It’s crucial that the elderberries are from a reputable source, that all excess twigs or unripe berries are removed, and that the berries are cooked sufficiently to eliminate the toxin that is found in the seeds. Even when elderberries are dried before cooking and the syrup is strained, it is possible for this toxin to produce complications if the syrup is not cooked sufficiently. Remember, the purpose of an extract is to extract the active constituents from the herbs; this includes toxins. In one example, individuals consuming elderberry juice were hospitalized due to the remains of this toxin in the juice (MMWR, 1984).
To make a proper batch of safe and effective elderberry syrup, you will need:
100 g dried elderberries
1-2 quarts cold distilled water*
1 1/2 cup thick, liquid sweetener such as brown rice syrup or honey
Combine the berries and water in a large (cold) sauce pot. If time permits, allow the berries to soak until they are soft, about 30 – 60 minutes. Place over medium heat and gradually bring to a boil. Once a rolling boil has been reached, reduce heat to a simmer and continue to cook for 30- 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not cover the pot during this phase. This process cannot be shortened as it is crucial for eliminating the cyanide-like toxin in the seeds. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Strain the concentrated extract and measure the liquid. It should be approximately 2 cups.* (If you have less than 2 cups, water can be added to reach 2 cups. If you have more than two cups, continue boiling the mixture down. It is crucial to have a 2-cup measurement at this state to ensure accurate dosing.) Combine with the cup and a half of honey, brown rice syrup, glycerin or simple sugar solution. Bring back to a boil and continue to boil for 10-30 minutes until the mixture is thick. Allow to cool slightly and pour into prepared bottles. Store in the refrigerator.
*Note: The previous version of this formula called for 1 quart of water to produce 2 cups of extract. Depending on altitude, humidity and other factors, that may not be enough to cook for the required duration without burning the berries. Adjust the initial water measurement as needed to ensure that the final result is 2 cups of extract per 100g berries after having been cooked for 30-45 minutes and thoroughly strained.
How Much Elderberry Syrup Can I Take?
The average dose used in studies to treat viral infections is 15ml of a syrup with 38% elderberry, 4x a day for adults and the same amount at a 19% concentration for children. Commercial doses are often much less potent than those used in clinical studies. For the equivalent of a single dose of a commercially prepared product, the formula provided above produces 35 total doses. (To determine dosing, measure the total amount of product you have and divide by 35.)
For active infections, an adult could take a full dose every 2-3 waking hours for up to 2-4 days. For prevention, such frequency is neither necessary nor recommended. General dosing is 1/35 of the formula 2-3 times a day for an adult. Children will need smaller doses, which are determined by age and weight. NOTE: All of these doses are based on the assumption that the product has been prepared with sufficient heat to deactivate the toxic components.
It is important to note that dosing for elderberry syrup is dependent upon the total concentration of elderberry extract in the syrup. Homemade products that do not adhere to specific formulas produce syrups with an unknown concentration of elderberry, making precise dosing impossible. This places both safety and efficacy at risk.
Keep in mind that the half-life of the active components in elderberry treatments is only a couple of hours total, so frequent dosing is required. As a result, one dose per day will not be effective at either prevention or treatment. (Frank, et. al., 2007).
Centers for Disease Control (CDC. (1984). Poisoning from elderberry juice–California. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 33(13), 173.
Frank, T., Janssen, M., Netzel, G., Christian, B., Bitsch, I., & Netzel, M. (2007). Absorption and excretion of elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) anthocyanins in healthy humans. Methods and findings in experimental and clinical pharmacology,29(8), 525-534.
Kinoshita, E., Hayashi, K., Katayama, H., Hayashi, T., & Obata, A. (2012). Anti-influenza virus effects of elderberry juice and its fractions. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 76(9), 1633-1638.
Roschek, B., Fink, R. C., McMichael, M. D., Li, D., & Alberte, R. S. (2009). Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry, 70(10), 1255-1261.
Tiralongo, E., Wee, S. S., & Lea, R. A. (2016). Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutrients, 8(4), 182.
Zakay-Rones, Z., Varsano, N., Zlotnik, M., Manor, O., Regev, L., Schlesinger, M., & Mumcuoglu, M. (1995). Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 1(4), 361-369.
Zakay-Rones, Z., Thom, E., Wollan, T., & Wadstein, J. (2004). Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.Journal of International Medical Research, 32(2), 132-140.
Meet Dr Hawkins
Dr. Hawkins brings 20 years of expertise in the integrative health field to her role as Executive Director of the Franklin School of Integrative Health Sciences and the leader of our clinical research team.
She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Health from Union Institute and University, a Master’s Degree in Health Education & Promotion from the University of Alabama, a post-graduate certificate in epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a PhD in Health Research from Middle Tennessee State University, and is completing the post-doctoral Global Scholars Research Training Program at Harvard Medical School. She also holds certifications in numerous natural health fields including aromatherapy, aromatic medicine, herbalism, childbirth education, and labor support.