharing.


Kristin August 1, 2012 at 9:18 am

Of course, thanks for sharing!


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