This cold and flu season, elder flowers and berries are some of the best medicine we have.

Elderberries. Photo ©Andersastphoto/

Elderberries. Photo ©Andersastphoto/

Elder’s beautiful lacy flowers are diaphoretic, meaning that they induce sweating, thereby helping to lower fevers. Elder’s berries have immune-enhancing properties, and they’re often combined with echinacea in immune-stimulating remedies for colds. The berries also have powerful antiviral properties and so are helpful in treating viral infections including flus, herpes, and shingles. They’re also used for treating upper respiratory infections.

Elderberries make some of the best syrup and wine you’ll ever taste. They also make great jams, jellies, and pies. The flowers are also edible and delicious. One of my favorite ways to eat them is in fritters, dipping the large, flat flower tops just as they’re opening in a light batter, frying, and serving with elderberry jam. There are few better things!

Elder flowers are delicious when fried. Photo © GAP Photos/Dave Bevan

Elder flowers are delicious when fried. Photo © GAP Photos/Dave Bevan

Parts used:

Flower and berry

Key constituents:

Vitamin C, vitamin A, bioflavonoids, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, phytosterols

Safety factor:

Do not eat the raw (uncooked) berries in any great quantity, as they can cause digestive upset and diarrhea in some people.

Elderberry Syrup

This may be one of the better elderberry syrup recipes on the planet. It’s graciously shared by my friends Nancy and Michael Phillips, the authors of The Herbalist’s Way. Delicious enough to use just for sheer flavor alone, elderberry syrup is also helpful for warding off or speeding recovery from colds and flus.


  • 2 quarts fresh ripe elderberries (see variations below for using dried berries)
  • ¼ ounce freshly grated gingerroot
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • Honey


  1. Combine the elderberries with ¼ cup of water in a large soup pot and simmer until soft. Strain out the pulp, reserving the liquid. Compost the solids and return the liquid to the pot. Add the ginger and cloves and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid reduces to about half its original volume. Pour the juice into a measuring cup and note its volume, then return to the pot. Add the same amount of honey and stir until thoroughly combined. Let cool, then bottle. Store in the refrigerator, and use within 12 weeks.

To Use: To treat or fight off a cold or flu, take 1 to 2 tablespoons several times throughout the day.

Variations: I’ve followed this recipe using dried elderberries, and the syrup has turned out, while not quite as delicious, still effective. Use 1 quart of dried berries with 2 quarts of water. Cook over low heat with the lid slightly ajar so that steam can escape, until the water is reduced by half. Strain, add the ginger and clove, and continue as above.

Adding elder flowers to the syrup introduces a diaphoretic property, helping you to “sweat out” a fever. After cooking down the juice with the ginger and cloves, you can turn off the heat, add ½ cup dried elder flowers to the hot juice, put the lid on, and let infuse for 20 minutes. Then strain the flowers from the syrup and proceed with the honey.

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide cover

Text and recipe excerpted from Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide © 2012 by Rosemary Gladstar. All rights reserved.

Rosemary Gladstar

Rosemary Gladstar is the best-selling author of Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide and Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, which draw on… See Bio

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