Elderberry Extract: How to Make it, and Why

Do you know what this is?

It's medicine. But not just any medicine. As you may have inferred from the reused bottles (salad dressing, curry paste, and jam, respectively), this medicine is 100% homemade. 

The three bottles above hold three different kinds of extract. Just like vanilla extract (which you can make by this same method, by the way), the method can be simplified down to "add some plant matter to some vodka and wait."  Today, what I'm going to talk about is the tall bottle of elderberry extract--how to make elderberry extract, and why you should.

Mr. Scrimp and I make a point of taking elderberry extract every day in the fall and winter months. Elderberry, or sambucus nigra, contains potent flavonoids that have been shown to fight and possibly even kill the virus that causes influenza. It certainly helps to alleviate flu symptoms, and there's evidence that it will prevent flu altogether, including H1N1. We've been doing our elderberry regimen for two years now and haven't had the flu since we started. 

At Whole Foods, where we bought our first bottle of the stuff, a little 4oz bottle with dropper will run you about $14. We were ok with paying that at first, because flu prevention was absolutely worth the price. But later, I learned that it's incredibly simple and cheap to make your own elderberry extract. So this year, I decided to give it a try. 

The only ingredients needed to make a simple extract are plant matter (in this case, dried elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs) and alcohol. I use 100 proof vodka. Some people use Everclear. For cooking extracts (like vanilla), you can use something with more nuanced flavors, like strong brandy. 

Some people say you should splurge on expensive vodka if you want a really superior product, but I personally am of the opinion that there's no reason to use expensive vodka on medicine. The cheap stuff will do just as well, and it isn't like you're doing shots of it at a party. So, we picked up a huge bottle of the cheapest stuff we could find and ignored the dubious expression of the cashier at the liquor store, who clearly believed we were as dissolute a pair of alkies as she had ever laid eyes on. 

1/2 gallon of vodka: $16.00
4oz elderberries: $3.50
1 glass jar or bottle: free (on hand)

Step 1: Thoroughly wash, in hot water, a recycled bottle (or jar) with screw-top lid, and air dry.

I didn't use all the elderberries. Dried herbs are incredibly lightweight, so I find I always get way more than I expect to and I always overbuy. In this case, I spent $30 on various herbs for extracts and teas, and ended up with a box twice as big as the one I expected. Score! I'm going to say I used about half of what I had in terms of elderberry (I didn't measure exactly), at a cost of $1.75. 

Step 2: Add elderberries to bottle.

Are you following? I know this is hard. 

Step 3: Add alcohol.

I didn't use the entire gallon of vodka, either, because that would have made enough extract to supply our entire neighborhood, let alone our little family of two. The jar I used to make it holds about 10 ounces. So, let's figure that out of the 64 ounces in our half-gallon, we used 10, for a total of $2.50 worth of vodka. 

Step 4: Wait 6 weeks.

Label your bottle, or make a note on your calendar, or something to remind you of exactly when it is that you started this damn project. It takes about 6 weeks for an extract to reach full potency, although with cooking extracts I find that the longer you let something sit, the better, mellower, and more delicious the flavor gets. 

Store your bottles in a cool, dark place. You can put them in the fridge or even in the freezer, but I think things go a little faster if you just put them in the cupboard. 

Step 5: Drain and store

Not everybody removes the plant matter from their extract after the 6-week brewing period. I leave vanilla beans in my vanilla extract, and with something like elderberry, where you're using it as a preventative rather than a curative, that's probably fine. With extracts used to treat specific ailments, where the proportions and strengths are a little more important, you probably want to sieve the berries or leaves out in order to maintain a more fixed potency. 

Step 6: Enjoy

Take 1-3 tablespoons of extract per day during flu season to prevent influenza. I like it mixed with a little seltzer or milk, Mr. Scrimp tends to drink it in water. You can experiment to find the way you prefer it. I don't recommend taking it straight, just because it is a concentrated extract. Remember the first time you tasted straight vanilla extract because you thought it would taste like delicious vanilla? Same problem here. A little goes a VERY long way. 

Total Cost

For 10 ounces of homemade elderberry extract, I paid $4.25, meaning that the $14 bottle of extract I bought at Whole Foods, that little 4oz thing with the dropper in it, cost me only $1.70 to make at home. That's almost ten times less!

Is there an herbal remedy you'd like to know more about? Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. FABULOUS! Elderberry works so well too!

  2. Can I give it to the children with the vodka

  3. I have elderberry bushes on my property. Can I use fresh elderberries and if so, what's the ratio to vodka or everclear? Thank you!

    1. sambucucs nigra are the only elderberry that is not considered toxic as lon as they are fully ripe. all others need to bee cooked to nuetrilize the toxins

  4. Can fresh Elderberries be used ?????
    Thank you !

  5. I have a husband with severe emphysema and until I started using elderberry extract nine years ago he had been hospitalized several times and weeks and mouths of antibiotics and steroids.. each episode has been life threatening.......... Then I learned how to make and use elderberry extract he has been antibiotic and steroid free for nine years and no more life threatening episodes all his doctors have been amazed. I can deffinitley say it has been a life saver for us.



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