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Elderberry Liqueur

elderberry liqueur

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

This recipe produces a warm, rich liqueur that will remind you of a tawny Port wine. Elderberries are in many ways little grapes, with a similar aroma, bloom on the skin and color; they even have little seeds inside. So I treated them like winegrapes for this recipe.

You need fresh elderberries for this, although I am sure you could use dried ones somehow. Maybe simmer them in water to reconstitute? And with the fresh berries, remember to destem them all — NO stems, as they are slightly toxic.

I’ve tested two recipes for elderberry liqueur: One where you buzz the berries in a blender, another using whole berries. I vastly prefer the method using whole, fresh berries, so here it is:

elderberry liqueur

Makes about 1 quart.

Prep Time: 30 days

  • 1 pint fresh elderberries
  • 1 quart vodka
  • 3 one-inch pieces of lemon rind, white pith removed
  • Sugar

  1. Put elderberries into a quart Mason jar and pour over the vodka. Add the lemon rind (make sure the rind has no white pith, as it is bitter.) Seal and put in a dark cupboard for at least a month, or up to 6 months.
  2. The alcohol will extract flavor from the elderberries over time, so the longer you let it sit, the inkier it will get.
  3. When it is the color you want – anything from a Pinot Noir color to downright black — pour the vodka through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into another jar and add sugar.
  4. How much sugar? At least 1/4 cup, but to your taste; I go with 1/3 cup. Shake to combine and put back in the cupboard.
  5. After a few days or weeks, the sugar will completely dissolve and the elderberry liqueur is ready to drink. It keeps forever.

More Recipes for Sweets and Syrups

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44 responses to “Elderberry Liqueur”

  1. Garrett

    Totally making this this weekend.

  2. lil collins

    i have so many elderberries this year!! Can’t wait to try this out!

  3. Linda Low

    Uncooked elderberries are poisonous.

  4. Willow

    I was sick from eating ripe blue elderberries when I was a kid. I think I probably ate huge amounts of them, or so the story goes. They affect some people more than others, but the general rule is not to eat too many raw elderberries.

  5. Runtonboy

    Hank was right in what he says, the white berries are slightly toxic as are the stalks, if eaten in huge amounts. Why would you want to eat raw berries and stalks?
    When used in cooking or wine making there is no problem with toxocity? or is that tixocoty, or have I had too much elderberry wine?

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  8. Susan Covey

    I recently was warned of laws protecting elderberries in the low elevations in and around Sacramento. Something about an endangered beetle. Do you have any information or advice on this? Elderberries seem to be everywhere right now and I’d love to make some jelly.

  9. Susan Covey

    Thanks Hank – There are many a few blocks from my house on a RR levy. Plenty of wild things grow there, so I don’t think it’s sprayed or monitored much. I’ll just have to wash them extra well. Thanks for the deeper info. I won’t be scared to try them.

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  11. Mike Hall

    Uncooked elderberries have a variety of alkaloids on them, which have a varying effect (narcotic and medicinal) dependant on environment and the type. It is not true to say outright that uncooked elderberries are poisonous, though they do have a dangerous effect on some people.

    However, I would reckon that the vodka would have the biggest effect on almost all people in this instance.

    Still, would rinsing the berries in boiling water impair the taste much? That would surely reduce the risk of a dangerous reaction to uncooked elderberries.

  12. Linda

    I am above Sac and this is the first year I have known about Elderberries. Mine are currently white. Is it to late to make liqueur with them?

  13. Brandy

    I just had an amazing drink that a local place called “St. Germain’s Remains.” I hadn’t had elderberry liqueur before but that drink was AMAZING! I really want to make elderberry liqueur so that I can replicate the drink. I don’t have access to fresh berries but did find some dried berries. I’ve read that you can use them but it doesn’t taste as good or as flavorful. Do you have any experience with this and what are your thoughts?

    Thank you!

  14. Dana

    After reading this recipe a few years ago, I started packing along a 2 gallon ziplock bag while out deer hunting. Late October is the perfect time of year in Oregon to find ripe elderberries in the high country. I pick the clusters, stems and all and fill the bag, then toss the whole bag in my freezer when I get home.

    When I have time I take the frozen berry clusters out of the freezer and carefully roll them around in my hand. The frozen berries fall right off leaving almost no stems.

    A rinse and a pick through for any leftover stems and they’re ready. This is the 3rd year running I’ve made this. 1 gallon batches. I am ready to bottle this year’s bounty this weekend for Christmas gifts.

    Add in some smoked salmon and venison summer sausage that I also make, along with some of my wife’s Christmas candy, and everyone’s happy.

    Thanks for the recipe. It’s been a big holiday hit in my family.

    Oh I absolutely LOVE your site. It fits me perfectly! I hunt, fish, forage, and LOVE to cook all that I have been lucky enough to bring home.

  15. Dana

    A note to Brandy. Pomegranate seeds with a few cranberries will get you very close to the taste of elderberries. There is a pomegranate infused tequila that I always buy in Mexico to bring home. It is so good. Reminds me a lot of Hank’s elderberry vodka.

  16. Dana

    I poured off a sampler last night. About 3 ozs. in a small glass on the rocks with a big splash of club soda and a lime twist. Outstanding as always! The flavor is crisp and clean, a little bit sweet and tart. Beautiful deep red color.

    Now for the hardest part… Giving it away as gifts.

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  18. Jens

    Edler berry puree over vanilla ice cream !

  19. Brenda

    Stupid question perhaps…. but how do you fit 1 quart of vodka into a 1 quart mason jar that is half full with 1 pint of elderberries…? Do you split it between 2 jars?…. or just fill the one 1 quart jar as much as you are able to with enough vodka to fill the jar? I am wanting to make this, but am having difficulty with the logic….. Help!!

  20. Cherie

    The hedgerows are full of the little beauties here on Middlesbrough. I think this weekend will be ‘Elderberry liqueur making for Christmas’ day. How does it compare tastewise with sloe gin?

  21. cis

    From wikipedia (about sambucus nigra, the species we have in the UK):

    Elder is cited as a poisonous plant to mammals and as a weed in certain habitats… All parts of the plant except for the flowers and ripe berries (but including the ripe seeds) are poisonous, containing the cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin (C14H17NO6, CAS number 99-19-4). The bark contains calcium oxalate crystals.

    I know we leave the bark out in this recipe, but is there not a case for straining the seeds out? Or do they break down during the initial 6-month “resting period”?

  22. Evie

    thank you for this simple way of dealing with e’berries & great idea for nephew’s christmas present. No-one seems to rinse berries, is this correct? + Daft question, ‘but’!, is the vodka %proof affected by the berries – would think not, but don’t like to assume!!

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  24. Annabros

    Sounds like a good recipe – will try it. Made some elderberry & vanilla jelly/jam yesterday….prob the finest tasting thing I have made in 40 years!

  25. janyne

    Here in the North of England we have 2 types of elder:the white, and a wine coloured black elder which does not grow in the wild.
    It must be a hybrid of some sort, but I may just try this recipe with my Polish 96.5% Vodka!

  26. Gail

    Do you think I could use the berries after draining the liquid off to make candy? Or, do you know of a use for the berries after you make the liqueur?

  27. Aisling Blackburn

    I live in Ireland and have used cooked elderberries many times. In the raw state they are known to have purgative properties. Even cooked they will do this and this action comes from the seed as far as I am aware. That is they are a fantastic cure for constipation, I once made chutney and left the seeds in and wow! They will not do you any harm. In the case of liquids the seeds are being sifted out and this could be the reason no harmful effects have been felt from drinking it.

  28. Katie

    I have just strained my very first attempt at Elderberry Liqueur (it’s delicious!). I really don’t want to throw away the berries though! Does anyone have ideas of anything else they could be used for? I’d rather use them in something else than just bin them now!

  29. Ross

    I just got home from a nice hike where I was able to identify two elderberry trees with a ton of ripe berries and I’m about to make this liqueur for the first time like many others here.

    Dana, I especially like your tip about cutting the clusters off the branch whole. This way you can hold one cluster flat in your hand and then cut the next one right on top of. They stack nicely this way and you reduce your trips back and forth between your bag. Additionally, your tip about throwing everything in the freezer to make separating the berries and stems is golden!

    A little background on the potential toxicity of these berries: this is most likely due to cyanogenic glycosides within the seeds only. These compounds are also present in apple seeds, almonds, peach pits, cherry pits, plums, pears, apricots and seeds from related fruits. Avoiding breaking the seeds (like in a blender) and straining them out of the liqueur after the long soak will probably remove these compounds.

  30. Amanda

    Is it possible to make this with dried elderberries? I know of the elderflower liquor too is that possible to make with dried?

  31. Ross

    Hi Amanda, I’m sure you could! I’ve never tried it personally but here’s what I would do. Put your dried elderberries in a container large enough to hold the berries plus a little water. Add lukewarm water to the berries; just enough to cover them. Leave them for a couple hours or over night to reconstitute. While the water is absorbed into the berries, you may need to add a little more water to keep the berries covered. When the berries are plump again, drain off the excess water and proceed with the recipe as normal.

  32. Robert

    Your recipe is wonderful! But since I didn’t drink the entire batch in one round, do you think it needs to be refrigerated or can it sit in the liquor cabinet?

  33. Tana

    Hello. Can anyone tell me, then, if the red elderberries can be boiled? I have two bushes in my yard which are heavy with berries at the end of the summer. We live in central/north Manitoba. One bush was tagged as a high-bush cranberry; however, they both resembles each other in appearance.

    Also, my then 2-year old granddaughter and I both had a couple raw last summer, thinking they were highbush cranberry. But, upon tasting, we spat them upon the ground. I picked 2 small ziploc baggies full. They have been in my freezer. I wanted to make jelly with them.

  34. Ben

    Thanks Hank! I followed this recipe exactly and am more than happy with the results. I added triple the sugar in the end, which thickened it up and of course made it very sweet. My wife and her friends prefer to drink it that way. Here in Germany the European Black Elder is “everywhere”. I was able to make 3 liters of the liqueur with the extra berries I had after a running out of glasses for the jelly I was making from simply recipes (Thanks Elise!). I will be making much more this coming season. Easy to follow recipes like these make it easy for novices like myself, thanks for all that you do.

  35. Zeke Baker

    Thanks for the recipe Hank! I hope I didn’t miss this in the comments, but when do you suggest harvesting elderberries in the Sacramento area? It’s the end of May, and I’ve already seen blue-ish clusters of berries along Putah Creek near Winters, while elsewhere I’ve seen only the blossoms.

  36. Jordan Wright

    What a wonderful site! This comment may explain why some if your readers have gotten sick from elderberries. Avoid species with red fruit growing in rounded, instead of flat clusters. They may make you sick. Herculesí club is a shrub or small tree with feather-compound leaves that looks a little like the common elderberry. It has flat clusters of poisonous, black berries, often arranged in a ring, and a short, unbranched, thorny trunk. Elderberries are thornless.

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