In my heart, I'm a total urban witch that knows how to frolic in the forest, foraging plants and berries that will cure the lengthy list of ailments my family comes up with (and takes away all my wrinkles). But in reality, my witch skills aren't great so I'm heading to the stores and buying meds off the shelves.
Luckily, my friend, Ana Johns, is a solid combo of farmer + witch + foodie, which means I have a direct line to making my all-natural remedy dreams come true. This girl is passionate about farm life and how the things you farm affect your body. Plus, she's smart and funny AF (did you seriously think I had boring friends?) so as soon as I started seeing bottles of elderberry syrup popping up on the Costco shelves, I reached out to her to teach me her ways.
And now she's here to bring out your inner witch with her elderberry syrup recipe so you can work your voodoo magic and keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
by Ana Johns
Whether you consider yourself a full blown urban witch, or you’ve just recently started reframing what “medicine” means to you, you’ve probably heard of elderberries. Those little purple berries have gained a decent amount of attention recently, and can be seen popping up on store shelves as an ingredient in the form of lozenges, gummies, syrups and tinctures.
Credit where credit is due. This isn’t a trend without merit. Elderberries are power houses in terms of immune supporting properties to help rough up whatever’s coming at you during the annual flu season. They’re rich in antioxidants and contain Vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, iron, and folate.
While it’s encouraging to see companies embracing more natural ingredients and elements of folk medicine to cure what ails us, it often comes with a pretty hefty price tag, as well. Hefty, like $12 per fluid ounce hefty. I’m pretty bad at math, but I think that cost to volume ratio equals something in the range of absolutely bogus.
I am here to tell you that our fore-mothers are shocked and appalled, too, and are urging you to drop kick that teeny tiny bottle of store bought syrup (and, frankly, that bottle of Dayquil, too) and get back into the kitchen. But first, perhaps a visit to the forest.
Before elderberries became widely and commercially available to the reusable tote-wielding crowd, they were frequently used in folk medicine by First Nations People in North America, and can also be traced back to Europe. If you’re tracking with me, that means that the purple-colored-gold currently residing in tiny glass vials on the shelves of your local wellness aisle used to be...wait for it...free.
Free for the picking!
Which brings us back to my tongue in cheek missive to get you back into the kitchen, by way of the forest. If you’ve taken note of elderberries, you may also be a card holding member of the Put-Some-ACV-On-It-Club (of which I am a founding member.) Which leads me to believe that you might also feel that Woo Woo in you. It might be a faint tickle. It might be a primal gnawing in your core that is imploring you to return to the forest to find the answers. It’s called foraging, and you’re gonna love it.
Before heading out, I strongly encourage you to reference this fantastically comprehensive overview of how and when to do it from Grow Forage Cook Ferment. This limits your gathering window from around August to September each year and depending on your region, physical abilities or confidence in getting out into the forest, may not be the best option.
Fear not. If you need elderberries, and you need them now, you can purchase them dried from a number of online retailers. My preferred source is Mountain Rose Herbs.
Whether you wait till the Summer to forage, or stock up tomorrow, the practice of creating elderberry syrup is one that is a beautiful act of self care, a lovely way to mark the change of the seasons and a kitchen project that can be shared with your kiddos to help their little immunities, as well.
The following is the most basic recipe for a relatively small batch of elderberry syrup. Customizing to suit your own taste buds is encouraged, and double or tripling the recipe while you’re at it isn’t a bad idea, either. In a sealed bottle, this will last longer that it could possibly take you to consume it.
- 3 1/2 cups water
- ⅔ cups dried elderberries (or 1 ⅓ cups fresh or frozen)
- 2 TBSP fresh ginger (grated)
- 1 cup raw honey
- OPTIONAL: fresh turmeric, whole black peppercorns, a stick of cinnamon, orange peel, cardamom pods, asian pear
- Pour the water into a medium saucepan and add the elderberries and ginger
- Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour (until the liquid has reduced by nearly half)
- Remove from heat and let cool till safe to handle
- Mash the berries carefully using a spoon or other flat utensil
- Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl
- Discard the elderberries and let the liquid cool to lukewarm
- Once lukewarm, add the raw honey and stir well
- When the honey is incorporated, pour the syrup into a mason jar or bottle and seal. Store at room temperature away from sunlight
Best practice, and again good motivation to produce this recipe in bulk, is to incorporate a few sips a day, all year long to enhance your gunk-fighting abilities. On days you awake with a sense of dread that a true cold is looming, increase those sips to once every other hour for the length of your cold or flu. Of course, this is best paired with frequent hand washing, and some reasonably healthy eating and good sleep (but I’m not here to nag.)
Cheers to your health and the Woo Woo in you!
Ana can be found at local farmers markets on the weekend, and at secret spots across Oregon foraging forest goods (she probably won't tell you where, because some secrets are too good to share). You can spy on her adventures on Instagram - @anasays.