elderberry tea

5 Different Ways to Make Elderberry Tea

How did you fall in love with herbs?

Did it start with a particular herb or formula that helped you? Or maybe you were like me and found a lot of herbs that helped you heal from a chronic problem? I know some of you may have grown up with herbs in your life (lucky!).

However the plants made it into your life, chances are it went from mildly interesting to passionately exciting in a short length of time!

My Journey With Herbs

When I first started learning about herbs, I wanted to soak up everything … today … or perhaps tomorrow! Simply put, I couldn’t learn fast enough.

I borrowed herbal books from the library and from friends. I took classes when I could, and I had flashcards. (Seriously, I made flashcards!) I would brush my teeth and try to memorize herbal actions based on a poster I had hanging in the bathroom.

I loved this new, exciting world of herbs that was opening up to me. But I was also frustrated. In those days, I often felt overwhelmed with information. It was maddening to be learning the same things over and over but the information wasn’t sticking in my head. Galacto-what?

Someone would ask me about an herb or an ailment and even though I knew I had studied that before, my mind went foggy or blank. Instead of stammering an incoherent response, I wanted to confidently know about herbs.

Over time my herbal recall became clearer. Someone would ask me about an herb and I could mentally see the flashcard in front of my eyes and repeat back what was on it. But this method had its problems too. As people began taking my advice (myself included), I saw that the herbs sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Not knowing if an herb was actually going to help or not was hard on my confidence!

How to Choose Herbs With Confidence

Now, many years later, after attending many different herbal schools and helping thousands of herbal students confidently learn about herbs, I know something for certain:

It’s not WHICH herb you choose, it’s HOW you choose that matters.

Learning herbalism by memorizing lists often leads to confusion and overwhelm.

Using herbs confidently and effectively begins with experiencing HOW the herbs work.

This starts with a simple tool that you carry with you everywhere you go: your taste.

That’s right. Tasting and experiencing how herbs work in your body is the best way to learn how to use herbs.

As you develop this tool, by simply tasting something, you will KNOW how it works and how best to use it. Tasting and experiencing brings the herbs to life and transforms your learning experience. Instead of passively trying to remember facts, you are building your herbal knowledge from within.

In this way you can confidently choose herbs that work because you know HOW to choose them.

Everything Begins With Taste!

In herbalism there are five main tastes: pungent, salty, sour, bitter, and sweet.

Each of those five different tastes have different attributes. That means when you taste a sour herb versus a pungent herb, you can determine those different tastes and know HOW to use those herbs.

To demonstrate this, I’m going to show you five different herbal formulas using elderberries as the main ingredient. Each of these herbal remedies can be used in very different ways. I’ll show you how to interpret herbs for yourself using taste.

In other words, we are going to use the taste of herbs as our guide in making five distinct herbal remedies with elderberries.

Elder is such a wonderful plant! We use both the flowers and berries as medicine and while it’s famous for being a cold and flu herb, you’ll soon see that its gifts go way beyond this!

Elders grow as a shrub and are very common in temperate parts of the world. There are several different species of elders. Sambucus nigra (black elder) and S. nigra ssp. caerulea (blue elder) are the ones I am most familiar with using as medicine. Red elders, like S. racemosa, aren’t typically used in the same way as the black or blue elderberry.

Before we get to the elderberry tea recipes, I have one more note. If you prefer to drink sweetened teas, you can add a sweetener of your choice to these recipes. However, I do recommend sipping them before adding sweeteners so you can get a sense of their pure taste.

elderberry tea

(Pottery sources are listed near the end of the article.)

Elderberry Tea for Sniffles, Congestion, and Aches and Pains

Taking elderberry at the first sign of a cold or influenza is a potent way to either stop the infection or to shorten the duration of the illness.123 Elderberry works well as a single herb, but you can add other herbs to be more targeted in your approach. If you feel like you are coming down with something and you also feel cold, have the sniffles or congestion, and are starting to feel the aches and pains associated with an upper respiratory illness, then adding warming and aromatic herbs can be the perfect solution.

Warming and aromatic herbs are called pungent herbs. These herbs are used to awaken the senses and get things moving. But you don’t have to memorize this … you probably already know it! Have you ever eaten a spicy soup or meal? Do you remember it making your eyes water or your nose run? That’s what pungent herbs do in a nutshell. They stimulate and move things, which is perfect for stagnancy or when something is stuck (e.g., sinus or lung congestion, sluggish digestion, etc.).

The following herbal tea combines the cold- and flu-fighting qualities of elderberry with the warming and stimulating properties of several pungent herbs: ginger (Zingiber officinale), black pepper (Piper nigrum), rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Reach for this elderberry tea when you feel like you are coming down with a cold and you also feel cold (chilled) in your body.

What you’ll need…

  • 1/4 cup dried elderberries (30 grams)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • 14 ounces water
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Honey or other sweetener as desired
  1. Place the elderberries, ginger, black pepper, and water in a small saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Turn off the heat. Add the rosemary and thyme. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. We add the aromatic herbs at the end so that their volatile oils don’t evaporate during the simmering process.
  3. Strain. Add honey or other sweetener as desired.
  4. Drink throughout the day.

elderberry tea

Elderberry Tea for Strong Bones and Healthy Hair

Elderberries are nutrient dense. They contain significant levels of potassium, magnesium, ascorbic acid, calcium, and beta-carotene.4 They can be enjoyed daily as an important source of nutrition.

The following herbal tea combines elderberries with other nutrient-dense herbs that are considered to have a “salty” flavor: stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and oatstraw (Avena sativa). It’s important to note that when I say salty, I don’t mean they taste like table salt! Instead, these herbs have a deep mineral-rich taste, similar to kale or spinach. That mineral taste indicates that these are food-like herbs that contain lots of nutrients!

This elderberry tea can be enjoyed daily and is a great way to support healthy bones, teeth, and hair. Many people also report having increased energy levels after drinking nourishing nettle and oatstraw teas for an extended period of time.

What you’ll need…

  • 1/4 cup dried elderberries (30 grams)
  • 1/2 cup dried nettle leaves (approximately 14 grams)
  • 1/2 cup dried oatstraw (approximately 14 grams)
  • 32 ounces water
  • Honey or other sweetener as desired
  1. Place the herbs and water in a medium saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Strain. Add honey or other sweetener as desired.
  3. Drink throughout the day. This is also good as a cool beverage.

elderberry tea

Elderberry Tea for Protecting the Heart and Eyes

Elderberries are also loaded with colorful antioxidants. Eating foods high in antioxidants can decrease chronic and systemic inflammation. This type of inflammation is highly associated with heart disease and many other common chronic illnesses.

Like elderberries, sour herbs are often high in antioxidants. As a result, you can elderberries to protect organ systems that are susceptible to inflammation, like the heart and the eyes. In herbal medicine, all fruits are considered to be sour. A great example of a fruit that embodies these qualities is blueberries, which are often recommended as a way to support heart health and decrease inflammation.

This tea blend combines three sour herbs, all of which are known to be high in antioxidants and are often relied upon to protect the heart and eyes: elderberries, hawthorn berries (Crataegus spp.), and rose hips (Rosa spp.).

What you’ll need…

  • 1/4 cup dried elderberries (30 grams)
  • 1/4 cup dried hawthorn berries (20 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon dried, de-seeded rose hips (9 grams)
  • 14 ounces water
  • Honey or other sweetener as desired
  1. Place the herbs and water in a small saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Strain. Add honey or other sweetener as desired.
  3. Drink throughout the day. This is also good as a cool beverage.

elderberry tea

Elderberry Tea for Supporting the Liver and Promoting Digestion

This elderberry tea has a bitter kick! Bitter herbs support your body’s natural detoxification, often by stimulating and supporting liver health and healthy digestion. In herbal theory, many ailments are rooted in a sluggish liver, especially skin, hormonal, and digestive issues.

This recipe contains some beloved herbs for the liver including dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), burdock root (Arctium lappa), and chicory root (Cichorium intybus). Elderberry’s sour antioxidants are the perfect match for this bitter trio, with the overall result being a rich-tasting beverage to gently support your liver and digestion.

What you’ll need…

  • 1/4 cup dried elderberries (30 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons dried, roasted dandelion root (20 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon dried burdock root (9 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon dried, roasted chicory root (1 gram)
  • 14 ounces water
  • Honey or other sweetener as desired
  1. Place the herbs and water in a small saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Strain. Add honey or other sweetener as desired.
  3. Drink throughout the day.

elderberry tea

Elderberry Tea for Boosting the Immune System

Well known for their ability to ward off a cold or flu at the onset, elderberries can also be used as a way to prevent getting sick. Building and nourishing herbs that can modulate or broadly support the immune system are often classified as sweet herbs. These herbs don’t taste sweet like sugar or honey, but they do have a hint of sweetness to them, often indicating that they contain polysaccharides, which are known to benefit the immune system.

This elderberry tea recipe features a favorite sweet herb known for its ability to keep people healthy during the cold and flu season: Astragalus (Astragalus propinquus). Astragalus comes in many shapes and sizes, from long, thin roots to chopped, rounded roots. As a result, it is most accurate to weigh out the measurement of astragalus for the tea. On the other hand, it’s hard to take too much Astragalus, as it is a high dosage herb, so measuring by handful is also acceptable.

The demulcent marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) also has a sweet taste and gives the tea a thicker consistency, which is perfect if you live in a dry and arid climate or spend a lot of time in heated buildings in the winter.

What you’ll need…

  • 1/4 cup dried elderberries (30 grams)
  • 20 grams dried Astragalus root (small handful)
  • 1 tablespoon dried marshmallow root (4 grams)
  • 14 ounces water
  • Honey or other sweetener as desired
  1. Place the herbs and water in a small saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Strain. Add honey or other sweetener as desired.
  3. Drink throughout the day.

Pottery Sources

  • Elderberry Tea for Sniffles, Congestion, and Aches and Pains: Mug from Roussillon, France
  • Elderberry Tea for Strong Bones and Healthy Hair: Mug from Flora Pottery
  • Elderberry Tea for Protecting the Heart and Eyes: Mug from KPHanson Art
  • Elderberry Tea for Supporting the Liver and Promoting Digestion: Vintage 1970s mug from Japan
  • Elderberry Tea for Boosting the Immune System: Mug from Keyes Pottery


Knowing how an herb works based on its taste and energetics is far more effective than memorizing what an herb does. When you make the above elderberry tea recipes and taste how they differ, you’ll immediately recognize the power in experiencing herbs by taste rather than simply trying to memorize herbs.

Knowing how an herb works based on its taste is just the beginning! By developing your sense of taste, you’ll also know how to tell if herbs or an herbal remedy is strong or weak, if related herbs can be used in similar ways, and much more!

Now I’d love to hear from you!

Imagine if you knew how an herb worked based on how it tasted. And imagine if you could confidently choose herbs based on how they worked rather than on something you memorized or something someone said. How would that change your approach to herbs?

Please share in the comments below.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Zichria Zakay-Rones et al., “Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus Nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama,” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1, no. 4 (1995), http://doi:10.1089/acm.1995.1.361.
  2. Z . Zakay-Rones et al., “Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections,” Journal of International Medical Research 32, no. 2 (2004), http://doi:10.1177/147323000403200205.
  3. Evelin Tiralongo, Shirley S. Wee, and Rodney A. Lea, “Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travelers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial,” Nutrients 8, no. 4 (2016), http://doi:10.3390/nu8040182.
  4. “Sambucus nigra.” Accessed September 10, 2019. https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov/phytochem/search.
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  1. This is my first year collecting and dehydrating elders. I really appreciate these recipes which will put to use soon. Perhaps I could come back and share the results. However, for now I just want to say Thank You to Rosalee for investing so much of her time and knowledge and for sharing it. And, Thank You John for making accessible this information. Thank you very much for all in this great time at Learning Herbs.

    • Thanks for such sweet words Chelin. I am so glad you are enjoying our offerings!

  2. This was really helpful! I’m familiar with the 5 tastes, but these examples using elderberry brought clarity. As always, the recipes are a great bonus and will be a delightful way to experiment.

  3. great ideas for applying an herb to various needs in combination with other herbs; good for the allergy/virus season.

  4. I am so eager to try the different teas
    Thank you for all the knowledge you have shared with me and others
    It always amazes me how generous you are in teaching others

    • You’re welcome Nymar – thanks for being a part of our herbal community!

  5. Thank you for these wonderful recipes! A quick question: how does one deseed rose hips? Can it be done after they are dried?

    • You don’t need to de-seed rosehips for this recipe. I used already de-seeded rose hips that I had got from Mountain Rose Herbs. But you can use whole rose hips without any problem.

  6. Hi Rosalee. Love your herbal ideas and knowledge…so thanks. Just wondering if these teas would be good and have more benefit if I steeped them overnight as an herbal infusion. Thoughts?

    • I think that would be a great taste experiment. Make a batch as an overnight infusion. Then, make it as the recipe says, then compare the two side-by-side. I have a suspicion on the difference between the two, but I’ll let you try it out to see for yourself!

  7. Love, love, love that mug with the Dandelion on it ! Was excited to see that you had listed the suppliers of each mug, but then disappointed that the Dandelion mug was the Vintage one. I will probably never come across one like it.

    Thanks for the recipe ca, and loved your first video with you in the natural setting, at home in your own garden. Very inspiring that your garden had an appearance like these plants were growing in the wild. Loved that it does not have the cultured manicured look, but looked wild & free.

    • …recipe “card”….

    • I found that dandelion mug at a thrift store. It’s part of a set that also includes violet, red clover and more. That was a great find! Since then I’ve seen pieces of that set listed on Etsy. You never know… :)

      So glad you are enjoying the videos!

  8. The download link is broken. :(

    • The recipe card download is working for me. Try restarting your browser and device. You can also try using a different browser. If those things don’t work then you can use the blue chat bubble in the bottom right part of your screen to contact customer support for personalized technical help.

  9. I so appreciate all of the information you have shared, partly because I love elderberry and have a whole new appreciation for the many ways that it can be used, but also because the energetics approach makes so much sense and I feel so much more confident in putting herbs to use by using it. I too appreciate how generous you are in sharing your knowledge. The flavor wheel is so helpful. Thank you.

    • So glad you are enjoying these offerings Kathy! Thanks for taking the time to share such kind words!

  10. thank you so much, Rosalee, this is very informative and timely!

  11. I have a bunch or rose hips. What’s the best way to de-seed them?

    • You can use whole rose hips, no need to de-seed them.

  12. This approach to explaining the 5 basic Tastes, and the hands-on recipes as examples, has brought a great deal of clarity and order to the information that’s been collecting in my head. This post really connected with me and has revived my interest in understanding herbs in a meaningful way rather than the “chore” of memorizing lists.
    Thank you so much, Rosalee. Huge respect for your ability to teach!

  13. Can I use elderberryflowers instead of elderberries? The dried berries are not available in my country, where we make elderberry cordial from the flowers.

  14. Thank you Rosalee for sharing your wisdom and experience with herbs and to John for facilitating this learning space.

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