Is elderberry tea part of your winter health routine? Given its potential to strengthen your body’s immune system and promote overall wellness, it should be.* Elderberry tea is a satisfyingly tart and tangy drink you can enjoy daily, hot or cold.
Elderberries aren’t one of the berries you’ll find year-round in your grocery store. But they aren’t uncommon. They grow on the sambucus nigra, also known as Black Elderberry or European Elder. This deciduous bush is native to Europe and grows throughout the Americas and Africa.
For centuries, different cultures have used parts of the elder — including its flowers, leaves, and berries — as a medicinal plant to treat various conditions. Native Americans used it to treat fevers and other ailments. Egyptians used it to treat burns.
In this article, we’ll talk about the benefits of the elderberry and eight ways you can make soothing elderberry tea at home.
Why Drink Elderberry Tea?
Elderberry is one of the most-used and nutritious medicinal plants in the world and is rich in protein, fiber, iron, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamins A and C. It is also an important source of antioxidants, which reduce oxidative stress and the risk of cell damage that can lead to disease. In fact, elderberry is proven to be higher in antioxidants than blueberries, cranberries, and mulberries. REF#117 REF#118
While more human research is needed to confirm the health benefits of elderberry tea, there is a good reason for the plant’s popularity. Medical studies have shown that both elderberry and elderflower (the blossoms that come out before the berries) help relieve a variety of ailments, especially during the difficult winter months.
- Immune system support: Elderflowers are high in phenolic acids, flavonols, and anthocyanins — antioxidants that protect your body’s cells from damage and improve immune function.*
- Cold and respiratory support: Elderberry has traditionally been used to treat common cold and cough symptoms.* In a clinical trial performed on 312 passengers on a long overseas flight, the control group given a placebo were more likely to catch a cold and have it for a longer duration with more symptoms than those who were given elderberry supplementation.
- Skin health: Antioxidants have strong anti-inflammatory properties that can potentially help minimize skin irritations. The vitamin A in elderberry may also help protect against skin aging and skin diseases.
Are There Risks to Drinking Elderberry Tea?
Unripe elderberries, as well as elder leaves and bark, contain a toxic substance called sambunigrin. If you ingest these parts of the elder without proper preparation, you may experience nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. If you’re picking your own berries, take care to avoid leaves and bark.
You can ensure a safe, healthful drink by purchasing ripe or dried berries or using a prepared powder or extract to make your tea.
There have been no reports of side effects from drinking elderberry tea, but no research has been done to confirm that elderberry is safe to take when you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have an autoimmune disease.
If you have an autoimmune disease, elderberry may cause your immune system to become overactive and increase the symptoms of your disease. To be safe, pregnant and nursing persons and those with autoimmune conditions should avoid drinking elderberry tea. We recommend talking to your healthcare practitioner before brewing a batch.
Where to Find Elderberries and Elderflowers
Elderflowers generally bloom in late spring or early summer.. You should pick them when almost all their buds have opened and store them temporarily in a mesh bag to keep them from spoiling.
Fresh elderberries are in season in early summer in warm climates and late summer in colder climates. If you have a black elderberry bush in your garden, you can pick the berries when they’re ripe. Ripe elderberries have dark purple or dark purple-blue skin, and when you squeeze them, their juice should also be dark purple.
If you don’t have an elder bush, you may be able to find fresh elderberries in specialty markets or farmer's markets during the height of their season. Fresh elderberries only last a few days, so you should dry them immediately or cook them for your tea when you bring them home.
How To Dry Elderberries
To dry elderberries, first pick through the berries and remove any that look unripe. Then wash them in a colander and spread them out on a layer of paper towels to dry, patting them with another towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dry them for several days on a screen. You can also spread them on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper, ensuring none of the berries touch. Bake them at your oven’s lowest temperature (about 115oF /46oC) for 15 minutes. If they haven’t darkened and shrunken in size by half, put them back in the oven and keep checking them every five minutes. When they are dried, remove them from the oven and let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container.
How to Dry Elderflowers
Hang elderflowers upside down by their stalks or lay them in a single layer on a screen for several days. When the flowers are dry, gently pull the blossoms from their stalks and store them in a paper bag in a cool, dry place.
If you aren’t growing them yourself, you’ll likely have to purchase dried elderberries, elderberry powder, or elderberry extract to make your tea. You can find these products online, in natural food stores, or the natural food section of your supermarket.
How to Prepare Fresh Elderberries for Tea
While you can make a single cup of elderberry tea from fresh berries (see below), if you have a larger quantity of berries, it’s more efficient to make a thick concentrate and use that to make your tea. You can do this in a few easy steps:
- Use your hands or the prongs of a fork to remove the berries from their stalks.
- Rinse the berries and drop them into a pot of boiling water, using an equal amount of water to berries (i.e. 1 cup of berries to 1 cup of water).
- Cook the berries at a low boil for 20 minutes, until they are soft.
- Run the berries through a food mill or fine sieve to remove the juice from the skins.
- Return the juice to the pot and boil over moderate heat for 15 minutes until it thickens into a syrup.
Once the syrup has cooled, you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use it to make elderberry tea or take a spoonful to relieve a sore throat or cold.
8 Ways to Prepare Elderberry Tea
You can make elderberry tea using elderberry concentrate, elderberry flowers, dried elderberries or elderflowers, elderberry powder, or elderberry extract. Elderberry has a sweet and tart taste on its own. Elderflower has a floral, earthy taste.
You can add a wide range of spices during the steeping or cooking process to enhance the flavor of your elderberry tea. Consider using a cinnamon stick, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, rosemary, thyme, or peppercorns. If you prefer a sweeter tea, add honey or your favorite sweetener after the tea has brewed.
Elderberry Tea from Fresh Berries
Combine one tablespoon of berries and one cup of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the berries through a fine sieve, using a spoon to release the juice from the skins. Pour the remaining tea into a mug and enjoy.
Elderberry Tea from Syrup
Combine equal parts of elderberry syrup and boiling water and syrup. If the tea is too strong, adjust the flavor by adding more water.
Elderberry Tea from Dried Elderberries
Use a ratio of one teaspoon of dried elderberries to one cup of water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer the mixture for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid through a sieve to remove the berries and pour the infusion into a mug.
Elderberry Tea from Fresh Elderflower
To make an elderflower infusion using fresh flowers, add one tablespoon of fresh blossoms to your teapot. Cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Cover the pot and let the tea steep for 10 minutes.
Elderberry Tea from Dried Elderflower
Tea made from dried flowers has a stronger flavor and may be easier on your stomach. Place one tablespoon of dried flowers in a teapot, cover them with one cup of building water, and steep the tea for a minimum of 20 minutes or overnight. If the tea cools, you can drink it cold or heat it over the stove.
Elderberry Tea from Dried Elderberries and Dried Elderflowers
For a real immune boost, combine both elderberries and elderflowers to make a potent tea. Use one tablespoon dried berries and two tablespoons of dried flowers for each cup of water. Place the dry ingredients in a teapot, pour building water over them, and steep for 10 minutes. Or, simmer the mixture in a pot on the stove for 20 minutes and then strain the fruit and flowers.
Elderberry Tea from Powdered Elderberry
Combine one teaspoon of elderberry powder with 1 cup of hot water and sit for three minutes. Sweeten with honey, if desired.
Elderberry Tea from Elderberry Extract
Add 40 drops of Elderberry extract to a cup of warm water and sweeten as necessary with honey or agave syrup.
Enjoy Elderberry Tea Every Day
Elderberry tea is caffeine-free and can be enjoyed daily, both for its health benefits and soothing taste.
If you want to experience the traditional immune benefits of elderberry but don’t drink tea, Gaia Herbs offers 18 supplements that feature elderberry*, from syrups and gummies to extracts and powders.
For instance, just one teaspoonful a day of our Black Elderberry Tonic with organic raw honey and apple cider vinegar helps maintain your overall well-being.*
Black Elderberry Extra Strength Gummies are a tasty way to get daily immune support.
Or, keep a bottle of Black Edlerberry NightTime Syrup in the cupboard for those nights when you want a restful night of sleep.
All Gaia herbal supplements are free of artificial ingredients and rigorously quality-tested for purity and potency.
- 1. CeJpeK, K, "“Antioxidant Activity in Variously Prepared Elderberry Foods and Supplements.”", Czech J. Food Sci. Vol. 27, 2009, Special Issue. https://www.agriculturejournals.cz/publicFiles/07578.pdf 1 1. CeJpeK, K, "“Antioxidant Activity in Variously Prepared Elderberry Foods and Supplements.”", Czech J. Food Sci. Vol. 27, 2009, Special Issue. https://www.agriculturejournals.cz/publicFiles/07578.pdf
- 2. Porter RS, Bode RF, "A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Products", Phytother Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):533-554. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5782. Epub 2017 Feb 15. PMID: 28198157.. 2 2. Porter RS, Bode RF, "A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Products", Phytother Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):533-554. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5782. Epub 2017 Feb 15. PMID: 28198157..