Elder elixir

Elderberry Elixir

From the perch of my bed, I like to watch a family of ravens that hang out atop a cypress tree that’s about a block away. Last week, when a storm came through the city, Jam and I sat and watched as one brave raven continued to sit on his perch, facing into the wind, despite the constant battering. He was a brave bird. When it comes to flu season, I feel a lot like that bird. There’s a constant battering going on: of commercials for flu products (honestly, taking a bunch of pills to suppress your symptoms and get back to work really isn’t the answer!), of commercials for flu shots, of germs flying around, of everyone around me getting sick, and I’m just doing what I can to cling on to my health and sanity.

I read once, in a book by Stephen Harrod Buhner, about herbal ‘antibiotics’ and why they’re so much more effective than chemical ones. Viruses mutate. Its a fact of life. You know what else mutates? Plants. Fact. So just as a virus can psychically pass on all its viral information to other viruses (and by the way, can we please learn to communicate like that more?), plants do the same. So some guy in a lab coat extracts one chemical from one plant that reportedly kills X virus but its only a matter of time before the virus figures out the chemical and mutates so that it is no longer affected by it. Kinda like people, who, under duress for long enough will mutate to accept those circumstances as normal. So there’s this chase-and-catch up thing where people try to manufacture things that kill viruses and then the viruses mutate and then another chemical needs to be made, and its a frantic, circular dance. But then you have plants, some of which have over a hundred chemicals in them. A HUNDRED*! In one little plant! One hundred chemicals are a good adversary for a nasty virus. And even if the virus mutates, plants are clever. There’s a whole conversation going on out there in nature that we’re not privy to, and I trust it to carry on in the same way its been carrying on for millennia.

My point being that there are things out there that are perfectly suited to helping our bodies not get sick, or dramatically reduce the length of a sickness. Elderberry is one of them, and its probably in my top-ten-most-used list. This is my recipe for elderberry elixir– the same one I sell in my shop, and have had hundreds of people report back on the efficacy of. It can be customised for you and your area, for example, if you live in the North East where its often cold and damp, maybe add more ginger and orange peel (both warming). If you live in the southwest like me and are often prone to dried out irritated respiratory passages, add some marshmallow (warning, this will go gooey). If you get more lung stuff add mullein and if you don’t have mullein add thyme. Really, the possibilities are almost endless, but here’s a list of possible modifiers or ingredients for you to play around with:

Elderberry- The life of the party, seriously.
Elderflower- Elderberry’s partner. Some say the flowers are even more effective than the berries. If you’re ordering berries then place an order for the flowers too and use both.
Cinnamon- Warming, nourishing, boosts digestion, great flavour.
Ginger- warming, dries mucus, tastes good.
Cardamom- as with the other spices, its warming, good for the phlegmmy stuff and tastes good.
Echinacea- stimulates immune function
Aralia racemosa (or Californica)- supports lung function in worn out chronic overtired conditions. Beautiful little plant.
Mullein- personal favourite for dried out chronic coughs. I always put this in my elder elixir because there’s always dried out lung stuff here.
Boneset- another one that stimulates immune function. Better fresh, so use it if it grows in your area. Or if you’re like me, go visit friends in Kentucky in the early summer so you can gather it and bring it home on the plane (much to the astonishment of TSA).
Orange peel- Warming and energy moving.
Lemon peel- Cooling and energy-moving.
Rosehips- Great source of vitamin C
Thyme- A favourite lung grunge herb.
Bee balm or oregano- Antimicrobial, bloody delicious, slightly zingy and spicy. 

On ingredients: Elderberries are really abundant in nature, and I really recommend you get out there and find some local bushes. But its the middle of winter and you’re unlikely to find any right now unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, so you can order them, and everything else on the list, from Mountain Rose Herbs.

On flu season: There’s some nasty flu bugs going around right now. I know this because I’ve caught at least two of them, and because we herbalists are like a mycelial network, passing information back and forth. Its not just here, in fact I’d say those of us in Southern California have been getting off easy. Make or buy some elderberry elixir. Make some fire cider

. Take your Vitamin D daily (for reals).

Some of my favourite flu-season resources:

Herbs for the Immune System from Juliet
Creating a herbal medicine chest for colds and flu from Rosalee De La Foret
Green Man’s Guide to Flu Season  by Sean
The Elder Mother’s Pantry
 from Kiva

*I don’t know if this is an accurate number and I haven’t looked it up. The part of my brain that remembered this number is also the part that says ‘I’ll be five minutes’ when it is in fact an hour…

Elderberry Immune Elixir

Quantities are for a quart jar, and using dried ingredients. If you use fresh, reduce the volume by half please.

1 cup dried elderberries.
1/2 cup dried elderflowers.
1/4 cup dried mullein leaf
1/4 cup dried boneset
1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
peel of 1/2 lemon

Alcohol of your choice- I love brandy, but you can use vodka, whisky, tequila, everclear or gin too.
Honey. Raw and local if possible, but whatever you have works.

Ok, this is the easy part. Once you have all your ingredients, put them all in the jar, then fill a third of the way with honey. This will take a while as the honey is thick.  Don’t worry, just pour it, and come back every 20 minutes to re-pour until its a third of the way up. You can also heat the honey before pouring to make it easier, I just don’t like to do this as it destroys some of the lovely things that are in the honey. After the honey’s in the jar, top it up with your alcohol. Voila. Done. Now, screw the lid on the top, and this is the most important part: LABEL IT: “Elderberry elixir, <date>, and what its for if you’re forgetful.” Give it a good shake, and leave it somewhere prominent that you can shake it once a day or so. After six weeks, its ready. Strain it out and pour it into a pretty bottle. Its shelf-stable for a couple of years.

Dosage: upon first sign of getting sick, start taking about a quarter teaspoon every couple of hours.  Take it until all signs of sickness are gone. If you do actually get sick (which is rare but with these bugs going around right now, its happening), keep taking it. As often as you can muster.

  • Patricia

    Well done and sooo timely! Thank you!

    • fairybekk


  • Lo Gilmour

    Great recipe. Love the term ‘lung grunge’. Thank you for being so insighful and gracious with your recipes.
    Love from Ontario, Canada
    Lo G.

    • fairybekk

      Thanks Lo G!

  • http://www.mediyak.com Robert Najlis

    Great article, thanks! I have to figure out how to get all these great herbs!

  • http://www.megdickey.wordpress.com Meg @ Cracking An Egg

    Thank you! I have been fiddling with my elixir recipe for several months now, and haven’t been able to replicate it exactly the way I want. This looks like just the thing. :-)

  • http://www.hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com/ Butter

    Hey babe, how long does elder elixir keep? I’ve got some from two years ago that tastes rather like prune juice. Is it still going to work? Also, I have a friend who fermented a batch. Is that still good?

    • fairybekk

      Yep its still fine, though I’d use it pretty soon. NO idea about the fermentation. If it tastes good and doesn’t make her sick, I’d assume its fine :).

  • linda

    oh, nice recipe! i think i’ll be adding mullein and cardamon in my next batch. this years flu/cough has been extra special.

  • http://elderberrylife.com Erin

    Elderberry–the life of the party! I love it. Great recipe.

  • narf7

    Thank you for this generous share. I just found some ripe dried elderberries that I collected when I noticed them on an eldeberry shrub way back when. I have planted them in seed raising mix, knowing that elderberries grow easily and am trying to grow some of my own because they are incredibly interesting and valuable plants all round. They grow well in our climate here in Northern Tasmania and should be a valuable addition to our food forest that we are planting on our 4 acre property. Cheers, again, for this kind share. We can’t all buy products online and sharing is what makes the communal world go round…thank you from 2 penniless student hippies in Tasmania Australia :)

    • fairybekk

      *like* :)

  • Doreen

    Wonderful – given me excellent ideas to include in my next batch. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Kim

    Thank you so much for sharing! Unfortunately cold season has already hit here and I don’t have the 6 weeks to wait for it to brew, so I just ordered some from you :) I just stumbled on this site yesterday and have hardly been able to close the page. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    • fairybekk


      • Kim

        This stuff is great! I originally ordered it for my boyfriend who had a cold, but by the time the package arrived in the mail I had started feeling the beginnings of a cold coming on myself. I immediately started taking the elixir and all the cold symptoms (I never actully got really sick) were gone within two days. I’ve never felt better this fast before. Thank you! I can say I was definitely skeptical when I ordered it, but not anymore.

        • fairybekk

          <3 I'm so glad! And thank you for your feedback.

  • BlackBirdie

    i can’t have alcohol, for medical reasons…how would it be if i made this but left out the alcohol?

    • fairybekk

      Blackbirdie- try using vinegar instead of the alcohol. It’ll make a shrub instead of an elixir, but you’ll still get the properties, and it’ll be really good in sparkling water :).

  • Lisa

    I am looking forward to adding this to my herbal arsenal .. Thank you

  • Lo Gilmour

    I have frozen elderberries. Do you think I’d have to dry them first before making this or can I use them frozen. I hate to loose all that good juice that you get when frozen goodies thaw. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

    • fairybekk

      You can use them frozen :).

      • Lo Gilmour

        Cheers! Thanks for your recipe, stoked for the upgrade to this from my standard syrup. Its good and all, but this sounds way better.

  • wendy

    what would you do if you were making this for a child? or would you just make your syrup instead?
    {by the way I think you are magic – love your words and what you make!}

    • fairybekk

      Hi Wendy, I think that’s personal preference and depends on where you are. Growing up in Scotland I was given booze-containing remedies from a young age but I have a feeling that’s both frowned upon and illegal in the US, so I’d, yes, make a syrup. Which is quite easy– if you’re not worried about preservation (most people use booze), and can keep it refrigerated, just do 1 part sugar, 1 part elderberries, whatever other herbs you like, cover it all with water, and simmer for an hour. Or there are plenty of recipes on the interwebz too :).

      • Siobhan

        I’m wondering what would happen if you cook the alcohol before using it. Would it loose too much in that process to use it in the elixir?

  • Brandy

    I have this sitting in a jar and I’m wondering why 6 weeks? Why not 4 or 5?

    • fairybekk

      6 weeks is mostly arbitrary; if you need it sooner, go for it.

      • traci

        I don’t know about you, but I mostly make this stuff up.

        • fairybekk

          Totally :)

  • Sachie

    Thanks so much for the post and recipe! I have a potentially silly question — do I have to wash or rinse all the fruits & herbs before using them, or before I put it into the jar to be made into an elixir? Or will the alcohol naturally eliminate any bad bacteria?


    • fairybekk

      Hey Sachie,

      Not silly at all :). Nope, no need to wash them. Alcohol takes care of germies.

  • Lorelie Mercer


    I’m four weeks in on my Elixer recipe and I’ve noticed that it seems like it could use more liquid in it – its thicker and harder to shake, and there’s space at the top that wasn’t there before … could I open it and add more brandy?


    • fairybekk

      Hey Lorelie,

      sorry, I just saw this. Yep, you can totally add more brandy :).

  • Angie

    I love elderberries but those photos near the top appear to be blueberries not elderberries?

    • fairybekk

      Nope, definitely elderberries :).

    • Mimi

      Yep the ones in the first photo look like blueberries to me too !!!
      I have made a version of this elixir for years and my family and friends would swear by it .

      It is wonderful but do be careful when choosing berries . There are some that look like elder berries but are not .

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  • Gen

    How would you dose a toddler with this syrup?

  • Dave Knorr

    Will be making a quart or so, but was thinking of adding aronia juice and blackberries. The elders along with the other 2 should really pile in the polyphenols and anthrocyannins. Was looking to add a couple other “notes” by using ginger and honey. Didnt know about adding Cardamom or thyme. Anybody have any thoughts on other additives, herbs, quantities, etc??

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  • gelalila

    I have a question. I have seen a lot of notifications saying that you should never consume elderberries that haven’t been cooked. Does the alcohol “cook” it in a way?

    I am excited to make this recipe, I’m just very curious about that. :-)