Making Elderberry Syrup

This week, my boys and I foraged for wild elderberries (in French, sureau or baie de sureau). We tracked down a few of the deep purple clusters by our neighborhood castle and many more alongside the lake. In the spring, you may remember us picking elderflowers, and now is the season to harvest the berries.

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During one of our berry-picking expeditions, the three of us climbed over a small stone wall and headed into an area where people don’t usually walk. Just my luck, while we’re all picking at the elderberry bush, some parents from my son’s school strolled by and gave us very puzzled looks—especially when I tried to tell them my plans for the late summer fruit. My explanation in French probably had something to do with it, but I swear I heard one of them say “terrible”—different pronunciation in French, but the same meaning. I really should spend less time cooking, and more time studying the local language…

Please note: Elderberries should not be eaten raw. Apparently the uncooked berries contain a cyanide-like chemical. Like its flowers, elderberries are also used for medicinal purposes, such as treating cold and flu symptoms.

While I saw elderberry cake and muffin recipes online, I decided to play it safe and make syrup—in part to make sure the berries would cook long enough to no longer be toxic! I found a quick and easy recipe from David Lebovitz and modified it because I only had about 2 cups of berries. Unfortunately, I may have overcooked it because the consistency is a little more like molasses than syrup, but it still tastes good.



The sweet-tart elderberry syrup reminds me of blackberries, but with its own unique flavor. I’m planning to use it on pancakes and crêpes or mixed in with some soy yogurt for my son. And, my husband and I want to try the syrup in post-children’s bedtime gin and tonics. In the meantime, I decided to throw 3 tablespoons into a Bundt cake. Why not?

With a mild elderberry flavor, the egg/dairy/nut-free Bundt cake looks more like a chocolate cake instead of the purple cake I had hoped for. The boys love it though. I gave them small pieces to try at lunch yesterday, and they both wanted seconds and thirds. Next time, I’ll likely incorporate some chocolate—either cocoa powder in the cake or a chocolate glaze.


We’re crossing the Röstigraben this evening to attend a Swiss beer festival on Sunday. For those in the US, enjoy the long weekend. Bon week-end, everyone!


4 thoughts on “Making Elderberry Syrup

  1. Stephanie says:

    ‘Terrible’ can actually have a double meaning. It *can* mean the same as the English word (synonym of horrible), or it can be rather complimentary, as if someone is impressed. (C’est terrible, etc.) It all dépends on the tone of voice. So maybe they were rather complimenting you!

    You can look it up on for more examples.

    • dairyfreeswitzerland says:

      Hi Stephanie, Thanks for the mini-French lesson. I certainly need it! After the original blog post, I did notice in another dictionary that “terrible” can also mean “terrific,” but didn’t know if that was common usage. Yes, I should just think it was a compliment, right? 🙂 Hope all is well. -Heddi

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