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  • Emily Boese, BNatMed

Backyard Pharmacy Part 1- Elderberry Syrup

So I just did a fabulous talk at the Kelowna Food Forest, a rad initiative run by the Okanagan Food Policy Council (check them out here or on Facebook).

The topic was Backyard Pharmacy- how to identify and use a few key local Kelowna plants for your own medicines!

Today I'm going to share a bit about one of my favourite medicinal plants, Elder (Sambucus nigra, or the local species, Sambucus cerulea). This is perfect timing as the berries are currently ripe and waiting to be picked!

*NOTE* NEVER eat any plants in the wild unless you are 157% sure that they are the right plant! Best case scenario- the wrong plant doesn't do the medicinal thing you were hoping for. Worst case- it's poisonous. Bad news.

All about Elder:

Description: Shrub or small tree with light green, pointy leaves. Flowers are tiny, white, and grow in little umbrellas. Berries are dark purple/black and grow in bunches like the flowers (called "drupes")

Sambucus cerulea- is more drought-tolerant than Sambucus nigra, great for the Okanagan. A big thank you to Gwen Steele from the Okanagan Xeriscape Association for teaching me about this fabulous local plant!

This beauty is just waiting to be harvested :)

Part of plant used: Flowers (traditional medicinal use) or berries

Uses: Flowers Great for sinuses- helps to break up mucus Common cold, sinusitis Fever- help to support a fever, bring on sweating (Traditional tea made of Yarrow, Elderflower, and Peppermint a great fever remedy)

Berries Antiviral, stimulate immune system Great at the start of a cold/flu Tasty and great for kids!

How to make it into medicine: Flowers- make a great tea, tincture. Elderflower champagne! (Probably not that medicinal :) )

Berries- Tincture or syrup

Safety: Don’t eat the unripe fruit or the leaves. They contain higher amounts of a cyanoglycoside- a (mild) cyanide. Don't panic though, as many plants that we commonly eat also contain these compounds- think apples, cherries, almonds, apricots.

Many sources also recommend cooking the berries before eating. Again, I think no need to panic, but they may give you a tummy ache if you really go to town on them.

Elderberry Syrup


  • 1 cup black elderberries (Sambucus nigra or Sambucus cerulea)

  • 3 ½ cups water

  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger root

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 1 cup organic cane sugar or honey (if you use honey the syrup will need to be refrigerated. Sugar is a better preservative)

Pour elderberries, water and spices into a medium pot

Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for about 1 hour, or until the liquid has reduced almost by half.

Allow to cool a bit, and then strain out the liquid. (Some people like to mash the elderberries before straining- up to you!)

If you are using sugar- you can add this immediately and stir until totally dissolved.

If you are using honey, especially raw or medicinal honey (ie: Manuka), then let the mixture cool to just above lukewarm before adding the honey, as this preserves the honey’s medicinal qualities. Stir until mixed through.

Store in clean glass mason jars, or re-use glass syrup or dressing bottles.


Remember this is a food, so don’t need to be too precise with dosing. But don’t go crazy, either!

Kids Prevent: ½-1tsp 1 x daily. Treat: ½- 1tsp 3 x daily

Adults Prevent: ½-1tbsp 1 x daily Treat: ½-1tbsp 3-5 x daily

Can also be used as a delicious syrup, ie: on pancakes, yogurt, or ice cream!


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