Sara's Elderberry – an effective anti-viral and great winter tonic

How can we help support our immune system this time of year- short days, cold temperatures, rain, damp and lots and lots of viruses going round? The humble elderberry is an effective and safe preventative winter immune tonic.

Homemade elderberry cordial

It is believed to prevent the common cold and the flu by inhibiting viral replication. Research has shown that it can significantly reduce the severity of the symptoms of influenza and cut the length of time a person is debilitated by the illness by nearly half (Zakay-Rones et al. 2004). It can also be taken in smaller doses preventively during the cold and flu season. Recent research has also shown that it reduces occurence of illness post air travel (Tiralongo et al., 2016).

Elderberry is extremely nutritive, with high levels of vitamin C, vitamin B-6, calcium, potassium and iron.  Elderberries are also a potent source of carotenoid pigments or flavonoids with antioxidant properties, including quercetin, which help protect cells from oxidative damage.


I use elderberry as part of my winter immune formulas but also as a preventative and take a daily dose in the winter months when I feel most at risk of getting ill. It is also safe for children in lower dosages. It is gentler than Echinacea which can be quite stimulating on the immune system which can be a problem for some people.


How to take it


  • As a decoction with ginger, lemon and honey. ( A decoction is slowly simmering the berries for 15-20mins with the ginger and add honey and lemon whilst off heat-delicious , a warming evening drink).

  • In a tincture ( available from your local herbalist or health food shop or you can make your own. Sara will teach you how to make this and other tinctures on retreat or our online self care course)

  • As a jam.

  • Make a syrup from the dried berries ( you can make from fresh berries collected in early Autumn but now it is by using berries you have dried, frozen  or purchasing them).

Make your own elderberry syrup winter tonic: Sara’s recipe


4 cups cold water

2 cups organic dried elder berries

1 organic cinnamon stick

2 cardamom pods

½ sliced lemon

5 cloves

1-inch piece of ginger sliced

1 cup raw, local honey


How to:


Put the berries and herbs with cold water in a pot and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and allow herbs to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove from heat and mash the berries in the pot.

Strain the berries and herbs through muslin/cheesecloth and squeeze out liquid.

Add honey and gently stir into warm mixture.

Let cool slightly.

Pour into sterilised bottle.

This will keep in fridge for 3- 4 months.


1-2 teaspoons a day for adults, ½ a teaspoon for children over 5.




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Zakay-Rones Z., Thom E., Wollan T., Wadstein J.. (2004) Randomised Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in Treatment of Influenza A & B Virus Infections. The Journal of International Medical Research, 32: 132-140


Tiralongo et al., (2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. Mar 24;8(4):