What are the benefits of elderberry syrup?

Elderberry syrup has become an increasingly popular natural remedy in recent years. Made from the berries of the elderberry plant, this dark purple syrup is touted as having a variety of potential health benefits. But what does the science say about elderberry syrup? Here we’ll explore what elderberry syrup is, its proposed benefits, and whether the claims hold up to scientific scrutiny.

What is elderberry syrup?

Elderberry syrup is made by cooking elderberries with water and sugar to make a concentrated syrup. Elderberries are the small, deep purple berries that grow on elderberry bushes. There are several different species of elderberry, but Sambucus nigra is the type most commonly used for syrup production.

In addition to elderberries, elderberry syrup may contain other ingredients for flavor such as cinnamon, cloves, or ginger. The syrup has a thick, sticky consistency and a deep reddish-purple hue. It has a sweet, earthy taste that some describe as similar to molasses or prunes.

Elderberry syrup has been used as a traditional folk remedy in North America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. However, its recent popularity is likely due in part to the belief that it may help treat or prevent colds, flu, and other respiratory infections.

What are the proposed benefits of elderberry syrup?

Advocates suggest that elderberry syrup may offer a variety of health benefits, including:

  • Treating colds and flu symptoms
  • Shortening duration of colds and flu
  • Boosting immunity
  • Providing antioxidants
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving heart health

Let’s take a closer look at each of these purported benefits.

Treating and shortening colds and flu

Some of the strongest scientific evidence for elderberry syrup is in its use for colds and influenza (flu). Several studies have found that elderberry syrup may help treat symptoms of these infections and shorten their duration.

In one study with 60 participants, those who took 15 mL of elderberry syrup four times a day recovered from flu symptoms roughly 4 days faster than those taking a placebo. The syrup was also found to significantly reduce symptoms like fever, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, and fatigue.

Another study gave patients elderberry syrup or a placebo for 3 days prior to overseas air travel. The elderberry group had a 58% lower risk of developing a cold during travel compared to the placebo group.

Researchers think that elderberry works by blocking viruses from attaching to and infecting human cells. It may also boost immune function to help the body clear the infection sooner.

Boosting immunity

In addition to treating active infections, some believe that elderberry syrup may also boost immune function to help prevent future illnesses. It’s known that elderberries contain vitamin C, an essential nutrient for immune health.

One study found that consuming 500 mg of an elderberry extract daily for 2 weeks increased production of inflammatory and infection-fighting proteins in healthy adults. Participants also had higher levels of antibodies against both influenza B and streptococcus bacteria.

However, more research is needed to confirm whether long-term use of elderberry syrup can boost immunity and decrease risk of infection.

Providing antioxidants

Elderberries are high in polyphenols, compounds that act as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help protect cells against oxidative stress, a type of damage linked to chronic inflammation, disease, and aging.

Specifically, elderberries contain anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol that gives the berries their rich purple color. Anthocyanins have strong antioxidant properties and may help lower inflammation.

By providing anthocyanins and other antioxidants, elderberry syrup may help decrease oxidative stress. However, more studies are needed.

Reducing inflammation

Chronic inflammation is thought to contribute to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Compounds in elderberry syrup, including anthocyanins, may help fight inflammation.

Test-tube and animal studies suggest anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory effects. They may reduce markers of inflammation and decrease production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

However, human studies are lacking, so more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made about elderberry’s effects on inflammation.

Improving heart health

Some claim that elderberry syrup may also boost heart health. It’s possible that the antioxidants in elderberry could help reduce factors involved in cardiovascular disease risk.

One rat study found that giving elderberry juice to rats fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet prevented increased blood cholesterol levels. This suggests potential cardiovascular benefits, but more studies in humans are needed.

Additionally, while elderberry syrup is high in vitamin C, another nutrient linked to heart health, the amount in typical servings is likely too low to significantly impact heart disease risk.

Is elderberry syrup safe?

When used as recommended, elderberry syrup is generally considered safe for otherwise healthy adults and children. However, there are some potential side effects and precautions to be aware of.

Possible side effects

Reported side effects are typically mild and include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

For most people, these can be avoided by consuming elderberry syrup in moderation and with food.

Medication interactions

Elderberry syrup may interact with certain medications. Compounds in elderberry may have effects similar to immunosuppressant drugs. Using elderberry along with medication may increase the risk of organ transplant rejection.

Those on diuretics or laxatives should also use elderberry syrup with caution, as it could potentially exacerbate these effects.

Additionally, due to its potential antiviral activities, some advise against taking elderberry syrup if you are taking the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

If you take any prescription medications, check with your healthcare provider before using elderberry syrup.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding precautions

There is limited research on the safety of elderberry use during pregnancy. Animal studies suggest some possible risks from high doses, but human data is lacking.

For this reason, it’s recommended to avoid elderberry syrup during pregnancy unless approved by your healthcare provider. The same precaution applies to breastfeeding women.

Autoimmune disorder warning

Some sources advise against elderberry syrup use in those with autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis. The reasoning is that it may stimulate the immune system and potentially worsen disease activity.

However, there’s no research directly showing harms in those with autoimmunity. Those with autoimmune disorders may consider using elderberry syrup under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

How to take elderberry syrup

For colds and flu, studies typically use around 15 mL of elderberry syrup taken 4 times per day. Doses are often concentrated into the early stages of infection for best efficacy.

For general immune support, lower maintenance doses of 5–15 mL taken 1–2 times daily are common.

Elderberry syrup can be taken directly off the spoon or mixed into hot or cold liquids like water, tea, or smoothies. It has a thick consistency, so diluting it sometimes makes it easier to take.

It’s best taken with food to minimize potential stomach upset. Children may tolerate diluted doses better than taking it straight.

Is store-bought or homemade elderberry syrup better?

You can buy premade elderberry syrup from health food stores and pharmacies or make it yourself at home. Here’s how the two options compare:


  • Convenient and easy to use
  • Typically pasteurized for safety
  • Often combined with complementary ingredients like vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea
  • May contain added preservatives
  • More expensive than homemade


  • Full control over ingredients
  • Can customize recipe to your liking
  • Lower cost compared to buying premade
  • Requires more time and effort
  • Possible food safety risk if not properly prepared

For most people, the choice comes down to convenience versus cost. If you don’t have time to make your own or want other added ingredients, store-bought is a good option. But homemade can be simple and economical if you have access to fresh or frozen elderberries.

Homemade elderberry syrup recipe

Making elderberry syrup at home lets you control the ingredients while saving money. Here is a simple 4-ingredient recipe:


  • 1 cup fresh or frozen elderberries
  • 3 cups water
  • 2–3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, cloves, or ginger (optional)


  1. Combine elderberries and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 30–45 minutes until berries burst and release juice.
  3. Remove from heat. Pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing on solids to extract liquid.
  4. Add remaining water and honey/maple syrup to strained liquid. Stir to dissolve sweetener.
  5. Add spices if desired. Allow to cool before transferring to an airtight container.
  6. Refrigerate and use within 2–3 weeks.

Make sure to inspect elderberries and wash them thoroughly before use. Simmering helps kill any bacteria present.

For longer storage, consider canning or freezing homemade elderberry syrup in batches.

The bottom line

Research suggests elderberry syrup may offer some benefits, especially for treating colds and flu. It appears relatively safe when consumed in normal food amounts.

However, many of the other purported benefits like improved immunity, heart health, and inflammation need further research.

Elderberry syrup makes a convenient remedy to keep on hand during cold and flu season. But consider trying other evidence-based immune supports like vitamin C, zinc, and proper sleep and stress management as well.

As with any natural supplement, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider before use if you take any medications or have underlying health conditions.

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