Make Your Own: Elderberry Tincture

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Elderberry Tincture cover

I must first say that I am not a medical doctor or an herbalist.  While this post may be educational in nature, I must disclose that I am simply a mother. This is what works for us — you should do your own research. 

Now that we have that out of the way, I would like to tell you about elderberries, specifically Sambucus nigra. Elderberries are known for fighting the influenza virus, H1N1, helping keep the immune system functioning properly, and many other things. Elderberries are high in vitamin C, and contain a moderate amount of vitamin A, vitamin B6, and iron. They are also a mild anti-inflammatory.

Elderberry tinctureIsrael has been doing various studies on elderberries and the findings are surprising.

Mumcuoglu, who is president of Razei Bar, first tested her research on patients in the Southern Israel flu epidemic of 1992/3. The results were extremely encouraging. Within 24 hours, 20% of those patients taking Sambucol had dramatic improvements in symptoms like fever, muscle aches and pains and coughing. By the second day, 73% were improved and by day three, 90%. In the untreated group, only 16% felt better after two days. The majority of that group took almost a week to begin feeling better.

In 1995, laboratory studies were carried out at Hadassah, which showed that Sambucol was effective against human, swine and avian influenza strains.  –Source 


elderberries (1)

There are several different types of elderberries. For this purpose we want Sambucus nigra, which are edible when fully ripe. Most elderberries are toxic and should not be eaten raw, once cooked they can be made into jams, jellies, or even drinkable juice. Sambucus nigra is the exception to this, but the berries must be fully ripe. For tincture making, don’t cook your berries and discard berries once strained.*  Always avoid red elderberries as those are toxic, cooked or not.

Elderberries can be purchased online. My favorite sources are The Bulk Herb Store or Mountain Rose Herbs. Check your local health food store as well (ours carries dried elderberries).

Elderberry (5)Making elderberry tincture is really easy. Don’t let the idea intimidate you, because the process is simple!

What You Will Need

  • elderberries (dehydrated or fresh)
  • glass pint or quart jar
  • lid
  • vodka (80 proof at minimum)
  • mesh strainer, tea towel, or old clean t-shirt
  • bowl
  • funnels (optional)
  • dark colored bottles
  • brown paper bag


  1. In your pint or quart jar, fill your jar half full of elderberries.
  2. Fill jar with vodka, leave 1 inch head space, cap jar and give a good shake to the chorus of ‘Jump in the Line’ by Harry Belafonte or ‘Shake it Up’ by The Cars.
  3. Label jar for contents and date, place in a brown paper bag and set in a dark cool area for 4 to 6 weeks.
  4. Once infusion time is up, strain through a fine mesh strainer, tea towel, or old clean t-shirt. Discard the berries.*
  5. Now you have a tincture! Pour into clean, sterile, dark colored bottles. No dark bottles? Don’t fret, use a clean, sterile pint jar. Just place the jar back into a paper bag to shield the tincture from light.


When you feel your immune system is compromised or you’re coming down with the flu or a cold, take 1 teaspoon of elderberry tincture 3 times a day. Tinctures can be rough to take straight. Dilute the tincture in 8 ounces of water for easy drinking.

Giving tincture to children? Place a teaspoon of tincture in hot water (think hot like for herbal tea). This will evaporate the alcohol. Once cool, give to the child to drink.

*Some folks eat the Sambucus nigra elderberries raw as these are not toxic when fully ripened.  I personally chose not to do this, and I discard them.  If you’ve researched it and feel safe eating them, rinse your berries after tincture making and add to oatmeal or granola.

Do you make elderberry tincture? What tips or advice would you add?

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  1. NancyLee says

    Dear Katie – I just decanted this year’s elderberry elixir. I make it with elderberries, elderflowers, rose hips, honey and brandy with a couple of cinnamon sticks added to the mixture.

  2. Kelly McK says

    Hi Katie! How long after infusion, if stored properly, would you say the tincture maintains its potency? Thanks so much!

  3. says

    When I can get wild elderberries, there are 3 things I do with them. First, I gather the “elder blow”, which are the little white flowers, when they start to be loose on the plant. I spread those out and let them dry. Then, if I feel a cold coming on, I make “tea” from a teaspoon of the dried blossoms. It is as if it makes me have a very small, and very short fever, and the cold will go away and leave me alone. The elderberries themselves, I either bake into muffins, or steam juice them. Then I take that juice and combine it half and half with honey and can it to use like a syrup to ward off colds and flu. A Tablespoon, 2 to 3 times a day generally does a good job.

  4. Leslie says

    What if you don’t want to make Vodka tinctures but glycerine. Will you post how to do it that way? I feel very uncomfortable buying liquor.

    • says

      I personally have never used glycerin to make a tincture. But I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to purchase liquor (it’s normally something I send my husband to do). From my research glycerin tinctures use 1 part water and 1 part glycerin. So follow the method in the post above but substitute the vodka with 1 part water and 1 part glycerin. Let us know how it turns out.

  5. Shelbie says

    Hi, I am really excited about trying this. I bought and used dried elderberries for a cough syrup which was delicious and useful. I have extra, but I didn’t realise you should freeze or refrigerate them to keep them fresh and I was wondering if anyone knows if I can still use them? They don’t show the usual signs of spoiling (funny growths or smells) but should I just toss them and purchase more? Thank you to anyone who can help!

    • NancyLee says

      Shelbie – if they smell fine I would definitely use them. I don’t refrigerate my dried herbs or berries – have had dried elderberries in jars for a long time (won’t say how long! hehehehehehe….) They still smell sweet and look good and remain good medicine.

    • says

      Shelbie, as long as there is no off smell or appearance they should be okay to use. Like NancyLee, I too do not store my dried herbs (elderberries included) in the fridge or freezer, but rather in sealed glass jars.

      • Shelbie says

        Thank you both so much for your replies. I had read in a few random places about people freezing or chilling herbs even though I imagined most do not (similar to how some people freeze coffee and some don’t!). My berries still smell sweet and fresh so I mixed up a batch today and can’t wait to strain it in January. :)

  6. Roxanne says

    Just a note on making the glycerite…you’ll want to make sure that the water is distiller water. Tap water may cause your glycerite to mold. You would also let the mixture macerate for a couple of weeks (shake daily). I also have friends who heat their glycerite initially to make it usable immediately. Hope we all have flu-free winters!

  7. Kate S says

    Hi! Why would one make a tincture rather than the syrup? I do the syrup and just wondered if one were better than the other.

  8. Lisa says

    I’ve been making elderberry syrup for several years and give it to my children straight or making homemade gummies with pastured gelatin for the added benefits. We’ve been flu free (and mostly any-illness-free) all the years I’ve been doing it, even with my husband working as a nurse in hospital where there has been significant H1N1. So I’m wondering about the tincture. Is there any advantage besides shelf life? If I get too much syrup in the fridge, I just make gummies out of it to use it up. Is the syrup missing some benefits that the tincture has?? I’m totally open to making the tincture and have no problem getting alcohol to do it. Just wondering. I use the Mountain Rose Herbs berries as well as their recipe for the syrup.

    • says

      Lisa, I’m not sure if there are any benefits over the other. Perhaps a tincture is more cost effective as you use less? And that it lasts longer and is shelf stable? I personally have never made a syrup as I’m a wee bit on the lazy side and vodka, berries, in jar is just really easy. I’m sorry I couldn’t answer your question.

      • Lisa says

        Haha! I highly doubt you’re lazy with four children–I have #5 on the way (my oldest is 6!) and we just have to be…efficient :-)

        I’ll see what I can find out. I use tinctures for a number of other things, especially in pregnancy, so I’m interested to find the answer. I bet frugality is one of the answers, as you suggested, and I’m wondering if it might be more potent too. My problem is that I forget to start things like this. If I get up one morning in December and one or two of my children is sniffly, I would be wishing I had remembered to start the tincture in September!

        Thanks for the reply!

        • NancyLee says

          I think the kids will probably like the syrup better – that could be a consideration – but I believe both are effective. I make mine in brandy with honey and a little cinnamon. I like having medicines that are shelf stable and I don’t have any little ones so for just me it would be a waste to make the syrup.

          Glad to hear what you said about your husband being a nurse and your family protected from the flu – I’m a nurse too, in Obstetrics, and refuse the flu shot. This year I have to wear a mask to “protect” the moms and babies, yet several of my “immunized” co-workers have already had the flu this season and I haven’t as of now. But I was exposed to H1N1 actually diagnosed in a pregnant patient with high fever, etc. last week – we shall see.

          • Terra says

            I love this! And, NancyLee… we just bought a gallon of local raw honey yesterday. Can honey really be used in creating a tincture, especially such as this one? Will the honey cause the tincture to go bad in any way? I am also intrigued with you choosing brandy, vs vodka. May I ask what your recipe is? Thank you!

          • NancyLee says

            Dear Terra – absolutely honey can be used – it is a wonderfood – honey found in the Egyptian pharoah tombs was still alive and edible when discovered in this century!!

            Here’s the amounts of my elixir (just so you know that could change the next time!!)

            300 g (g=grams) elderberries + 50 g elder flowers + 75 g rose hips
            Place in 1/2 gallon jar
            Add 16 oz raw honey by weight and 3 cinnamon sticks
            Mix well (or not!! you can always shake it every day!!)
            Fill to top with brandy 40% alcohol (I like the taste and consistency of brandy)

            I mixed this all up on 8-27-13. And decanted the final product on 11-28-13.

            Every time I make it – it is a little different……..

          • Terra says

            Thank you, NancyLee! And, I hope I’m replying to this correctly :) Half gallon?Approximately how much elixir would you say that yields? Taste-wise (regarding elixir of course), brandy vs vodka, what would you say might be better for children? I don’t really have a way to weigh raw honey; do you have a guesstimate as to how many cups? In your opinion, do you think it’s a lot of alcohol consumed of the finished product, or is it very negligible? I appreciate your feedback!

          • NancyLee says

            Hi Terra – I don’t remember the final amount after decanting – maybe almost 2 wine bottles?

            The kids aren’t going to like it with vodka or brandy – that would be a good question here for those readers with young children. Do you give tinctures to the little ones? How do they respond?

            You can also make elderberry syrups without alcohol (and probably with glycerin too) but I haven’t done that.

            The honey can be estimated (what is the weight of your honey jar?) It’s not exact.

            Here are some great suggestions on preparing elder (berries and flowers)


            You don’t have to weigh the ingredients – I started off with the “folk” method and still use it a lot – basically stuffing a lot of stuff into the jar and adding the alcohol! But more and more I’m weighing the ingredients so the final product will be more standardized. Even that doesn’t guarantee because plants are not standardized in their medicinal effects. You can buy a postage scale very reasonably. I’ve also started using it to weigh my salt for ferments. And it’s excellent for weighing small packages to prepare for mailing at home without hoofing it down to the post office!

    • says

      Tinctures have the benefit of lasting a long time while preserving the efficacy of the herb or whatever you’re tincturing, plus the benefits of the herb are concentrated in the tincture which makes it more effective. :)


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