September 04, 2017

How to make your own black Elderberry Syrup

How to make your own Elderberry syrup

Elderberry or sambucus bushes often grow as part of hedges. They grow fast and anywhere where they get enough nitrogen and sunshine. Sambucus bushes are great to attract birds to your garden . The elderflower in springtime will spread a lovely smell through out your garden and can be made into syrup  which is used to sweeten desserts, cakes and drinks. The elderberry itself ripens in late summer and is poisonous when digested raw! Raw berries contain sambunigrin which can  turn into hydrocyanic acid.  Sambucus nigra is considered the least poisonous one! But elderberry has many health benefits if heated shortly. It has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, to fight of cough and colds and it seems to have been used also for rheumatism and traumatic pain. But there has been no scientific proof in studies to show it actually works so far. There seem to be minor studies, that show if used during a cold, you will fight it faster, compared to those in the study that didn't use it.  I prefer to juice them but it is said that you can eat cooked berries in full. And I have seen many recipes that use the berries in full in tarts and pancakes. But I haven't tried them myself. The juice though I have been using for years in jams and syrup and it is safe and delicious! 

sambucus bush /black elderberry bush
The bushes can easily grow 3-5m high, but branches are easily
bent down for harvest

unripe elderberries
unripe elderberries

unripe elderberries
unripe elderberries

There are bushes that could be mistaken for elderberries. So please make sure you are picking the real elderberries. The ones that look similar haven't got big bushels with lots of berries but just a few. The leaves are wider and haven't got the distinct teething that the narrower sambucus leave has.  Unfortunately I haven't got any of those growing around here. So I couldn't take a picture. But I know about them because where we used to live there were quite a few of those in-between and I had to be careful that the boys wouldn't go to the wrong bushes and pick the berries. But I did make a few pictures of the real elderberry. To help you identify the elderberry bush! Look out for the shape of the leave, which has lots of little teeth and the big bushels with a lot of berries at the same time. If you are unsure, please always find someone who can identify them to make sure you don't poison yourself!
Now while I was trying to find this bush online, I came across a dwarf elderberry bush, that is very poisonous and easily mistaken also. I haven't come across it myself. But these leaves are actually narrower than the real elderberry and the fruit always posts upwards while the real elderberry always hang down. Also the flower seems to spread a not very nice smell. These berries are also poisonous for birds! Here is a Wiki link to help you identify the poisonous dwarf version!

these pictures are zoomed in on leaves and elderberries to help you identify them
these pictures are zoomed in on leaves and elderberries to help you identify them

these pictures are zoomed in on leaves and elderberries to help you identify them
these pictures are zoomed in on leaves and elderberries to help you identify them
To pick elderberries. I just strip the berries gently off straight from the bush into my bag, that way the not ripe ones stay on the bush, and the birds have a feast a few days later. Mind you, you shouldn't be squeamish - I have a lot of bugs and spiders end in the bag this way, that want to be rescued before I wash them when I am back home. This way also has the advantage that you save a lot of time as you don't have to sit down at home and comb them of the bushels with a fork as often suggested.
This is one of the cuter creatures, that came with the elderberries, there were actually a few of them the bag. I really zoomed in on the snail, it is only 2-3mm big.

The good thing about elderberries is, once you have them in a basin of water, the green ones, the dried up elderberries and the little stems are going to swim on top and can easily be spooned out.

Next you juice them.

old times juicer used to juice elderberries
I found this handy old time juicer on a flea market for only 4,50 €, which makes juicing any fruit super easy. But before I had such fancy equipment I just poured the raw fruit with about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water (just to cover the bottom of your sauce pan so the fruit doesn't burn) bring to boil and stir. Take immediately of the hob once the fruit is softens as you don't want to destroy all of the 
Vitamin C. Line a sieve with a sterilised towel. Pour elderberries into them, close towel over the fruit and squeeze all the juice out of them into a jug under the sieve. A potato masher comes in very handy here! This method is just as effective. Just two side notes: 1) do not use your favourite towel, as you will never get the stains out of it again! and 2) use a strong enough towel as it might tear otherwise under the pressure of squeezing! Also if using a wooden spoon to stir the berries or later the juice, use an oldish one, as it could come stained out of this!

To make the actual elderberry syrup you need per

500 grams elderberry juice
the juice of 2 lemons
500 grams raw brown sugar

Bring all to boil and boil for no more than 3 minutes (You do not want to destroy all the Vitamin C in your juice and it is enough to make it safe to consume). And fill hot into sterilised bottles or jars. (I have explained my preferred way of sterilising in this post) Screw on lid straight away. Once bottles have cooled down to room temperature store in refrigerator.

How to make your own Elderberry syrup

How to use the elderberry syrup: we use it on porridge in the mornings, pancakes, cakes, in lemonades or teas. Some of our favourite combinations are on pancakes with cream cheese, or add some to homemade quark cheese and fill a swiss roll with it to impress your guests.

elderberry syrup on pancake

elderberry syrup on pancake

elderberry syrup and cream cheese on pancake

elderberry lemonade with blackberries

And here a little fun fact: In medieval times sambucus was planted near houses and sheds to fend off evil spirits and witches!
Stay healthy and as always enjoy!


  1. You should do a video of this,I bet a lot of folks would love to see how you made this.
    Me? I would be happy sampling it!!

    1. I am currently doing a self study with the syrup. It is so tasty! I don't think I would ever have the guts to make a video, I am pretty introvert ;)