How to make an Elderberry Winter Tonic: your virus-fighting tool!

Learn how to make a virus-killing, powerfully healthy elderberry winter tonic, from foraged elderberries and other nutrient-packed ingredients!Β 

girl tasting elderberries

our Amalia, when she was a girl, nibbling on fresh elderberries

(Originally published in August 2015, post updated in August 2022)

Bumper Crop!

It’s a bumper crop year for elderberries here in Nebraska, it appears. That means I can make as many batches of elderberry winter tonic as I can find time to do it.

Just this morning, I was on my way home from dropping off my restaurant orders. I was tooling along on the gravel road toward home, enjoying the lovely morning and assembling the rest of my day’s to-do list in my head.

Suddenly I saw the gleam of ripe clusters of elderberries in the ditches ahead of me. My mind racing, I glanced over my shoulder into the back seat to see if I had anything that I could put elderberries in. I was so excited.

Yeah, yeah, I need to get out more

As luck would have it, Mack and I had come home from Walmart just last night and–bone tired as we both were–agreed to put away all the non-perishable purchases tomorrow (which was today). Aaaand, as luck would have it, again, we hadn’t done it: Huzzah for us and our boundless procrastination!

I had four plastic Wal-mart bags. I brought Douglas (our SUV) to a skidding stop in a cloud of dust and unceremoniously dumped the contents out of the Walmart bags and stuffed the empty bags into my pockets.

Twenty-five minutes later, I climbed back into Douglas, just a little scratched from my sojourn into the ditches and beaming. I had enough elderberries for several batches of winter tonic.

Frankly, it amazes me that folks aren’t out tromping all over the countryside, fighting over the wild fruits like elderberries that are out there.

I guess folks don’t know that elderberries are:

  • anti-viral
  • packed full of antioxidants
  • a tonic for the immune system
  • anti-rheumatic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • cardiovascular tonic
  • a diuretic

The elderflowers, which proceed the berries, are full of health benefits, too!

Fall is the perfect time to make elderberry winter tonic, falling, as it does, right before prime colds and flu season! Almost like the Creator of elderberries knew what he was doing . . . . *whistling* . . .

Speaking of school. (Weren’t we?) Little Mack asked me yesterday when we were going to start up our home school. I looked at him blankly for a moment, thinking “School? Already? When there are so many elderberries to pick and process?”

That’s not what I said, though. I said “School! School? Oh, yeah–school! Um. . . next week, how does that sound?”


I’m not ready for school

I confessed to Amalia, quietly, later: “I’m not ready to start school yet!”

She laughed and said “Mom, you’re never ready to start school!” Which. Is. True. Why, I ask you, does school have to start at the most delicious time of year, when the nights are becoming cool again, and are perfect for star-gazing? Even the bugs are beautiful and fascinating, harvest season in the garden and the fields and the wild areas is just beginning, and the days are sunny and pleasant. Who has time for sitting down inside at the table, staring at piles of books??

Two words: Not. Me.

* . . . after some reflection . . . *

Two more words: Outdoor School. That’s what I’m thinking. πŸ™‚ In the Woods School. At the Picnic Table School. Picking Elderberries School. πŸ™‚ On the Bikes School. Yes, I think we can make this work. πŸ™‚ School is a very broad term at our house.

Very Broad, indeed.

Learning happens everywhere.

Doesn’t it? And with just the tiniest bit of forethought, little bits and pieces of learning can make for a great education. A good history reader, after all, can be tucked into a backpack and read in the waiting room, while Mom has her eye appointment (it will take longer than you think). Sketchbooks can be carried anywhere, those daily sketches done in the car or during church (it helps me listen, don’t laugh). Math can be done outside, on the picnic table, as long as you can ignore the bluebird scouts that happen through one morning, the funny little Icelandic roos that are beginning to crow now and sound like dear rusty hinges, the dog that is whining plaintively for a walk, the bald eagles that soar overhead now and then . . .

Okay, kids, we’d better move inside to do math . . . *siiigh* .Β  . .


But anyway.

I’m scrambling here a bit this week, since we’ve been picking wild elderberries and wild plums and rose hips to make into our precious cache of wild foods for winter. I’m thankful for all this activity out and about, inside and out.

The weather is beginning to turn–it’s getting almost cool atΒ  night, and it’s so pleasant to turn attention from a weedy, grasshopper-bopping garden to the wild areas around our home, and harvest the lovely jewels like these . . . .


Β A few quick tips on foraging

  • Ask for permission
  • It’s best to wear long pants, though it’s summertime. (Two words: Nettle rash. Two more: Poison ivy. Two more: et al.)
  • I find that a simple plastic bag, like the ones that come from Walmart, are handiest to pick into. I loop the handles over my wrist, and have use of both hands that way.
  • Watch your step! Long grass can hide holes and ditches.
  • Take along a friend or a gangly teenage son if you are going to be out in the country.

Here’s how to make my elderberry winter tonic

I promised you this recipe earlier this week. You can use fresh elderberries, or if it’s not the right time of year for elderberry harvest or if they don’t grow in your area, you can buy them at Mountain Rose Herbs (affiliate link). Be aware that the recipe is slightly different if you use the dried elderberries.

The only tedious thing about making this winter syrup is the stemming of the elderberries, but I have one handy tip for this task: mindless entertainment. The kids and I never turn on the t.v. during the day, unless we’re working on a tedious task together that can be done with one eye on Sherlock. Or a Downtown Abbey rerun. Or a M*A*S*H, if we’ve only got 20 minutes or so. Yesterday both Amalia and Mack asked me if we were going to work on elderberries (“please, Mom? Can’t we work on elderberries today?” πŸ™‚

(Thank you, Mindless Entertainment.)

It almost feels like we’re getting away with something, enjoying our elderberry stemming so, so much. πŸ˜‰

I just love Sherlock. If Mack joins us, there are certain episodes that we don’t watch, because they are a bit too grim. (What am I saying? Some episodes are too grim for me.)

This is something else we’re re-watching. Fun, entertaining, weird, and David Tennant. What could be better?

washed and stemmed elderberries

Washed and stemmed elderberries are a beautiful sight.

This happened at our place yesterday:

Me: Oh, my, well, I need to vacuum the living room and finish up the dishes first before I can settle down to stem the elderberries-–” Little Mack: *sighs* Okay Mom, I can do the vacuuming and I’ll ask Amalia to help do the dishes so we can do the elderberries quicker . . . ” I am not making this up. It happened.

Cross my heart.

But, back to the winter tonic. This is a very strong syrup and can be taken every day as an immune booster (1 tsp per day for adults, half that for kiddos) or added to fizzy drinks or used in any way that you’d use other sweet syrups. On pancakes or yogurt or cottage cheese. It’s just lovely to have in the ‘fridge all winter long. It’s a delightful taste of fall that will nourish you through the winter months, if you get on it and make it now, before the birds eat all the elderberries.

Those birds. They aren’t out there worrying about viruses, I can tell you that.

This tonic will stay good in your 'fridge for months.

This tonic will stay good in your ‘fridge for months, too. I hope to make enough to last us the whole winter through.

If you don’t have the time to make it right now, you can always stick the stemmed elderberries in the freezer and make it later, if you have the freezer space available. (I don’t.)

Elderberry Winter Tonic

Elderberry Winter Tonic

This immune-boosting syrup is made of elderberries and raw honey, which are both anti-viral. Combined with fresh ginger and spices, it makes a delicious and nutrient-rich syrup for use in your healthy kitchen! This recipe can be doubled, tripledm quadrupled or whateverupled.Β Makes approximately one quart.
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 25 minutes


  • 1 cup fresh elderberries, washed thoroughly and most stems removed (or 2/3 cup dried)*
  • 1 cup water (or 3 cups of water if using dried berries)
  • 2 Tb fresh ginger, grated (or 1 tsp dry)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup honey (local and raw, if possible)


  • Bring berries, spices, and water to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes (or 45 minutes if using dried elderberries). (Word to the wise: don't go out to the garden while this is happening, because invariably it WILL boil over and your son will shriek and you will bolt back to the house, thinking that he has had a horrific accident. You will be relieved that he is not mangled in some way, but your stovetop will be, I'll warrant, a distressing mess.)
  • Strain out elderberries, pushing on them with a wooden spoon to get all the juice out.Let cool.
  • Stir in honey.
  • Decant into bottles or jars and keep in the refrigerator. Lasts for months.
  • Use in drinks, on ice cream, pancakes, etc., or just take 1 tsp per day as a health-building tonic.

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Pin it for Later

elderberry winter tonic jar

Make it! It’ll take you an hour or two, and you’ll have a powerful tool in your ‘fridge for the winter colds and flus that will come your way. Be prepared. Take action! Use your agency. Action, action, action!

This winter tonic will help sustain you through the winter months, when you are recalling lovely days like this one with a sigh in your heart . . . <3




Stay healthy, friends. <3

I love ya, I mean it.

104 thoughts on “How to make an Elderberry Winter Tonic: your virus-fighting tool!

  1. Diane

    “Be aware that the recipe is slightly different if you use the dried elderberries.” – How so? Do you mean the amount of berries is different? If that’s not what you meant, could you please explain? Dried elderberries will be all I ever get to use where I live! Thanks!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Diane, I’m sorry, I forgot to add that part. I’ve added it now. If you’re using dried elderberries, use 2/3 cups of them, with 3 cups of water, and simmer them for 45 minutes instead of 20. The dried berries need the extra liquid and the extra simmering time to rehydrate them. Thanks for bringing this omission up! Good luck with your tonic!

  2. Robin Follette

    The wild birds feasted on the elderberries this year. I’ve been trying to decide if I want to make chokecherry jelly but now I just want elderberries. I’ll have to look for them on my way to and from Lincoln tomorrow. Thanks for sharing yoru recipe. It’s good to know I don’t need quarts of them.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Robin, I’m a bit jealous of the chokecherries. They are very hard to find here, and the ones we planted haven’t done very well. And I loooove chokecherry jelly! Good luck with the elderberries. My chokecherry jelly doesn’t usually set up very well, but I don’t mind because it makes the nicest pancake syrup.

      1. Jillian

        Chokecherry syrup goes best on pancakes with fresh corn mixed in the batter snd cooked in bacon fat so the edges are crispy. Just sayin.

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          Oh my goodness, Jillian, that sounds so delicious. Do you have a specific recipe, or do you just chuck the corn in?? Crispy edges . . . yum!!

  3. Jim graham

    If you freeze elderberries… Do you know how long they will stay good for? I have some wild crafted berries from last year that I still haven’t done anything with but hope to soon.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I think if you have them well wrapped up (say, in freezer bags) they would stay good for a year or two. I’d just pull them out and give the a good look and sniff. They are probably fine.

  4. Heather Harvey

    We love elderberry tonic at our house. My goal one day is to own an elderberry plant but they don’t exist don’t here. I will have to visit friends up north to get a starter. *it has to be started already, I have a a very black thumb* I’m going to share this because we are out of elderberries at the moment!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Thanks for the share, Heather. Elderberries grow wild here but I know that there are lots of cultivars available. I hope you can find one that will grow down there!

  5. Stephanie

    Our chiropractor recommended elderberry syrup for our 8-yr old daughter (whose hair does not grow). Now I can make it myself–thank you!!

    (Also, I shared this on Facebook.) πŸ™‚

  6. Veronica

    Hi Amy

    I always enjoy reading your posts and thank you for hosting this giveaway. I order from Mountain Rose Herbs all the time and have always received quality product so I hope to win this! Also they are located in my old home town of Eugene, Oregon.

    Thanks again, and keep sharing : )


  7. Pingback: Elderberry winter tonic recipe and aΒ giveaway! | dawnjerrene

  8. Francene Stanley

    Oh, Amy. Your lifestyle sounds so idyllic. No school? What little boy would refuse this. He even helped with the housework so you could prepare the elderberries. I wish some grew close to me and I wish I had the energy to prepare them and make the tonic. But that’s not going to happen, so I’ll share your happiness.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Francene, I certainly am blessed. I am also blessed by friends like you. Thank you for your constant positive comments to me, they are such an encouragement.

  9. Amy L

    I’ve been taking elderberry syrup during flu season for a couple of years, ever since I had a bad flu that was made much better by taking it.

  10. Lesa

    I used to make elderberry jelly years ago, I would go looking for them now but no time. If I win this giveaway and get some dried elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs then I will make this syrup. . Guess if I don’t win I will just have to order some.

    Going to share this on Pintrest

  11. DJ

    This looks like a great recipe! I have never tried elderberries before, so this is really exciting. I can’t wait to make this recipe.

  12. Pat

    I actually order from Mountain Rose……I have the dried elderberries but I also ordered the powdered ones………..I am wondering if they would work in the tonic also? Thanks Amy for your lovely posts………….

  13. Debra Beeuwsaert

    I have never tried elderberries. I believe I have a few bushes on my property but will need to make sure with the state extension office.

    I also forwarded this post via email to my friend, Penny.

  14. Rose

    Ok…you got me on this one. I’ve been hearing you speak of ederberries and was intrigued by these little tiny berries. Never heard of them nor tasted them. Can you make a syrup and add it to your hot tea? Or for that matter cold? I love my lemongrass, ginger tea with roselle in it. Would love to taste your elderberry kombucha. Too bad we’re not neighbors! We could trade off tasting all our goodies we make! Enjoy your elderberries!

  15. Alana

    Shared this on Twitter. Alas, I haven’t had a source for wild elderberries for many years. Miss the years I was able to gather them when I live in rural Arkansas. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.

  16. Kelly

    I love elderberries. I have been wanting to harvest ours but this year we didn’t get any berries πŸ™ I am hoping my neighbors will share πŸ™‚

  17. Mary Ann Cauthen

    I am going to look for elderberries here in GA & try this!! I greatly enjoy your writings & photos, & as for the schooling just go the Hewitt route of “unschooling”. It works!! Thanks for sharing so much of your life. I would love to have the give away. Mary Ann

  18. Claudia

    Thank you for this recipe. I usually just go home and make an alcohol tincture. This sounds delicious. Once you can recognize the elderberry bush you’ll be surprised how often you can just pull over and pick a nice little passel of them out in the wilds.

  19. Kay

    thanks for the name of your organic herb supplier. Can’t wait to look them up online. Shared this on Facebook to a forager, natural foods friend. And for the tonic recipe. And yes, you can do school whenever. The jobs of homeschooling. We always postponed it for a while during harvest or cut way back. If we did do any school, we called it our Vo-AG unit, because it usually revolved around harvest yields, weather, repairs, field meals, time management, cost analysis, grain judging, and social skills ( also known as: How to have a discussion in the heat of a major combine breakdown or with bad weather coming or being just plain worn out.)

  20. Pingback: On schooling, learning, immersion learning, and life. -

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh yes! I’m going to make some more this evening. The kitchen is already hot, so why not make it a little sweet smelling?

  21. Sunshine

    I love this peek into your life! I’d love to know what other “wild winter” foods you preserve with your harvests. Thanks for sharing your recipe…I tried locally made elderberry syrup last winter for the first time, and would love to make some this year!

    I will share this post on FB, too!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Sunshine: the short list: wild plum jelly and jam, rose hips for tea, herbs (natch); I dry dandelion leaves for my canary’s (he deserves the special treatment) winter enjoyment. If I can swing it (timewise) I dry nettles for green smoothies, I love to freeze aronia berries for smoothies and scones, and of course the elderberry winter tonic is at the top of the list! Thanks for your comment! Someday we must meet!

  22. Dakota Hurley

    Usually I’m a quiet lurker around here, but figured I could finally introduce myself since that also means I get to enter into an amazing and gracious giveaway! My family and I live in Nebraska also! We are about 50-60 minutes south of Lincoln. I have been following your blog for awhile now, as I am truly inspired by and hope to attain some knowledge from your lifestyle! Anyways, love and blessings! XO, Dakota

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Dakota, wellll I’m so glad you are ready to get acquainted! Someday soon I’ll get up the nerve to go have a meet and greet in Lincoln with my area Gentle Readers, and then I hope to meet you in the flesh!

  23. Renee

    Oooooo this sounds like fun! I love discovering new health remedies…elderberries…I’m not sure we even have them around here…..but I would love to give this a try! Thanks and sharing now…to Facebook πŸ™‚

  24. Julie

    I love elderberries. I hope to plant some bushes in my backyard, they’re beautiful and so healthy for you. And honestly, I think they’re delicious as well! Thank you for this recipe. It’s been a while since I made elderberry syrup, but this looks like a great recipe!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Julie, I pick elderberries from the ditches around our place, but I’ve planted my own too. So many farmers mow the ditches, and then there go the elderberries! My mom has a favorite dish that I make around this time every year. It’s elderberry dumplings with stewed apples. It’s unusual and so delicious!

  25. Sandra

    Thank you for the fun and informative read. I am still a beginner in learning how to grow, concoct and preserve. I have just boiled elderberries (outside, so the cyanide off-gassing doesn’t cause headache like last time, without even a window open!).
    1. Should the bottles and jars be normally clean / rinsed with boiling water / boiled 10 mins to sterilize?
    2. Are the cinnamon, cloves, ginger and honey critical or to increase the health-giving properties?
    3. Any problem adding the spices and honey after boiling and straining?
    Thank you so much for your time sharing your skills.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Hiya Sandra!
      1. I run my bottles through the hot cycle in my dishwasher, and call it good!
      2. All the spices and honey add to the health benefits, but are strictly optional. The virus-killing properties of elderberries are well documented, and that’s the best thing about this tonic!
      3. Adding the honey after boiling and straining is best, especially if you are using raw honey. You can add the spices then too, although they incorporate better into the liquid if it is at least warm! Thank you for your note and God bless!

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