Is elderberry syrup good for coughs?

Elderberry syrup has become an increasingly popular natural remedy for coughs and colds in recent years. But does it actually work? Here is a comprehensive look at the evidence behind using elderberry syrup to treat coughs.

What is Elderberry Syrup?

Elderberry syrup is made from the berries of the elderberry plant (Sambucus nigra). The berries are cooked with sweeteners like honey or maple syrup to make a concentrated syrup.

Elderberries have long been used in traditional medicine to treat colds, flu, and sinus infections. The berries are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, which are thought to provide some of their beneficial effects.

Commercially prepared elderberry syrups may also contain other herbs and ingredients like cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and echinacea purpurea. The goal is to create a syrup that maximizes the therapeutic effects of elderberries.

Does Elderberry Syrup Help Coughs?

When evaluating whether a natural remedy like elderberry syrup is effective for coughs, it’s important to look at the scientific evidence from clinical trials.

Unfortunately, there have been very few studies specifically looking at elderberry syrup for treating coughs. However, some research does suggest elderberry can have benefits for upper respiratory symptoms in general.

Studies on Elderberry and Colds/Flu

In one randomized study published in Nutrients, 312 economy class passengers on a 10-hour flight were given either elderberry syrup or a placebo daily for 10 days before and after travel. The elderberry group had significantly fewer cold episodes and less severe symptoms.

Another study in Phytochemistry looked at the effect of elderberry solution standardized to contain a certain level of flavonoids. Sixty patients with flu-like symptoms were given the elderberry solution or a placebo for 4 days. The elderberry group had symptom relief an average of 4 days earlier.

A review in Phytotherapy Research analyzed the results of randomized controlled trials on elderberry. They concluded elderberry can reduce upper respiratory symptoms related to colds and flu. The effects seem to be greater if the syrup is started early on in an illness.

While these studies didn’t look at coughs specifically, they do indicate elderberry can help improve upper respiratory symptoms. Since cough is one of the main symptoms of colds and flu, it’s plausible elderberry could benefit coughs as well.

Possible Mechanisms

Researchers have proposed a few ways elderberry syrup may help coughs and other upper respiratory symptoms:

  • The flavonoids in elderberry have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that could improve respiratory immune function.
  • Elderberry extracts have shown antiviral activity against influenza viruses in lab studies. This could limit viral replication and reduce duration/severity of illness.
  • Elderberry may enhance immune function by increasing cytokine production.
  • Flavonoids may act as cough suppressants by influencing the area of the brain that triggers cough reflex.

However, more clinical research is needed to confirm if and how well these mechanisms work in humans after taking elderberry syrup.

Other Potential Benefits

In addition to possible cough relief, some other potential benefits of elderberry include:

  • Supports immune function – elderberry is high in vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects – the flavonoids may reduce inflammation.
  • Antiviral activity – shown against influenza viruses in lab research.
  • Wound healing – studies show elderberry extracts can accelerate wound healing.
  • Heart health – anthocyanins in elderberry improve endothelial function and reduce risk factors for CVD.
  • Diabetes – may lower blood sugar and insulin resistance related to high-fat diets in animal studies.

How to Take Elderberry for Coughs

For coughs, elderberry syrup can be taken in a few different ways:

  • By the teaspoon as needed to soothe coughs.
  • 1-2 tbsp daily at the first signs of illness to potentially head off infection.
  • Regular daily doses throughout cold/flu season to support immune function.

When using elderberry syrup, be sure to follow the dosage recommendations on the product you purchase. If making your own syrup, typical dosing is:

  • Adults: 1-2 tbsp daily
  • Kids: 1 tsp daily per year of age

For best results, take elderberry syrup at the first signs of cough/cold. Research indicates it’s more effective when started in the early stages of infection.

Elderberry Syrup Recipes

You can find good quality elderberry syrups at most health food stores or online. But making your own syrup at home is also easy. Here are a couple tasty recipes to try:

Simple Elderberry Syrup


  • 1 cup fresh or dried elderberries
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-3 tbsp honey


  1. Simmer dried elderberries and water in a saucepan for 30-45 minutes until liquid is reduced by about half.
  2. Remove from heat and mash berries to release more juice.
  3. Strain mixture through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer into a glass jar.
  4. Add honey while syrup is still warm and stir until dissolved.
  5. Store in the fridge for up to 2 months.

Elderberry Syrup with Echinacea and Vitamin C


  • 1 cup fresh or dried elderberries
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger root
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1⁄4 tsp cloves
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp echinacea purpurea extract
  • 1 tsp vitamin C powder


  1. Simmer elderberries, water, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves for 30-45 mins until liquid reduces by half.
  2. Strain into jar and stir in lemon juice, honey, echinacea, and vitamin C.
  3. Allow to cool fully before covering and refrigerating for up to 2 months.

Is Elderberry Syrup Safe?

For most people, elderberry syrup is very safe when used appropriately. Possible side effects can include:

  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Dizziness or headache
  • Allergic reactions (uncommon)

Elderberry is not recommended for:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women – safety is unknown.
  • Children under 1 year old – risk of toxicity.
  • People with autoimmune diseases – may stimulate immune system.

Speak with your doctor before taking if you have any concerns or health conditions. And always follow dosage on the product label when taking elderberry syrup.

The Bottom Line

Here is a quick summary of the key points:

  • Elderberry syrup may help relieve coughs by shortening duration and severity of colds and flu.
  • The flavonoids and antioxidants in elderberries likely provide anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune enhancing effects.
  • There is some evidence elderberry can improve upper respiratory symptoms from clinical trials.
  • Taking elderberry syrup at the first signs of illness provides the greatest benefits.
  • Making homemade elderberry syrup is easy with just elderberries, water, and honey.
  • Elderberry is very safe for most people when taken as recommended.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much elderberry syrup should I take daily?

For adults, 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 mL) daily is commonly recommended. For children, give 1 teaspoon (5 mL) daily per year of age. Always follow dosage recommendations on the specific product you are using.

When should I take elderberry syrup for best results?

Research indicates elderberry syrup works best when started at the very first symptoms of a cough or cold. Taking it preventatively before illness strikes may also be helpful. Continue taking it for several days after symptoms resolve to boost healing.

Is Elderberry safe for pregnancy?

There is not sufficient research to establish whether elderberry is safe during pregnancy. Until more is known, it is best avoided.

Can I take elderberry syrup long term or daily?

There have been no reported adverse effects with long term elderberry use when taken at recommended dosages. However, most experts recommend limiting intake to a few months at a time, taking breaks periodically.

Does elderberry syrup interact with medications?

Elderberry syrup is unlikely to interact negatively with most medications. However, because it stimulates the immune system, it is not recommended for people taking immunosuppressant drugs. Talk with your doctor if you take any prescription medications.

The Bottom Line

Research indicates elderberry syrup may help relieve coughs and other upper respiratory symptoms related to colds or the flu. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of elderberry provide immune enhancing and antiviral benefits. While more clinical trials are still needed, the current evidence and traditional use suggests elderberry can be a helpful natural cough remedy.

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