You may have noticed elderberry cough drops at the store. They are easy – and fun! – to make at home with just a few ingredients. And they taste wonderful.
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry – or sambucus, as it’s called in Latin – is a flowering plant that produces little tiny purplish-black berries. The berries taste very tart and a little bit sweet – it’s an interesting flavor, but they can be unpleasantly bitter.
European black elderberry is used in traditional medicine, usually in the form of a syrup or cordial to make them taste better. They contain a moderate amount of vitamin B6 and iron.
Because these particular berries don’t grow in much of the United States, you won’t often find syrup made from locally grown berries.
But you can find small batch, handcrafted syrups made by farmers and small businesses, like the elderberry syrup from Harbin Hollow that we bought to use for this recipe.
The use of elderberries in traditional medicine is to prevent or shorten colds, flu, and a few other minor ailments. It’s essentially to boost your immune system and your body’s own healing powers.
That’s why elderberry is put into cough drops. If you need a throat lozenge anyway, you might as well use one that has ingredients with added benefits.
Do Elderberry Cough Drops Work?
You may be wondering about the science behind elderberry as a supplement, and you should. The truth is, not enough studies have been done yet for scientists to reach a consensus that it definitely works.
But the Cleveland Clinic – a trusted health authority – talks about some promising studies on its benefits. They note that these studies are not conclusive yet and also recommend that you get your flu shot instead of relying strictly on elderberry or any other natural immune product.
And they point out that elderberry syrup, properly prepared, is not going to hurt you. So if you want to give it a try, you should feel free to do so. And that’s the main ingredient in these cough drops.
We can also tell you that these are going to help your throat. Any cough drop with sugar or (even better) honey as a base is soothing when you have a cough or a sore throat.
How to Make Elderberry Cough Drops
This is a simple project with just a few ingredients. It doesn’t take a lot of time, either – about half an hour when we made them.
Basically, you’re going to mix elderberry syrup with raw honey on the stove and let them harden into lozenges. There is some cooking involved, but it’s pretty simple – all in a saucepan.
You start by putting the syrup into your saucepan:
After that, you’re going to add the raw honey. You could use regular honey, but it can be diluted with additives. Raw honey is the real deal.
Then you do some whisking to make sure the honey and elderberry syrup are thoroughly mixed together:
Then you clip the candy thermometer to the side wait until the mixture gets to 300 degrees. This should only take a few minutes, but watch it carefully to keep it from burning.
One thing you should know is that the water content in honey varies, so sometimes the mixture won’t heat up as much as it should. If that happens, you can add small increments of honey until it gets to 300 degrees.
Once it’s done, you use your dropper to put the mixture into your silicone molds. Or you can drop it onto parchment paper where it will form nice little round disks.
Just this amount of the mixture will easily make a lot of cough drops.
Once they’ve cooled, you put them on parchment paper. They’re very sticky at this point. We dusted them with cinnamon powder because it makes the cough drops less sticky and it tastes delicious.
Refrigerating them also helps with the sticky part – and a cold lozenge can feel so good on a sore throat.
If you put them into a glass bottle, you can add the cinnamon and shake them up to get them thoroughly covered. This ensures they won’t get sticky again (unless they get hot).
Some recipes call for you to essentially make your own syrup as part of the process. We recommend against this because there are several species of elderberry and some are toxic. It’s simpler and safer to buy syrup from someone who is licensed, insured, and inspected, and knows which berries to use and how to correctly prepare them.
Why Make Your Own?
So why would you want to make elderberry cough drops at home instead of just buying them at the store? There are a few reasons people mention.
- Because you can make them without the “artificial” ingredients – meaning lab made, as opposed to plant or animal based – you find in the cough drops at stores.
- You can make them from locally farmed raw honey and support your farmer’s market.
- You can use an elderberry syrup made by a small business in the United States and help support them.
- Store bought cough drops are usually individually wrapped in plastic. Making your own means not having all that plastic to recycle.
- You can tinker with the recipe to get it just the way you like.
- If you’re concerned about sugar, you can make your cough drops with no sugar added elderberry syrup, which is sweetened with erythritol and Stevia instead of honey.
Speaking of tinkering, you can add ingredients to this recipe. Some people add in herbs they believe to be immune boosters.
Note that these herbs may significantly change the flavor. You can also add in flavor ingredients – lemon or ginger, a fruit juice, whatever you like.
Safe for Children?
Yes, these elderberry cough drops are safe for kids. They may also love the flavor, which is an added bonus.
We made ours into little bear shaped drops which appeal to kids, using these bear silicone molds. But you can just drop them on parchment paper, too.
What Do They Taste Like?
Elderberries have a very tart or bitter taste on their own. Even if you like tart and bitter flavors, this flavor is a little too intense.
So elderberry syrup is flavored with other ingredients. The syrup we used is flavored with cinnamon, ginger, clove and lemon. And raw honey is added for sweetness.
Combined with the sweetness of the raw honey, you get a spicy sweet flavor that is reminiscent of horehound candy. We found it very tasty and kind of addictive.
You can check out some other homemade cough drop recipes.
- Bring 8 oz of Harbin Hollow elderberry syrup to a boil.
- Add ¼ cup honey.
- Whisk the mixture together.
- Heat over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil.
- Clip candy thermometer to the side of the pan and heat until 300 degrees. Watch carefully as the mixture can be burn easily.
- If a few minutes goes by and the mixture is not reaching temp, add small increments of honey until mixture reaches 300 degrees. (The water level in honey varies and you will need to adjust accordingly which means each batch may vary slightly.)
- Let mixture cool for about 5 minutes.
- Use a dropper to place in silicone molds or drop by the spoonful on parchment paper.
- Let cool completely.
- Place cough drops in bowl or plastic bag.
- Completely dust with cinnamon for extra flavor and to prevent sticking.
- Store in an airtight container (I like a glass spice bottle) in the refrigerator for optimal freshness. Refrigeration is not necessary, but I’ve found they don’t get as sticky in the fridge.