Elderberry Tea: How to Make, Benefits, & Side Effects

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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The benefits of elderberry tea include boosting the immune system, cleansing the body, improving vision, speeding up the metabolism, increasing respiratory health, lowering inflammation, protecting against chronic disease, aiding the healing process, stimulating digestion and eliminating chronic pain, among others. It is also known to possess chemopreventive properties.

Elderberry tea also comes with a number of side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and a worsening of autoimmune conditions.

What is Elderberry Tea?

Elderberry tea is made from the dried berries of the elder plant. Scientifically known as Sambucus cerulea, this plant has been used for its medicinal benefits for thousands of years by indigenous people of the Americas. They used the leaves, bark, roots, flowers, and berries of the plant. Some people also use elderflower to make tea.

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How do You Make Elderberry Tea?

Some people prefer to use elderberry syrup for making the tea. But, it would be incorrect to call this tea. The actual elderberry tea is made from dried elderberries or the elderflower. We have an easy recipe that you can follow to make this tea at home. We have included spices that help boost its antioxidant qualities. However, these are optional. You can make the tea by just simmering the berries in hot water. Although it has a sweet-tart taste, you may add a little dash of honey to sweeten it further.

Cups of elderberry tea with fresh elderberries on a wooden table

Soothing Elderberry Tea Recipe

Elderberry tea has the perfect balance of sweet, earthy, and slightly tart. Enjoy this soothing spicy version.
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Course: Beverage
Cuisine: British
Keyword: elderberry tea
Appliance: Stove
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 3 cups
Author: Ishani Bose

Ingredients

  • 6 cups water (filtered)
  • 3 tbsp elderberries (dried)
  • 4 pieces cardamom optional
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 fresh ginger (cut into fine pieces)
  • Honey/sugar/stevia/or any other sweetener (optional)

Instructions

  • If you wish to add spices to the tea, add the cinnamon sticks, cloves, fresh ginger, and cardamom to it and continue to boil.
  • Once it reaches a boil, cover the vessel and reduce the heat to low. Let it simmer 30 minutes. Once you get your desired taste and consistency, strain it in a cup and enjoy. 
  • You can also refrigerate it and have it cool if you wish to do so! However, people usually prefer to have it warm. 
    Cups of elderberry tea with fresh elderberries on a wooden table

Notes

  • You can use the unopened flower heads to brew this delicious tea or wait until they bloom for a milder, sweeter flavored drink.
  • If you don’t have access to the spices or prefer your tea without them, feel free to leave them out.

Benefits of Elderberry Tea

Elderberry tea is packed with the benefits of elderberry, which have been prized for their medicinal properties for centuries. For more details, you can read our article Elderberries: Benefits & Risks. In short, these are:

Relief from Cold & Cough

Elderberry tea was traditionally advocated for bringing relief from cold, cough, and sore throat. A 2016 study on intercontinental air travelers found that people who took elderberry extract were less likely to suffer from respiratory issues than those who did not.

Cups of elderberry tea with fresh elderberries on a wooden table

Sweet and refreshing elderberry tea. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Protect Against Flu

The bioactive compounds in the elderberry tea can give us protection against the flu. A study published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that it can inhibit the entry and growth of the flu virus in our body.

Heart Health

Elderberry has high fiber content which helps to reduce excess cholesterol while retaining good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. It contains bio compounds known as flavonoids, which are very beneficial for our heart health.

Boosting Immunity

Elderberry can help improve our immunity. This is why it is often effective in dealing with a cold or fever. Animal studies have shown that it can strengthen our immune system. Emerging research suggests that it may even be effective in dealing with the HIV-1 virus.

Bone Health

Elderberries could improve bone health, especially in people with diabetes. Lab tests show that polyphenols found in elderberries could help in dealing with diabetic osteoporosis.

Skincare

The antioxidants present in elderberries have strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can help in dealing with skin-related issues. It was used as an astringent that helped deal with skin irritations.

What Does Elderberry Tea Taste Like?

Elderberry has a unique flavor, ranging from tangy and tart to bitter or sweet, depending on when in the growing season they are picked, and which variety you are eating. European black elderberries tend to be more tart or bitter, whereas American elderberries are typically sweet, and are more popular for use in jams, desserts, and candies.

How Much Elderberry Tea Should You Drink?

Elderberry can have certain side-effects. In addition, one may have an allergy to the berry. It is best to try a cup of tea and check your reaction. You can increase it to two cups if you show no adverse reaction. However, given that elderberries can also have certain side-effects, we would highly recommend that you talk to a certified herbalist or doctor before taking it. Keep in mind that elderberry tea is not a medicine.

Elderberry Tea Side Effects

The side effects of elderberry tea are mainly gastrointestinal in nature, resulting in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This can be due to consuming an excessive amount or if one has a particular allergy to the elderberry plant or other members of the Sambucus genus. Consuming raw elderberries can cause cyanide poisoning. This is not a concern here as preparing the tea ensures that the berries are cooked.

However, other side effects related to specific medical conditions or drug interactions.

  • Diabetic Problems – Given that elderberry tea does have blood sugar-lowering tendencies, hypoglycemic patients should be careful when adding elderberry tea to their diet. This could cause dangerously low blood sugar, resulting in fainting or diabetic shock. Speak to your doctor before consuming this powerful tea.
  • Autoimmune Disease – Many of the antioxidants found in elderberry tea are excellent stimulants for the immune system, but this can exacerbate certain autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or lupus.
  • Pregnancy – A limited amount of research has been done on the effects of elderberry tea during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, but due to the wide range of powerful chemicals found in this tea, it is not recommended. 
  • Mistaken Identity – The elderberry plant looks extremely similar to water hemlock, which is a very toxic and lethal plant when ingested. Do not pick elderberry in the wild unless you are trained to know the difference, or else a mistake could cost you your life!
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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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