Elderberry Tincture: Poor Man’s (Woman’s) Medicine

September 9th, 2012 § 41 comments

Still life. Elderberries and thyme.

Summer is starting to wane and the chill of fall is causing me to curl up in on myself like a leaf before it falls to the earth. So before fall takes hold and we get set to embrace its rusty hues and hearty dishes, we must share together this last gift of summer that will keep us through the fall.


I have vivid memories of elderberries. Ok, not the elderberry itself, but of elderberry pies. Mmmm. Every year, my grandfather (and lovely Nona when she was here with us) makes a pie, or two, for my uncles and my sisters and I happily partake with a little vanilla ice cream on the side.  We savor the bite of these tiny berries as they contrast the smooth flavor of the vanilla and bind us together around our little table.  We have grown to have an affinity for these unappreciated little berries.  And unappreciated they are.

This year, my grandpa was unable to obtain elderberries from his “source.”  The way he says it makes it sounds like some secret Chicago mafia side deal, money and fruit exchanged in an unmarked paper bag. But really, it is some gardener dude who has an unruly amount of elderberry growing in his backyard and knows my papa loves them.  Forgive me;  I digress.

So I set off in search at my local farmer’s market (a success one week) and my food co-op (also an intermittent success) to garner enough to make him a pie and conduct some side “experiments” in natural remedies myself.

Elderberries? Unappreciated? Oh yes, padwan.  The sambucus nigra or “black elderberry” is not just tasty when pied, jammed, or its flowers cordialed,  but it is quite the medicinal tonic.  Once you painstakingly de-stem these little buggers, you have a natural medicine ingredient at the ready.

These gorgeous teeny-tiny berries are held to the main stem with hair-like threads.

What are the benefits of the elderberry?

  • The Native Americans used the elderberry blossom in making a decoction that was used externally for sprains, bruises, as an antiseptic wash and for open wounds on their animals.  They indicate it was also a successful remedy for stomach issues. This may be an indicator as to why the anise-flavored and elderflower infused Sambuca is such a popular digestivo around Italy.
  • A recent study (2004) in The Journal of International Medical Research concluded that elderberry extract relieved patients suffering from Influenza A & B.  They were relieved of their symptoms four days earlier than those of the placebo group. Elderberry proved to inhibit replication of the virus in subjects. Sambucol was one of the brands used in the study (a standardized extract) and it can be found in many natural foods stores if you are wary of making your own.
  • Elderberry extract was shown in a 2009 study to further support this theory, showing elderberry to surpass the effects of Tamiflu on Influenza A strain H1N1 and Influenza A strain H5N1 as well.
  • Elderberries also possess good amounts of Vitamins E and C in addition to many flavonoids, presumable making them good at sickness prevention as well.
Concerns and Complications
  • There seems to be some debate as to whether pregnant women should take elderberry syrup/tincture. So can you take elderberry tincture if pregnant? If you lean on the conservative side, it might be best to avoid this.  Many pregnant or breastfeeding women cite this as no big deal, including Shoshanna, my long-time trusted source at Bulk Herb Store.  The complication may arise in the strength of the dosage rather than the fruit itself IF it is an issue. Choose wisely and for yourself.
  • There are some internet debates as to issues of elderberry extract (or tincture) further replicating one strain of flu, possibly causing it to worsen. it seems perhaps if you have an auto-immune disorder the elderberry tincture may cause the immune system into overdrive and while this is good when you are ill, it may not be good if you have a disorder.  Let me know if you have a good source supporting or negating this.
  • Do not eat raw elderberries. They must be cooked or extracted or tummy aches will ensue.  So I have heard.
  • Red elderberries=toxic too.

Elderberry tincture in the wait.

Personally, I find the notion of preparing one’s own health tonics (though UNSTANDARDIZED) a frugal and possibly more beneficial long-term than relying on medicine that is pushed by companies whose sole purpose is to make a profit, regardless of harm to humans.  When looking for studies, remember it is in the drug companies best interest to discredit herbal remedies as they are certainly bad for business.  Care should be taken in administering natural remedies as if they are working, that means you can hurt oneself with careless use.

What did I craft? Elderberry tincture at a fraction of the cost of Sambucol.

Elderberry Tincture Recipe

  • A glass bottle
  • A dark place
  • Elderberries to fill the bottle halfway.  Fresh or dried will do.
  • Clear alcohol such as vodka
Mash de-stemmed berries into the bottle. Pour alcohol over the berries. Shake. Place in a dark cabinet for two to three months. Strain. Rebottle in small glass containers with a dropper.
Folkloric dosage indications say that 10-30 drops of elderberry tincture are to be administered up to three times a day for adults.  Ten drops once a day are what I take for prevention and I take 30 drops three times a day of elderberry tincture when feeling something come on. I prefer to place them in a cup of water so I do not taste the burn but they may be administered under the tongue for better absorption.

Children may benefit from this tincture at a reduced dose (7-10) drops or be given an elderberry syrup or extraction in glycerin.  This is what most herbal sources I have read seem to say.  I do not have children yet, however, so this remains to be untested.  Personally, I would not recommend administering this to children under 2.  In regards to administering the alcohol tincture to children….your call.  It really is minute.  The main reason for consideration here is that alcohol is a much better solvent than glycerin or sugar water so it is more likely going to have all the components in the berry  and at a stronger concentration to nurture the immune system.  Only you know your children best!!!

Elderberries:  Poor Man's (Woman's) Medicine on Punk Domestics
Good luck with your fall immunity boosting.  Please share any tips or trials you have had with the elderberry in medicinal usage!!!
P.S. Check this site out for more elderberry recipes from Deb (the Aussie over in France)!  She has crafted some syrups and cordials using this medicinal/culinary gem that many of you may enjoy. Cheers!


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§ 41 Responses to Elderberry Tincture: Poor Man’s (Woman’s) Medicine"

  • Krissy says:

    Freezing elderberries first, works well! They come right off the stems when frozen, with minimal effort. I always have my cupboard stock with elderberry tincture at the beginning of winter. At the first signs of a cold of flu coming on, my family will ask for the magic concoction, which is teaspoon of elderberry tincture, tablespoon of honey, juice of 1/2 fresh lemon and a cup of warm water. We rarely have to use anything else.

    • Sheila says:

      I love that other people do this. It makes me feel less crazy! It is hard to get people to try the tincture and by the time they need it they are pretty sick. I do believe it helps!

  • Ellie says:

    I have been making & using Elderberry tincture since the ark landed!! My grandmother was an herbalist/midwife in the western North Carolina Blue Ridge mountains. NO ONE in her very extended family died in the 1918 flu pandemic….Elderberry tincture made with homemade corn liquor & honey was what she prescribed. My family & former employees love the Elderflower champagne. The jelly was one of my best sellers at my little stand beside my side door. Was there for over 30 years & was run on the honor system. I loved the comments…….Ellie

    • Sheila says:

      That is so awesome. Sometimes I wonder if I am crazy for believing so much in it but when I stop taking it, I get sick. I love your story, Ellie and of course your long ancestral experience with this!

    • Ellie says:

      I dearly loved my Granny (my Dad’s mother.) My Mother’s much younger brothers loved to visit her every Saturday afternoon to do chores for her. The first time my husband & I visited my Mother’s youngest brother, after supper they went out onto the porch to sit in the swing & look at the beautiful view while my Aunt & I were cleaning the kitchen. The window from the kitchen onto the porch being open, I overheard my Uncle telling my husband what a great “old timey” cook Granny was. He said, “But there’us one thang about it, you shore didn’t want to go around Granny a lookin’ ary bit puny. Cuz she’d hev you down & dosed with some uv the awfulest tastin’ stuff ever wuz!!” He said it was worth it though, just to get to sleep in Granny’s feather beds.

  • If the elderberry makes you sick when you eat it raw… How come the recipe does not call for cooking?

  • […] Homemade Elderberry Tincture Tutorial […]

  • […] Homemade Elderberry Tincture Tutorial […]

  • Justin says:

    I came here for the recipe, then realized flavor-wise anise seed would add a nice compliment to the elder. Then I checked to see what medicinal properties anise may have and sure enough expectorant was listed along with diuretic and appetite stimulant. Sounds like a good addition to the tincture or the cough syrups being mentioned in the comments. I only had about a tablespoon of seeds left, but wouldn’t have added much more than that anyway since they seem so strong.

    • Sheila says:

      Well, what I do know about anise is that it is an excellent digestivo (great for digestion). It is often used as a base for after dinner liquors in the Mediterranean (think Sambuca, Galliano, Ouzo). I am not a fan of its strong licorice flavor but would be interested in making a separate anise tincture. Thanks for the inspiration there.

  • Pauline Waskiewicz says:

    When I wasa child my friends and me ate raw elderberries every summer and never got sick.

    • Sheila says:

      Good to know. I am not allergic to poison ivy (wooo) so it more than likely works in a similar way depending on the person/species of plant/amount.

    • Dollie says:

      When food ferments it changes digestion, like cheese, yogurt, wine. I would also think the alcohol content would make for a change in digestion.

  • I have used elderberries over the last few years, mostly for making jelly. I have dried them in my dehydrator on the stem and then knocked them off to store. I also have frozen them and then the berries do come off much easier. For making jelly, I take off all the big stems and then put the elderberries in a pan with a little water. I use a low heat until the berries release their juice. I then press on the berries to release as much juice as possible and then then drain over the pan. I compost the berries and stems that are left. This way I get a good amount of juice but don’t have to de-stem the berries.
    Thanks for the recipe for the tincture, I believe I will make some this year to supplement our other flu remedies. Interesting article and good information!

  • […] Homemade Elderberry Tincture Tutorial […]

  • Noel Mc Laughlin says:

    Ifind pulling elderberrys from trees sometimes can a bit painfull I have two skined shins today as the ladder sliped from elder bush Last year ladder sliped and I had to jump ten feet Iwas sore for one month after ,but the taste of the elderberry jelly is worth all the pain

  • […] out of my own mind.  Here’s another blogger’s take on it, using fresh elderberries:  www.loveandwildhoney.com/archives/455.  She uses a higher ratio of elderberries, vodka which is more traditional for tinctures, and she […]

  • […] around this time of year, inevitably I get the flu no matter what I do.  I must say my elderberry tincture shortened the duration but those lymph nodes….ow.  As a result, I grow haggard, tired and in […]

  • […]  Homemade Vanilla.  Oh just DO it!  These will be stocking stuffers for the fam along with some Elderberry Tincture.  I am eternally grateful to the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse for the fabric and ribbon. So […]

  • Bethany says:

    for de-stemming – use a fork! much quicker than just with your fingers.

  • AnnMarie Deis says:

    Now, do you have a secret trick to getting them destemmed? Mine took four days last year and I had a big purple spot (ahem, HUGE purple spot!) on my carpet. I didn’t get any this year because I figured that buying the bottled stuff, although expensive, was better than dealing with the work. LOL! No, it’s really sad.

    • admin says:

      Oh no! Craziness! So, I was warned by my grandpa of this venture but I must have lucked out, seriously.

      The secret? I (de)stemmed while watching Hulu on my phone. Yup. 🙂 I was able to get a few pounds done in an hour. I placed the stems over a big metal bowl and gently pulled them off, throwing the spent stems in a bag. They key though was rinsing them three times in the bowl and skimming off floaters. Though technically, with the tincture you can get away with little stems. For the pie, less so.

      Perhaps the secret is distraction, AnnMarie!

    • Terri says:

      Sambuccol saved my life 2009. I have M.S., many years, Fibromyalgia, not so many, and caught regular flu then H1N1. I was SO SO SOOOO sick! Then 4 wks to the day, I had H1N1 again. Gal at health food store in another city i wS visiting, had me try it. I felt better in 2dsys. I took bre pollen with it and 2days later i was cleaning my house. Then my doctor pretty much made me get the H1N1 vaccine. Was tbst ever stupid! Got it again! But this time i was on it. Elderberry tincture, organic honey, Kombucha (probiotic drink), and i recovered fast. So fast, it seemed like a bad, stupid dream! I swear by that stuff now.

    • Tammy says:

      I have read that if you put the whole stems with berries in the freezer for a few hours or overnight, when you take them out the berries basically fall off the stem. Haven’t tried it yet, so curious to hear whether it works!

    • Sheila says:

      This would rock! Next season I have to remember to try this.

  • Crunchy4LIfe says:

    We love elderberry here & thankful my hubby bought & planted a bush in our yard so I can harvest every year. But we make a syrup 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried elderberries simmered in 3 cups water for 45 mins, then add 1/2 cup honey. Taking 1-2 Tbs every few hours. My 11 yo son will make up symptoms just to have some.

    • Sheila says:

      That is kind of really cute. Do you feel the strength of the syrup does work?

      Right now I just put a dropperful into tea at night or water each morning. Works for me as I need to “watch my sugar” but I would feel more comfortable recommending the syrup to most moms I know.

  • Sheila says:

    Merci, Deb! Oh yeah, so being Aussie, my name must be a riot. 🙂

  • Debbie says:

    Cannot think of recipe off the top of my head. Will transcribe it from my cooking notebook onto my blog sometime next week and send you a link.

    It really works well, and tastes absolutely delicious. A nice bonus!

  • Debbie says:

    Interesting! My doctor agreed with me last year that elderberry syrup worked better than commercial treatments for coughs and colds. I do not distill in alcohol though, I found a recipe that cooks the berries with spices and a bit of sugar to produce a thick syrup. Much more palatable!
    Every year I make elderberry jelly which is used as a spread on toast/bread, an additive to yoghurt, a filling in tarts etc etc. Then there is also the elderberry booze which I add to mixers for those that like a tipple.
    You can buy capsules of elderberry extract at the pharmacy here in France. A good backup in the medicine cabinet as useful for so many ailments.
    Fabulous tree with so many uses!

    • admin says:

      I can’t believe someone in France is reading this. Oh. My. Goodness. Cool. Anyway, thanks for sharing Debbie. This sounds perfect for children or a nice treat with a benefit. Encouraging to hear a doctor supporting the syrup as well. Do you use half sugar and half water to make a simple syrup? How many elderberries do you add? This might be nice for readers who do not use alcohol!

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