I am originally from Ohio and moved to Maine in 1986. My educational background is a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and a Bachelor of Science degree in earth science from Ashland University in Ohio. I also have a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from The Ohio State University. My current profession is General Dentistry and I have practiced dentistry for 28 years. Four years in Ohio and 24 years in Maine.
I spent eight years researching potential crops for our farm and I am excited about the opportunity to grow elderberries and Aronia berries. We are just now beginning to understand the benefits of antioxidant. There are several different types of antioxidant and not all provide the same benefits. Elderberries and Aronia berries provide very high concentrations of the type of antioxidant that are beneficial. You can find more basic information about antioxidants on my Antioxidant page.
Making Elderberry Syrup is fun, easy, and rewarding. There are different methods of making elderberry syrup depending on whether you are using the European elderberries or the American elderberries. The European elderberries have a cyanogenic glycoside in them called sambunigrin. This is not in the ripe berries of the American elderberries. The sambunigrin is what will upset your stomach if you do not remove it. Sambunigrin is broken down with heat so it is important to heat process the European elderberries. It only takes about 150 degree temperature for about thirty minutes to break down the sambunigrin. Boiling the syrup may degrade some of the antioxidants so do not bring your syrup to a boil. Another benefit of the heat process is the syrup is ready to go right away instead of waiting two months as you do with other methods.
What I would do for the syrup is to use this ratio. For one pint of elderberry juice add one pint of sugar or pure honey and three ounces of 100 proof vodka. Actually I decrease the sugar a little and bump up the vodka a little. Both vodka and sugar are what are used to preserve the syrup. You can use all sugar but you need 1.5:1 sugar to juice or 2:1 honey to juice to preserve the syrup. One to one sugar is too sweet for me. But try the proportion that is recommended first and see how you like it. You will also need to adjust the amount of alcohol depending on the proof.
To get the juice, place the berries in a pot with only a teaspoon or two of water. Use low heat and do NOT boil. Heat to 150 degrees for 30-40 minutes and this will bring the juice out of the berries and break down the sambunigrin. Let the juice cool and then filter through cheese cloth into a bowl. What I do is to put on non-latex gloves (to keep your hands from being stained purple) and take a 12"x12" piece of cheese cloth. Place a ladle of berries in the center of the cheese cloth and let the juice drain then fold up the cloth and squeeze the remaining juice out. Depending on the amount of berries in the cloth you may be able to put a couple of ladles in before you squeeze out the juice. Then take a new piece of cloth and repeat until all the juice is separated. I am told apple presses also work well. Then measure the amount of juice and add the needed amount of sugar. Bring the juice back up to 150 degrees to dissolve the sugar in the juice. Honey will not need as high a temperature. Add the vodka last after you take the syrup of the heat. Some recipes will add ginger and/or cinnamon as well.
Store in sterilized sealed bottles.
The American elderberries are fine to eat when they are ripe without cooking them. The unripe American elderberries will bother your stomach. You can use the same recipe with the American elderberries that was used with the European elderberries. (see RECIPES on the HOME page). Some people feel that heating the elderberries does degrade the antioxidants and it is better to make the syrup without heating the berries. At this point, I think if you are careful to keep the temperature to 150 degrees, either way of making the syrup is good.
To make the syrup without heat this is what I do. I take a quart canning jar that is boiled to sterilize it. Wash and destem the elderberries. Fill the canning jar half full with the elderberries and add half a cup of pure honey. If you have elderberry flowers, then add 3-4 tablespoons of the flowers to the canning jar. This is said to make the syrup more effective. After you have add the honey and the flowers, fill the canning jar completely full with elderberries. Add five ounces of 100 proof vodka to the canning jar. This should just fill the remaining space in the jar. Put the lid on tight. I let the mixture set for 8 weeks in a cool dark place. Shake the mixture vigorously every few days.
After 8 weeks, strain the mixture through cheese cloth or an apple press to separate the liquid from the skins and seeds. Add 2.5 cups of pure honey and mix well. This yields roughly 28 ounces of syrup. I then boil eight ounce amber bottles to sterilize them and pour the syrup in the amber bottles. Any container that you can sterilize and seal well will work.
This is the basic recipe. Some people add ginger and/or cinnamon to the mixture as well.
The health benefits of elderberry syrup have been documented in the elderberry and aronia berry sections of this web site. What I want to show you now is that you can make your own syrup easily and very economically.
Elderberry syrup is available commercially made through a few companies. Commercially prepared elderberry syrup sells anywhere from $19 to $25 for an eight ounce bottle. You can make seven eight ounce bottles of elderberry syrup for the price of one commercially prepared bottle of elderberry syrup. The homemade syrup is equally as effective as the commercially prepared syrup.
One three pound bag of fresh frozen elderberries will yield seven eight ounce bottles of syrup using the recipe that I have provided on the home page of this web site. The three pound bag of elderberries costs $12. The sugar and the vodka add another $6 or so.
Why make your own elderberry syrup?
There is also a recommendation to take the elderberry syrup on a daily basis to promote a strengthened immune system and potentially an increased protection from some forms of cancer. Taking the elderberry syrup on a daily basis would be somewhat expensive with the commercially prepared syrups. Making your own elderberry syrup makes it economically feasible to take the syrup on a daily basis.
I would encourage you to look into making your own elderberry syrup.