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  • Writer's pictureAngie Jackson

Forager Files: spiced elderberry syrup recipe

Updated: Mar 3

The Mother of Elders and Immunity: Elderberry

Learn and craft an enhanced culinary recipe of the longtime classic, Elderberry Syrup.

Wild violets

Elderberry is one of the best selling botanicals on the market and is used widely by herbalists and the average American consumer alike. Though the history of Elderberry crosses time and culture, its longstanding status as immunity safeguard and herbal-medicine ingredient has allowed for the traditions around the fruit of the Elder tree to be passed down through generations of Americans as well, squarely fitting within early American themes of self-reliance and surviving off the land. The Mother Elder, the Queen Berry of Immunity, deserves to take a bow. She is the rich, ripe, shield that guards against the common ailments of winter, and has been used for centuries to aid in constipation, joint and muscle pain, headaches, fever, and stress.

The pagans of Europe viewed the Elder tree as magical or sacred, and chopping the Elder branches was considered dangerous and unwise. It is told that a nymph named Hylde-Moer (Elder Mother) lived within the tree as a caretaker. If she were to be disturbed and the Elder felled for timber, it is said she would stay within the wood and arise into the newly-built home and torment the owners. To avoid her wrath woodcutters would recite a rhyme to appease the Mother Elder, perhaps followed by an appropriate bow or bent knee.

18th-century writer Trogillus Arnkiel, depicts the recitation in the following manner; “Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood, and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest.” If Hylde-Moer remained silent, the request was considered granted. Gatherers would leave offerings of gifts for the plant when picking part of it for their own use., and Indigenous Americans used and cared for the Elder tree dozens of centuries before the term “sustainable forest management” was ever uttered. Commonly, musical instruments were crafted from branches which gave the Elder the moniker “tree of music.” Throughout many cultures, the themes of honoring the Elder tree and other living organism that sustain us, remain consistent.

The elderberry is quite versatile in the kitchen-witch world as well. You’ll find it in jam, jelly, pie, salad dressing, sauce, snacks, juices, soft drinks, cordials, wine, port, and beer. The syrup can be used in smoothies, sparkling water, hot tea, pancakes, waffles, cocktails, or straight no-chaser style with a spoon or medicine cup.

Use 1-2 teaspoons daily for prevention.
2 teaspoons 4x daily if treating an ailment.

You can find the syrup on the shelf at your local health food store and boutique shop sites. There are countless syrup recipes available online. I noticed that many of these syrups lacked depth and character with regard to balance and flavor. Frankly, they were boring, and a Queen Berry from the Mother Elder should never be boring. Elderberries are not extremely sweet and have an earthy-tartness that harmonizes nicely with other berries and fruit flavor profiles. It was only fitting to choose Autumn/Winter flavors for this recipe, as the Mother Elder tree gifts us with the berries in early Fall to be used during the cold and flu season of Winter. You can save yourself quite a bit of money by making this yourself. I purchase my berries from Frontier Co-Op or Mountain Rose Herbs which are both very reputable and reliable sources for bulk herb purchases. Your local food co-op or health food store should also have nice selections of ingredients to craft.

I went bold with the notes of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, clove, and star anise. Not only did these botanicals add some needed flavor, they are all well known to add additional soothing benefits to the mix.

The syrup is crafted like a decoction. Roots, bark, twigs, and berries require a little more forceful action to extract the medicinal components. This is done by simmering the tougher parts in boiling water for a period of time then strain solids from the liquid, allowing to cool, then bottling and refrigerating. Get the full recipe below!

Elderberry Syrup:

4 cups distilled or filtered water

2 cups elderberries

4 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon cardamom pods (cracked)

1 tablespoon dried ginger root

1 teaspoon dried lemon peel

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 star anise

1 cup honey, agave nectar, maple syrup

Place water, berries, and the remaining dried botanicals into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat. Mash the berries with the back of a spoon, muddler, or potato masher to squeeze all the juice out of them. Remove the cinnamon sticks and star anise and strain the liquid into a bowl, mashing the berries through the fine strainer as you pour.

Discard (or compost) the solid mash. Return the juice to the saucepan and stir in the honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup. Make sure the liquid is still a little warm to allow the sweetener to blend well with the juice. Allow to cool to room temperature then pour into a large mason jar (or smaller jars for friends) and store in the fridge. Syrup will keep in the fridge for up to six months. Syrup can be stored in the freezer until ready to use.

Recipe by Angie Jackson. Photographs by Angie Jackson and Canva.

Article by Angie Jackson and Austin Wines.

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Important Notices

Do not try self-diagnosis or attempt self-treatment for serious or long-term problems without first consulting a qualified medical herbalist or medical practitioner as appropriate. Do not exceed any dosages recommended. Always consult a professional practitioner if symptoms persist. If taking prescribed medicines, seek professional medical advice before using herbal remedies.

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