Elderberry: Culinary & Medicinal Uses

Looking for a natural way to boost your immune system? Look no further than elderberry! This powerful little berry has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties and is now gaining popularity as a health supplement. But elderberry isn’t just good for you, it’s also delicious! In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of elderberry, how to use it in the kitchen, and even share some tasty recipes for you to try. So, whether you’re a health nut or a foodie, keep reading to discover the wonders of elderberry.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a wild plant that has been used for centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes. The elderberry plant is known for its beautiful white flowers and clusters of dark purple berries. Elderberries are a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways, from jams and jellies to teas and syrups, and even as a natural remedy for common ailments such as cold and flu symptoms.

In terms of medicinal uses, elderberries are known for their immune-boosting properties. The berries contain high levels of antioxidants, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals that help to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Elderberry syrup is a popular remedy for cold and flu symptoms, as it can help to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. The syrup is also effective in reducing the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms.

Aside from its medicinal properties, elderberry is also a popular ingredient in many culinary dishes. The flowers can be used to make elderflower cordial, a refreshing drink that is perfect for hot summer days. The berries can be used to make jams, jellies, and even wine. Elderberry has a rich, fruity flavor that pairs well with a variety of ingredients, making it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen.

In addition to its culinary and medicinal uses, elderberry is also a popular plant in traditional medicine. In many cultures, elderberry is believed to have spiritual properties and is used in spiritual ceremonies. The plant is also believed to have cleansing and purifying properties and is often used in smudging rituals.

Varieties of Elderberry

Elderberries are a diverse group of wild, semi-domesticated, and farmed species that share numerous morphological, physiological, genetic, biological, and biochemical properties.

One of the most common types of elderberry is the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). It is a tall and hardy plant that grows wild among fields and meadows in the United States. The fruit of this plant is small and dark purple, and it is commonly used for jams, jellies, pies, and wine. Adams is a cultivar of the American elderberry and is one of the most common elderberries grown in North America. It is similar to those found growing wild and is an excellent choice for home gardens.

The European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is another widely cultivated variety that is native to Europe and North Africa. It grows into a large, adaptable shrub or bush that provides shade and protection for foragers, wildlife, and bees. The fruit of the European elderberry is larger and darker than that of the American elderberry, and it is commonly used for making wine, cordials, and jams. The flowers of the European elderberry are also edible and can be used in salads, teas, and fritters.

Black Lace and Lemon Lace are two popular cultivars of the European elderberry. Black Lace is a fast-growing plant with dark purple foliage that makes an excellent accent plant in a garden. Lemon Lace has bright yellow-green foliage and is a dwarf variety that is perfect for container gardens.

Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemona var. racemona) is a type of elderberry that is native to North America. It produces red berries that are not commonly used for culinary purposes but are an excellent source of food for birds and wildlife. Red Elderberry is often used in landscaping due to its attractive, showy flowers that bloom in the summer.

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana or Sambucus nigra var. caerulea) is a type of elderberry native to the western United States. It produces small, dark blue berries that are used for making jams, jellies, and wine. The flowers of the Blue Elderberry are also edible and are used in teas, fritters, and salads.

Culinary Uses for Elderberry

First and foremost, it is essential to note that raw elderberries contain toxic cyanide precursors that become cyanide within the human body when consumed. It is recommended that raw elderberries should not be consumed. This is because there is no known way to determine the safe amount of raw berries that can be eaten and still avoid illness. Some people seem to be able to consume them with no ill effects, while others can eat only a few berries and become ill. However, when cooked, the berries are safe to eat and can be used in various culinary applications.

One of the most popular ways to use Elderberry is in the creation of syrups and jams. Elderberry syrup is a popular home remedy for colds and flu and can also be used as a sweetener for cocktails and other beverages. Elderberry jam is delicious on toast, scones, or mixed with yogurt.

Elderberry can also be used in savory dishes, adding a unique flavor and deep purple color. The berries can be cooked down and used as a sauce for meats or added to stews and soups. They also pair well with game meats like venison.

In addition to the berries, the flowers of the Elderberry plant can also be used in culinary applications. Elderflower cordial is a popular beverage in Europe and can be used to flavor cocktails, desserts, and other sweet treats. The flowers can also be battered and fried for a unique appetizer.

Elderberry can also be used to make tea. The dried berries and flowers can be steeped in hot water to create a fragrant and flavorful beverage that is rich in antioxidants.

When sourcing Elderberry for culinary uses, it is important to ensure that you are using a reputable and safe source. If you are foraging for them be sure that you can make the proper identification. Elderberries can be contaminated with harmful bacteria or toxins, so it is best to purchase them from a trusted supplier or harvest them from a known safe location.


Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup is a popular natural remedy for cold and flu symptoms. It is believed to help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. Elderberries are a rich source of vitamins A and C, which are essential for a healthy immune system. If you’re looking to make your own elderberry syrup at home, here are some easy-to-follow recipes to get you started.

One classic recipe for elderberry syrup involves simmering 2 cups of dried organic elderberries with 4 cups of cold water, 2-3 teaspoons of organic dried ginger root, and a sweet cinnamon stick for about an hour. The mixture is then strained through a fine sieve and sweetened with honey to taste.

Another recipe calls for simmering 3/4 cup of dried elderberries with 3 cups of water, dried cinnamon or a cinnamon stick, and dried cloves or clove essential oil for about 45-60 minutes. The mixture is then strained and sweetened with honey.

For a simpler recipe, combine water, elderberries, ginger, cinnamon stick, and cloves in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, then mash the berries with a potato masher to release their juices. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, discard the pulp, cinnamon stick, and cloves, and sweeten with honey to taste.

Regardless of the recipe you choose, it’s important to store your elderberry syrup in the refrigerator and use it within a few weeks. Elderberry syrup can also be added to tea or mixed with sparkling water for a refreshing beverage. With these recipes, you can make your own elderberry syrup at home and enjoy its potential health benefits.

Elderberry Wine

Elderberry wine is a delicious and satisfying beverage that can be enjoyed on its own or as an accompaniment to a meal. Here is a recipe for making elderberry wine:


  • 4 pounds of elderberries, cleaned and destemmed
  • 3 pounds of granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient
  • 1 teaspoon of acid blend
  • 1 packet of wine yeast
  • Water


  1. Place the cleaned and destemmed elderberries into a mesh-straining bag and tie a knot at the top.
  2. In a large pot, bring 1 gallon of water to a boil and then remove from heat. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
  3. Place the straining bag filled with elderberries into a sanitized primary fermentation bin.
  4. Pour the hot syrup over the elderberries in the straining bag and use a potato masher to thoroughly crush the berries.
  5. Add the yeast nutrient and acid blend to the mixture and stir.
  6. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
  7. Once cooled, sprinkle the wine yeast packet over the top of the mixture and stir gently.
  8. Cover the primary fermentation bin with a sanitized lid or cloth and let the mixture ferment for 5-7 days, stirring twice daily.
  9. After 5-7 days, remove the straining bag and allow the wine to sit for another 7-10 days.
  10. Siphon the wine off of the lees into a sanitized carboy and let it age for at least 6 months before bottling.

It is important to note that the recipe can be adjusted based on the sweetness and acidity of the elderberries being used. The sugar and acid blend can be increased or decreased depending on the initial brix reading of the juice. A general formula for calculating the amount of sugar needed is ((Target Brix – Initial Brix reading) x 0.125 x gallons of juice = pounds of sugar to add).

There are many variations of elderberry wine recipes available online, but this recipe is a great starting point for anyone interested in making their own elderberry wine.

Uses for Elderberries When Cooking Venison

Elderberry is a great ingredient to add to venison recipes as it adds a delicious tangy flavor that complements the rich taste of the meat. Here is a recipe for using elderberry when cooking venison.


  • 4 venison steaks
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup elderberry sauce
  • 1/4 cup juniper schnapps or gin


  1. Take the venison steaks out of the refrigerator and let them sit for an hour to come to room temperature.
  2. Remove all silver skin and pat the steaks dry with paper towels. Season them with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Melt half of the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the venison steaks and fry them for about 4 minutes per side. Once done, remove the steaks from the pan and cover them with aluminum foil.
  4. Drain the fat from the pan and deglaze the remaining cooking juices with juniper schnapps or gin. Then, add the elderberry sauce to the pan and let it simmer briefly.
  5. Once the sauce is ready, pour it over the venison steaks and serve hot. You can also serve the dish with mashed potatoes or vegetables on the side.

Bonus Recipe: If you are interested in making your own elderberry sauce, here is a simple recipe to try:


  • 2 cups elderberries
  • 18 cups water
  • 1 cup raw honey


  1. Add the elderberries and water into a big pot and bring to a boil. Turn it down to a gentle simmer and let it simmer for an hour. Turn off the heat and let it cool until warm.
  2. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or thin tea towel, squeezing out all the good stuff! Then whisk in honey – 1 cup of good raw honey for every 2 cups of juice.
  3. Once the elderberry sauce is ready, store it in clean Mason jars or other containers with clean lids or corks. Use it to top off your venison steaks or any other recipe that calls for elderberry sauce.

Medicinal Uses for Elderberry

Elderberry is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. The berries are commonly used to make syrups, teas, and tinctures. Elderberry syrup is an excellent natural remedy for cold and flu symptoms. It can help to reduce fever, coughing, and congestion. The syrup is also beneficial for the immune system as it can help to boost the body’s defenses against infections.

Elderberry is also known for its anti-viral properties. The plant contains flavonoids that have been found to be effective against different strains of the flu virus. Elderberry extract can reduce the duration and severity of flu symptoms, making it a popular natural alternative to conventional flu medications.

Elderberry can also be used to promote heart health. The plant contains compounds that can help to reduce cholesterol levels and improve circulation. The berries can be eaten raw (although not recommended) or cooked and can be added to salads or used as a topping for desserts.

When using elderberry for medicinal purposes, it is essential to use the plant correctly. Raw elderberries contain a compound that can be toxic in large amounts, so it is best to cook the berries before eating them. They contain compounds known as cyanogenic glycosides (prunasin, sambunigrin, zierin, holocalin, and others) which can cause cyanide poisoning if ingested in large amounts. Heat treating the berries by cooking destroys these cyanide precursors and renders them safe for consumption. It is also recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before using elderberry to treat any health condition.

Possible Side-Effects

Like any medicinal herb, elderberry can have side effects and can interact with other medications. It is important to understand the potential side effects and drug interactions of using elderberry for medicinal purposes.

First, it is important to note that elderberry is safe for most people when taken in recommended doses. However, there are certain populations who should avoid using elderberries, such as pregnant or nursing women, children, and those with compromised immune systems. Additionally, people with known allergies to plants in the Sambucus genus should avoid using elderberry.

When taken in recommended doses, the most common side effects of elderberry include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is also possible to experience an allergic reaction to elderberry, leading to skin rash, itching, and hives.

Elderberry can also cause low blood sugar in some people, so it is important to monitor your blood sugar levels if you are taking elderberry.

Elderberry can also interact with certain medications. It can interact with antidiabetic medications, as well as medications that are processed by the liver. Elderberry can also interact with immunosuppressants, so it is important to consult with your healthcare provider before taking elderberry if you are taking any medications.

If you would like more information on wild plants in the Ozarks region that can be used for medicinal and edible uses, you might like our blog.


Q: What are the different varieties of elderberry?

A: There are several varieties of elderberry, including American elderberry, European elderberry, blue elderberry, and Mexican elderberry.

Q: What are some culinary uses for elderberry?

A: Elderberries can be used to make jams, jellies, pies, and syrups. They can also be used in savory dishes like sauces and marinades.

Q: What are some recipes that use elderberry?

A: Two popular elderberry recipes are elderberry syrup and elderberry wine. Elderberries can also be used when cooking venison.

Q: How do you make elderberry syrup?

A: To make elderberry syrup, you will need elderberries, water, honey, and a few spices. Simmer the ingredients together until the mixture reduces and thickens, then strain and store in the fridge.

Q: How do you make elderberry wine?

A: To make elderberry wine, you will need elderberries, sugar, water, yeast, and a few other ingredients. The process involves fermenting the elderberry juice with the other ingredients, then bottling and aging the wine.

Q: How can elderberry be used for medicinal purposes?

A: Elderberry has been used for centuries to boost the immune system and alleviate symptoms of colds and flu. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Q: Are there any potential side effects of using elderberry?

A: While elderberry is generally safe for most people, consuming large quantities of raw elderberries can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Additionally, people with autoimmune diseases or taking certain medications should consult with a healthcare provider before using elderberry for medicinal purposes.

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