Elderberry syrup always helped me feel better as a child, as a natural cough syrup and to provide some much needed energy when I was sick. It’s comforting on the throat, and I’d begin to feel better almost immediately.
As an adult, I went to find a bottle and I was pretty shocked at the price tag. On average, it was about $3 per ounce. I was used to taking an ounce at a time in a shot glass, 2-3 times per day. That’s a pretty expensive habit if you’re sick for more than a day or two.
A quick check of the ingredients list and you’ll find that it’s actually just 3 ingredients: elderberry juice, honey and cider vinegar.
In truth then, the “elderberry syrup” I always drank for a natural immune boost wasn’t technically a syrup at all. It’s an oxymel. Oxymels are an ancient remedy, dating back literally thousands of years. Raw vinegar, herbs and a bit of honey to sweeten it makes for a tasty way to take your medicine and get a probiotic boost at the same time.
Ratios vary widely according to your own tastes. Some are heavy on vinegar, and others are heavier on honey. For my own elderberry oxymel, I like to stick with a 1:1:1 ratio. One part elderberry, one part raw cider vinegar and one part raw honey. I generally use local honey whenever possible, both to support local bees and to get the added benefit of the anti-allergen properties of locally produced honey.
Start by juicing fresh elderberries. The most basic way to juice elderberries is by cooking them for about 10 minutes in a pot with a 1/2 cup of water. The head causes them to pop, and then a quick stir helps to break them up and release the juice. For this batch, I tried out juicing them in my instant pot. The pressure cooker just squeezed every last drop of juice out of them and I was pretty impressed.
While it may be tempting to use a home juicer to extract raw elderberry juice, the raw juice is thought to be toxic. There’s not a lot of science behind why, but there have been a number of reports of hospitalizations after people drank raw elderberry juice. Before I knew this I drank it a number of times without any ill effects, so clearly it doesn’t affect everyone. None the less, better safe than sorry.
Allow the elderberry juice to cool to just slightly warm and then mix thoroughly with cider vinegar and raw local honey. Adjust to taste. If you find it too sweet, go ahead and add in a bit more cider vinegar, or if too tart, plop in a bit more honey.
Elderberry oxymel will keep at room temperature for months, but since it’s a live food with vinegar culture present it may change in flavor and become a bit stronger over time. Some people keep it in the refrigerator to keep it more stable.
When you’re sick or you feel a cold coming on, take a tablespoon or two (or drink it by the shot glass like I do).