In our August newsletter I wrote about the wonderful berries that we can gather for free at this time of year.

Tone has been busy in the kitchen making elderberry syrup to help boost immunity during the winter months.

I came across this nice recipe which uses honey instead of sugar as a sweetener and also acts as a preservative, and this ties in beautifully with new research that was published last week by the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.

The researchers concluded that using honey is a suitable alternative to antibiotics in upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs): ‘Since the majority of URTIs are viral, antibiotic prescription is both ineffective and inappropriate.”

They conclude: “Honey is a frequently used lay remedy that is well known to patients. It is also cheap, easy to access, and has limited harms. When clinicians wish to prescribe for URTI, we would recommend honey as an alternative to antibiotics.

“Honey is more effective and less harmful than usual care alternatives and avoids causing harm through antimicrobial resistance.”

Manuka honey has a long history of use for its anti-microbial properties which is graded according to its quality and potency.  The higher the UMF (unique Manuka factor) the better the health giving properties. Some jars display MGO, (methylglyoxal) which equates to the same sort of measurement.

However, there is research that shows many different honeys also have antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – especially ‘raw’ honey that has not been exposed to heat treatments and filtering.

A word of warning …..

Honey is a form of ‘added’ sugar and is processed by the body in a similar way to other types of sugar.  However honey takes longer to digest than table sugar, providing a more sustainable energy and provides more vitamins, minerals and beneficial bacteria than table sugars.

Elderflower syrup

This recipe is from the Nerdy Farm Wife.  I have added e a few suggestions of my own in italics.


  • 1 part fresh, fully ripe black elderberries (*see note for dried)
  • 2 parts water
  • 1 part raw honey (check local farmer’s markets or health stores)
  • Optional: small bit of cinnamon stick and/or ginger root (dried or fresh). You could also add a few sprigs of thyme (dried or fresh – remember dried has a stronger flavour). Thyme is traditionally used to ease sore throats and has antimicrobial properties.


  1. Gather the fresh berries and make sure no stems remain. (The stems – as do the seeds, leaves, roots – have some level of toxic compounds in them).
  2. Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with twice as much water. (i.e. for 1 cup of berries, use 2 cups of water).
  3. If you’d like, add a piece of cinnamon stick and/or dried or fresh ginger. These are both warming herbs and great for when you feel like you’re catching a cold. They also add an extra level of tastiness!
  4. Place the pan over a medium burner and bring to a simmer.
  5. Adjust the heat as needed, to keep the berries at a low simmer and cook for around 30 minutes, smashing the berries with a fork occasionally as they cook (be careful not to crush the seeds)
  6. Strain the juice from the cooked elderberries into a glass jar or pitcher.
  7. Discard the seeds and pulp, as the seeds should not be eaten.
  8. Let the juice cool to a comfortably warm, but not cold, temperature, then stir in an equal amount of raw honey.

*  To make this with dried elder berries, use 1/2 part dried berries instead of 1 part fresh. So, for 1/2 cup dried berries, you’d use 2 cups of water. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, strain juice then mix with equal parts of honey. Organic dried elder berries are widely available online or health food stores.

Why raw honey? Because it has its own antiviral properties – see links at the end of the article to read more.  It also helps act as a preservative to keep your elderberry juice from spoiling quickly.

To maintain its benefits, raw honey shouldn’t be heated over around 110°F (43°C).

Storing & Using Elderberry Syrup

At this point, you can store the finished syrup in your refrigerator for several weeks or freeze the finished syrup in ice trays and store the individual cubes in freezer bags. Always thaw herbal mixtures in the refrigerator overnight, since high heat and microwaves will destroy many of the beneficial properties.


Take 1 to 2 tablespoons of elderberry syrup 4 times a day, or more often if needed, when sick with cold and flu symptoms. (This is an adult dose, use less for children.)

If symptoms worsen or you feel concerned, check with your doctor or family health care provider for further guidance.

NB:     Honey should not be given to children under 1 year old.