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How to make an immunity-boosting tonic to help fight colds and flu

elder berry immunity-boosting tonic
Photo credit: zetat/Getty Images

As the season turns toward winter, many of us are already dealing with colds and flu. Although a trip to the doctor’s office can help with issues that stem from bacterial infections, the flu and most colds are actually viral — and therefore much harder to treat.

What can you do? Fortunately, it’s easy to make an immunity-boosting tonic at home that can help fortify your system and fight the effects of those seasonal nasties.

A tonic is an herbal remedy taken daily for overall wellness. (You can take this particular recipe more frequently when you feel that tickle in your throat, though.) At the core of this recipe are elderberries. The berries of the elder tree have been shown to reduce the duration of colds and respiratory illness, and they’re traditionally used to fight the effects of the flu. Bonus: They taste great!

When we add fresh ginger, a potent antiviral, and Echinacea angustifolia leaf and flower, which has been shown to support a healthy immune system, we have a robust herbal remedy that you can take throughout flu season to support wellness. It’s a potent, soothing tonic from all-natural ingredients that’s so delicious, even kids will love it (though it does have honey, which is not suitable for children under 1 year old).

MORE: 4 herbal mocktails that are just as good as any cocktail

Elderberry immunity-boosting ingredients

  • 4 ounces dried elderberries
  • 2 ounces fresh ginger, grated (if using dry, reduce to 1 ounce — but fresh has more potent antiviral properties and is easy to find at the grocery store.)
  • 2 ounces Echinacea angustifolia dry leaf and flower
  • 30 ounces apple cider vinegar with the mother (which means it includes probiotics, powerful “good” bacteria)
  • Honey to taste

To make this immunity-boosting tonic, add the dried herbs to a 1/2-gallon Mason jar. Add 30 liquid ounces of apple cider vinegar to the jar. Cap it with either a plastic Mason jar lid, or stick a piece of waxed paper underneath a metal lid to protect the metal from erosion by the vinegar.

MORE: Chicken squash soup will keep your belly warm and satisfied this winter

Use a Crockpot or stovetop pot to make a water bath, around 90-110 F. Place the sealed jar in the water bath, and let it sit for four to eight hours. Keep an eye on the water level and refill it as needed. Ideally, the water level will be above the line of the dried herbs, but this is not always possible. If the water level is not above the dried herbs, take the jar out of the water bath to shake and redistribute on occasion.

When you’re tired of waiting (or those four to eight hours are up), remove the jar from the water bath, and strain. You can use cheesecloth, but I prefer flour sack towels that you can wash and reuse. After you’ve run the liquid through the cloth, squeeze the leftover herb (called the “marc”) to get any extra juices out. Metal strainers work, too, but I find that the mesh is never fine enough to keep out plant particles.

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Add raw honey to taste. Bottle in a dark amber jar, if possible, to protect from light damage.

Use 1 teaspoon once or twice per day as needed — more frequently when you start feeling sick. Keep taking it for a few days even after you start to feel better, because that’s when secondary infections can sneak up. It’s also pretty tasty. We recommend using it to sweeten tea or as a mixer for seltzer.

That’s it! Your elderberry immunity-boosting tonic will last six months or more in a cool space away from light or even longer in the refrigerator.

Elderberry immunity-boosting tonic

Yield 1/2 gallon

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces dried elderberries
  • 2 ounces fresh ginger, grated, or 1 ounce dried
  • 2 ounces Echinacea angustifolia dry leaf and flower
  • 30 ounces apple cider vinegar with the mother
  • Honey to taste

Instructions

  1. Add dried herbs to ½-gallon Mason jar.
  2. Add 30 liquid ounces of apple cider vinegar to jar. Cap with plastic Mason jar lid, or insert waxed paper under metal lid to protect metal from erosion by vinegar.
  3. Use Crockpot or stovetop pot to make water bath, around 90-110 F. Place sealed jar in water bath, and let sit for 4-8 hours. Keep an eye on water level, refilling as needed. If water level is not above dried herbs, take jar out of water bath to shake and redistribute on occasion.
  4. After 4-8 hours, remove jar from water bath and strain with flour sack towels or cheesecloth.
  5. Squeeze leftover herb to extract any extra juices.
  6. Add raw honey to taste.
  7. Bottle in dark amber jar, if possible, to protect from light damage.

Notes

  • Use 1 teaspoon 1-2 times per day as needed or more frequently when you start feeling sick.
  • This tonic will last six months in a cool space away from the light, and even longer in the refrigerator. 

You can use this elderberry immunity-boosting tonic to make a delicious mocktail (or cocktail). Get some tips and tricks from an expert bartender below. 

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