Welcome to Elderberry Syrup Season! We are going to learn about all thing Elderberry Syrup! Since this is a longer blog post than most I am going to list the main topics discussed so that you know what you will be reading about and also so you can scroll to find what you need!
a. How and Why I chose Elderberry Syrup for my family
b. Benefits and studies of Elderberries and Elderberry Syrup
c. Benefits of cloves, ginger, cinnamon and honey
d. Different in Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon
e. How to shop for honey
f. What to ask/look for when purchasing local or store elderberry syrup
g. Recipe and instructions for making my “Yummy Syrup”
h. Link to a special announcement regarding my Yummy Syrup, a local charity and the holidays!
When it come to germs, cold and flu season is probably one of the most dreaded seasons for parents, second being back to school time. Kids spread germs like wild fire and there is only so much we can do, but as parents we try our best. As a first time Mom, I am always up for learning new tricks or tips from others. Anyone that knows me knows that I spend a great deal of time going down whatever research rabbit hole that has caught my attention that week. I don’t do things all willy-nilly, there’s always a purpose to my methods or my decisions, and I wanted to share a decision I made for our family a few years ago.
You see, my son was sick at the time. He had just started preschool and pretty much kept a cold non stop, and with his severe allergies on top of that, I pretty much spent our days in the docs office, or the allergist, or with Lucas on my lap doing a nebulizer treatment. We were all miserable. Then, one day at the docs office I let them know that he hadn’t gotten his flu shot. His doc responded by saying, in a nut shell, that Lucas wasn’t healthy enough to get a vaccine. That his immune system had been compromised for so long that he wouldn’t advise it. I looked at him kind of in disbelief, and, knowing me, he then said straight out, “if he were my child I wouldn’t”. Well ok then. So we didn’t. So I went home petrified of letting Lucas out into the world. You read every day about the horrors of kids and what happens when they get the flu and I just couldn’t hardly handle it. For me, times like that, that is when I turn to my research. I guess it is my way of taking control so I don’t feel so helpless. So I got my handy dandy notebook out and started googling “keep your toddler safe from the flu”. I mean, you need something to start right? So the usual…wash hands, always change clothes as soon as you come home from school or the playground, sanitize phones, backpacks, etc every day. Then I stumbled on a mom’s blog: Elderberry Syryp to prevent cold and flu. Well, ok…click. So I read, and as I tried to keep an open, yet skeptical mind I was wondering how I had never heard of this berry before…and if the flu is so bad and this works so well, why isn’t it mainstream??? Before I let myself ask anything else, I then asked this: Is it scientifically proven? Have there been any studies done to back up these claims?
A quick run down on Elderberry:
Elderberry syrup has its roots in herbal medicine, it also has the scientific research to back it up. It is loaded up with Vitamins A, B, and C, as well as iron, potassium, phosphorus, copper, fiber, protein and antioxidants. Elderberry syrup got its headlining start in Panama in 1995 when it was used to treat an influenza outbreak. Since then, it has been studied in small randomized studies, all with promising results. One study found it helped reduce cold symptoms of airline passengers faster than placebo groups.1 Another study found it reduced influenza A and B symptoms by 4 days versus placebo group.2 It is a very promising anti-viral and anti-bacterial herb.
But wait! That’s not all! Here, we don’t just use elderberry syrup to ward off colds and flus. This is a short list to highlight some of the elderberry’s benefits. Find them all here. Helps with: digestion, constipation, reduces blood pressure, reduces LDL, expectorant for phlegm (great for bronchitis or asthma), protects against effects of autoimmune disorders, helps regulate blood sugar, promotes bone strength and lessens joint pain. So while the elderberry may be popular for cold and flu, it has some other health benefits as well.
Here are some study links for you to read when/if you have the time!
Now, most homemade elderberry syrup has these key ingredients: elderberries, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and honey. I want to discuss quickly why each of them have their place in your syrup.
Cloves are a spice that are usually overlooked and not thought of as a health spice. We use them come fall for a lot of our dishes, but until I started making my own elderberry syrup did I think of why. Vitamins found in cloves include: vitamin E, folate, niacin, phosphorus, iron, zinc, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin A and K. Minerals include: potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium. Cloves have long been used medicinally for bad breath, liver health, anti-inflammatory and anit-microbial properties. So it is no wonder why a dash of a few cloves goes a long way in your syrup.
Ginger is a well known spice with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, so much so that is has been deemed a “superfood”. The bioactive substance in ginger, called gingerol, has been found to inhibit the growth of many types of bacteria, and studies are being conducted to test its ability to possibly fight off the RSV virus. (For us parents, that is huge!) Ginger has also been found to possibly aid in: lowering cholesterol levels, decreasing heart disease risk, lowering indigestion, and lowering blood sugar levels.
Cinnamon is one of my favorite additions to elderberry syrup, as it is probably the spice I have learned the most about in my elderberry syrup journey. As soon as I started making mine I was using whatever cinnamon stick I had in my cupboard at the time. One day, at a local health food store, I noticed there were 2 types of cinnamon, each drastically different in price. Same company, both organic, totally different names of cinnamon. So I took a pic of them and as soon as my son laid down for his nap I went to work…down the rabbit hole of google once again. What I found out was that there are 2 main different types of cinnamon in our American markets, each with their own health properties. I was using Cassia cinnamon, also coined “fake cinnamon”, which is what 90% of cinnamon sold in stores here is. Cassia cinnamon, if ingested regularly can cause a few different health issues, none of which are good. For starters, and the main con of Cassia is that it has high concentrations of Coumarin. Coumarin is an anticoagulant, which thins the blood, and has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats. The absorption rate of coumarin in cassia cinnamon has been found to be that of ingesting a pure form of coumarin itself. Research has found that the Tolerable Daily Intake of cassia cinnamon is .07mg per kg of body weight. Which means that for any adult OR child who puts cinnamon in their oatmeal a few times a week is reaching an exceeding daily amount when averaged out!
So what is a better cinnamon? Ceylon. Ceylon is named “true” cinnamon. It is the cinnamon that carries all the wonderful health benefits, such as lowering blood sugar (a great spice for diabetics),lowering heart disease risk, preserving brain function, and relieving inflammation. Each serving of cinnamon also contains a small amount of vitamin E, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper. Studies have varied on exactly how much difference the levels of coumarin are in cassia vs. ceylon. It depends on the soil, growing conditions, etc. However on average, the amount in ceylon is 70 times LESS than that of cassia.
How do I tell the difference in the store? Well, price will be one thing. Ceylon is usually about double in price. Also, the label MUST be marked “Ceylon Cinnamon” for it to be actual Ceylon. Anything with just the one word cinnamon, well that is going to be Cassia. If it is in a glass jar and you can look at it, it is super easy to tell them apart. Cassia is a dark brown-reddish single piece of cinnamon that is rolled. Just one “layer”. Ceylon is a lighter brown, very fragile stick. You’ll often see little slivers or shavings in the bottom if the jar. Ceylon also resembles the layers of a cigar. It looks like you could sit and peel off later by layer. If you are at a market and can touch them, ceylon has some give (since it is fragile) and cassia is very hard. Lastly, ceylon has a very mild smell of cinnamon. Cassia smells like, well the potpourri you buy in the store at Christmas that has all the cassia sticks in it!
Lastly is the honey. Good ole’ local honey! Anyone that knows me knows that I am a honey critic! I search out the best honey I can find for the best price and I ask several questions about it, as I want the best health benefits for my family. I mean I’m going to war with cold/flu here, there’s no room in my syrup for ingredients that aren’t useful! There are 3 main questions I ask when buying honey: 1. Is it heated? You never want to buy heated honey,always raw (just don’t give this to a child under 1). When you heat honey above 105 degrees you kill off all the good anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties of the honey. 2. Is it filtered? Once filtered is okay with me, mainly because if my son sees anything in something he freaks out and refuses to eat it. If you are buying honey for its allergy benefits, you want as little filtration as possible. Pieces of pollen and comb are good, because you will be ingesting tiny amounts of this every day or every other day, which will slowly work towards protecting yourself against allergy season. So really, honey in elderberry syrup has 2 uses. First is fights against cold and flu with its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, and second, it helps prepare your body for allergy season in the spring and fall. Now, if you aren’t someone who has a family that suffers from allergies, then find a good raw honey and go with that, don’t worry about it being local. For allergy sufferers, research has shown that ingesting local honey for 4 MONTHS PRIOR to the start of the allergy season is the most beneficial. When you read about honey and allergies you find claims that it works and claims that it doesnt. Two things come to mind when I read these. First is that not all people are the same, one thing can’t help every single person. Second is that most people wait UNTIL they are sick to take action. They are reactive. Ingesting honey for allergies is a proactive approach. It takes time to work and for your body to build a tolerance up for itself. It doesn’t happen within a day or a week, it needs time. This is why it is a great addition to elderberry syrup. You are already taking it every day starting in November and going through March (the end of flu season). This basically does double duty for you, and when the spring comes and everyone around you has scratchy eyeballs and a sore throat, you will realize “hey, that’s not me anymore!” I can say for our family, this has been amazing. I realized just how bad my allergies were when I was pregnant with my son and wasn’t allowed to take my allergy meds. And of course everyone who reads my blog knows just how bad my son’s allergies were. If you don’t just picture this: Zyrtec in the am, rescue inhaler when needed, medical inhaler once a day at lunch (that cause God awful nightmares) and Benadryl at night. Every.dang.day. Well, the season after our first round of elderberry syrup neither my son nor I needed anything. My son would still get a little congested, but it was manageable. I mean we went from stage 4 nuclear to a runny nose. I can totally handle that! It’s been a full 3 allergy seasons now, and we have made it all 3 with no trips to the doc, no inhalers that give him nightmares, and no doing him twice a day with over the counter meds. Again though, I made him and my family take it every single day. I made a commitment to do it, we did, and we have reaped the benefits since.
The Do’s and Dont’s of good syrup:
Now that we have talked about all the good things about Elderberry Syrup and why it may possibly be a good idea for your family, lets also talk about what you shouldn’t do or should avoid when getting elderberry syrup. Even if you have someone that makes it locally, do not be afraid to quiz them on their ingredients and how they go about making their syrup! When looking to buy from the store, try and go as healthy as possible. Here are some things to look out for on both locally made and store bought:
Are all the ingredients organic? What are the ingredients?
Do they use honey or cane sugar? If they use honey, is is local or big box store bought?
At what point in their cooking process do they add the honey? (the answer should ALWAYS be “after it has cooled to less than 105 degrees”)
What type of cinnamon do they use? (answer should always be Ceylon..your family is taking this every single day, and if they are sick, multiple times a day)
For me, I would never purchase something locally made if it did not contain local honey in it. That is supposed to be one of the key benefits of buying from a local producer. It is my opinion anyone making homemade that is using granulated sugar is really just out for the profit and hasn’t done their research to give a quality preventative product to the community. Now, when it comes to babies, sugar is fine because they do not need to ingest the raw honey…let me just make sure I say that!
Store bought: Pretty much all store bought syrup is going to have sugar and no honey, so my recommendations for it is just to try and get as healthy as possible.
Buy certified organic
Get one that uses cane sugar or maple syrup as a sweetener and not high fructose corn syrup or splenda or a fake sugar.
Let’s Get Cooking!
I always recommend making your own, because it is way cheaper and you know exactly what is going in it. A lot of people are intimidated to make their own syrup because they hear the elderberry is poisonous. Well yes and no. The berry is the least poisonous part of the elderberry bush, and the berries need to be heated for an extended period of time to render that poison inert. Many people eat elderberry pie, jam, jelly and a host of other cooked elderberry goodies 🙂 So let’s go through how to make your own for your family!!
Erin’s Elderberry Yummy Syrup:
- small simmer pot
- mason jar with lid, pint size if doing full recipe
- mesh strainer
- large bowl
- meat or cooking thermometer
1 cup organic dried elderberries (I use frontier brand)
2 sticks of cinnamon
3 cloves (and only 3, sometimes 2 if they are big, or else it will be so strong tasting your little won’t take it)
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
4 cups of water
½ -1 cup local raw honey (if you have a child that isn’t old enough for honey, sweeten with regular sugar)
Put everything into pot and bring to a boil.
Reduce very low, just a bare simmer and set a timer for 40 minutes.
After 40 minutes use a fine mesh strainer to strain into large bowl. I let sit for a few minutes to cool off then I squeeze the berries for more juice.
LET REST. For a while. The temp needs to come down to 105 degrees F or lower in order not to kill off the anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that are in the honey. This is where a key mistake is made with a lot of cooks. I usually wait until at least 100 F just to give plenty of leeway if my thermometer is off my a few degrees.
Once cooled enough, pour in honey and stir with whisk. I usually use about ¾ cup, but you can play with it to see how sweet you need it to be for your child to take it without complaint.
Mix well and put in mason jar in the fridge. Will last for up to 3 months. (Honey is also used as a preservative)
- For taking: 1tsp for kids, 1 TBS for adults per day. When SICK: use same amount but take every hour until symptoms/fever are gone.
- For dual purpose allergy relief: make sure to start taking at least around Christmas to get the benefits come spring. If you don’t need the allergy benefits then any store bought honey will do and you also don’t have to worry about the temp of mixing because processed honey in the stores has already been heated and everything killed off.
- Don’t eat or let your kids eat the raw dried berries. They can be poisonous. That being said, I had NO clue about that when I first started out and I popped a couple in my mouth to see what they tasted like. I’m still breathing. So don’t freak out if they get one, just don’t let them get a tiny handful.
- As always, any questions, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
***These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and I am not a medical professional. You read and do everything at your own risk and it is your responsibility to consult with your physical regarding allergies or negative side effects :)***