Have I ever told you about the time my entire family came down with Face Punch Disease? That was not what it was actually called, of course, but it perfectly describes what it felt like. We’d been traveling a lot that fall, and not taking our elderberry syrup or our fire cider. This year I’m prepared – I’ve got our natural remedy kit READY. TO. GO.
Since I ordered a big bag of black elderberries (Sambucus nigra), I’ve been experimenting with new ways to take advantage of their benefits. My kids love this elderberry jam and these elderberry gummies, and they’re also huge fans of this tea.
We’ll dive into what makes this tea so special in a minute, but first I want to mention that none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. As always, please talk with your healthcare provider about any herbs you are considering. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive in.
3 Health Benefits of Elderberry Tea
“For more than 1,000 years, herbalists have revered elder’s abilities, and mentions of the shrub are included in many important historical texts,” writes herbalist Rosalee De La Foret, adding that although it’s primarily used to support the body during cold and flu season there are other benefits, too. (1)
What benefits, you ask? Elderberries are rich in several constituents such as flavonoids and anthocyanins, which are highly bioactive antioxidants that:
- Help the body absorb vitamin C – This is important because Vitamin C is essential for immune function and other processes like collagen synthesis (2)
- Have immunomodulatory effects (Supports the immune system)
- Support a healthy inflammatory response – According to tradition, in 1899 an American sailor accidentally discovered that port wine colored with elderberries eased his aches. (3)
Although not technically a benefit, it also happens to be delicious when simmered with a cinnamon stick or a few slices of ginger. You can also brew it with other immune supportive herbs such as echinacea. However, the process of making elderberry tea is a little different than most herbal teas, and you’ll want to use a two-step process if you incorporate echinacea.
Here’s why: As I cover in this post on different types of herbal preparations, roots, bark, berries woody plant parts need a little coaxing to release their therapeutic compounds. They need to simmer in water for 20-60 minutes (depending on the herb and what you’re trying to achieve), but that’s way too long for delicate flowers like echinacea.
For that reason, I suggest simmering the elderberry tea first and then adding the echinacea near the end.
How To Use Elderberry Tea
Elderberry is often taken daily (or nearly so) during cold and flu season to support healthy immune function.
Lately I’ve been making a big of this tea at breakfast for my family to sip on throughout the day. I keep it in a pitcher on the counter and they pour themselves a glass whenever they’re thirsty. It’s an easy, delicious way to get extra nutrients into them, and it saves me tons of time. (Making a regular cup of tea and a massive one takes about the same amount of effort, but with the massive cup I get something warm and yummy to sip on AND happy family members.)
Elderberry Tea Recipe
- Place elderberries, water and cinnamon/ginger (if using) in a pot. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 20 minutes, then strain out the berries. If you're incorporating echinacea, add it to the tea, cover, and allow to steep for 5 minutes, then strain.
- Sweeten with raw honey or your preferred sweetener if desired before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to the most common questions I’ve received over the years. If you don’t see your question mentioned, please leave it in the comments below!
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook: 2nd Edition, elderberries are a Safety Class 1A herb, which is the safest rating possible. Herbs in this category are described as:
“Herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
* History of safe traditional use
* No case reports of significant adverse events with high probability of causality
* No significant adverse events in clinical trials
* No identified concerns for use during pregnancy or lactation
* No innately toxic constituents
* Toxicity associated with excessive use is not a basis for exclusion from this class
* Minor or self-limiting side effects are not bases for exclusion from this class”
However, according to Herbal Medicine for Beginners, which was co-authored CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism founders Katja Swift and Ryn Midura, “Large amounts of fresh elderberries have a laxative effect. Cook elderberries for food use.”
As always, check with your doctor before adding herbs to your diet, and listen to your intuition to help you make the best choice for yourself.
The elder plant “has a stimulating effect on immune function. These actions are strongest in the berries but are also present in the flowers. Elderberries can even help preserve immune function as we age, due to their high antioxidant content.
Elderflowers are a relaxing diaphoretic, meaning they assist in ‘sweating out’ a fever. Elder is especially helpful when fever and chills alternate. A hot cup of tea is the best preparation for this result. This diaphoretic action can also work emotionally, helping release intense emotions or worry and allowing the mind to relax.” (Herbal Medicine for Beginners)
Over the past few days I’ve received some questions about whether elderberry can cause an immune system overreaction called a cytokine storm.
Stephen Buhner, author of Herbal Antivirals has this to say on the subject. In short, he prefers elder leaf to elderberry but considers elderberry a cytokine modulator.
And Rosalee de la Foret, author of Wild Remedies and Alchemy of Herbs, mentions weighs in here. Although I can’t say what anyone else should to, I’m personally continuing to make elderberry tea along with other immune supportive teas such as astragalus.
More Elderberry Recipes
Elderberry Syrup – According to a study in Norway, patients given elderberry extract felt better four days sooner than those who received a placebo. Here’s how to make a delicious traditional preparation of elderberries – elderberry syrup – at home.
Elderberry Gummies – Delicious, portable, and infused with powerful antioxidants, these elderberry gummies are one of my family’s favorite ways to support immune function during cold and flu season.
Elderberry Jam – Making elderberry syrup soon? WIth jus a few quick additional steps, you can make a jar of syrup AND jam for just .000001% more effort.
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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
1. de la Foret, Rosalee (2017) Alchemy of Herbs
2. Jones, E and Hughes, R.E. (1984) The influence of bioflavonoids on the absorption of vitamin C
3. The East London Garden Society. Elderberries