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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

107 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.

  37. Chelsey

    As far as red elderberries go, I’ve been nibbling them here and there cause I have a problem with not eating things I find outside. Me and my coworker don’t mind them by themselves raw.. of course they are pretty tiny so I think eating too many would be down right difficult. To me, red elderberries taste like a little stanky at first, kind of like a real footy Hefe, and then finish out like watermelon rind. If you can find them when they’re SUPER ripe, almost purple, they don’t have as much of a zing. And yes, I’ve read the lit, I know they’re sposed to be slightly toxic – however they were used by coastal tribes way back in the day and for a while there everyone kinda thought milkweed would kill you too.

  38. Bill of Montana

    I’ve had my berries in the vodka now for several months and took a tiny sip. Have moved several ounces to a small jar and added the proper ratio (1 to 16) sugar to elderberry vodka. A miracle must occure to turn this in to a tasty Liqueur, cause right now it gets spit out.

  39. Bill of Montana

    This batch was made from Elderberries I had picked last year and had frozen. This years berries are coming along nicely and should be ready for picking in another week or so. A week ago they were looking good but where small and had yet to dip the clusters downward.

  40. shah

    I’ve extracted juice from my 2 elderberry trees (black) which were bought from the Native Plant society and deemed the edible variety. My husband swears by eating them raw over vanilla bean ice cream. The juice is extracted using steam, so very clear. I use the same method for quince. Do you think I can make the liquor from juice by adding sugar and letting set? I wanted to make jelly, but have read you need pectin and apples/quince aren’t ripe yet. As for the person asking about what to do with the berries soaked in vodka… With quince, I’ve used the liquor soaked fruit in an adapted carrot bread recipe, but the sugar was added at same time in fruit for that cordial recipe. It was incredibly delicious. However, the seeds in the elderberries may be difficult to digest, so unsure if using in bread will work for elderberries. You can try though…

  41. simon

    Hi Hank, we’re on our third year of making Damson Gin and Damson Vodka, having picked 24lbs of damsons and frozen them to use all year.Blackberry vodka last year too and this summer in the UK has given us a huge Elderberry harvest so off to buy many litres of vodka and gin to repeat the recipie with the Elderberries. Should be ready for Christmas. Damson and Plum harvesting soon and Blackberries ripening too. And after you finish with the Blackberries in Vodka use them to make alcoholic Blackberry crumble….

  42. Pamela Kupiec

    What happens if I put the sugar in, in the begining?

  43. Bill of Montana

    Well the sugar did it. Before the sugar was added the elderberry flavor was overpowered by the vodka. The sugar lessened the vodka and the berry flavor came on strong. All in all a very nice sipping drink. I’ve 750ml bottled and decorated that will now sit and to be enjoyed during the holidays.


  44. Michael

    I’m with Pamela on this one. I actually just did this yesterday, only difference is, I added honey instead of sugar. Mixed it all in and am currently bouncing around waiting for at least a month before seeing the end result. If I don’t get a response I will try to remember to post my outcome with using honey instead and putting it in at the beginning.

  45. angela

    I couldn’t remember the recipe or the measures so I put equal parts elderberry to vodka almost but only have screw top wine bottles to put it in will this be okay or could I seal it in a huge plastic container until it is ready to add the sugar?

  46. angela

    Not sure how I will get all the elderberries in the wine bottles the opening of the bottle is rather small still have it sitting in the plastic jug with cling film over it can’t think that can be good but nothing else available for it

  47. Bambi Rieker

    I forgot to add lemon zest to the jars. I also sealed them in a boiling bath. Is this OK? Or should I start over? Can I still use the same berries and vodka?

  48. neil

    Hi all.
    Can you use brandy instead of vodka?

    Cheers Neil.

  49. Neil

    Do I need to microwave the berries or boil them as I’ve been told they can be poisonous if raw.
    New to all of this so might be asking loads of questions.


  50. Neil


    In goes the brandy….. let you know hat it’s like in a month or so.


  51. grahame

    Hi Hank. In Norfolk(England) I have heard this drink made from brandy and elderberries called Elderette. Wondered if any one else has heard it called this? Grahame

  52. Emma Carlisle

    Just emptied my chest freezer and found a bag of elderberries that I had stupidly forgotten to use! Would these still work?!

  53. Danielle schuh

    Has anyone ever used dry elderberries to make this? If so how much do I use?

  54. Michelle

    When is the best time to add sugar to the alderberry liquor, before or after it has sat or does it matter?

  55. sis gillispie

    I just put the sugar in the elderberry vodka mix after letting it set for 6 weeks, the sugar will not dissolve, it sets on the bottom, what can I do?

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  57. Jake

    Hello, we have numerous beautiful elderberry shrubs on our property. So we thought we would harvest them. We used a steamer (Mei’lusa) probably butchered the spelling. Anyhow I have at least 5 gallons of very dark elderberry juice. I’d love to try making wine, jelly, brandy, liqueur, and even thought of making soap. So here’s the problem: I am looking for ideas and better yet RECIPES! I would appreciate any ideas or recipes. Thanks!

  58. Tina

    We forgot about some of the elderberries steeping and they were in the cupboard under the stairs for 2 years before straining and adding sugar.
    The liqueur was so dark and made the most delicious elderberry royales on Christmas day. Last year we did the same with Damsons!

  59. Marie

    I forgot to strain my vodka for a year and now it tastes pretty bad. Not sweet or berry like at all. It tastes like earth. Is there anything I can do to rectify this? I can’t remember if I added the sugar. Sounds like I didn’t, right?

  60. Maria

    Oh, man! The elderberry-bushes are blooming, and I’m most excited about trying this recipe!Thanks to everyone for all the interesting questions, as the answers may have saved me some time and trouble.

  61. Rina

    I love the blackberry vodka and this year I am trying the elderberries as well so thank you for the idea ( I’m thinking of making two bottles of elderberry wine as well ). Anyway I do not know has anyone tried this or not but I use the blackberry vodka like two fingers at the bottom of the glass and than add about two to three fingers of Red Bull. It is so good, I saw this being done when I visited Kosovo, I do wonder how will the elderberry vodka taste with Red Bull as well. Well thanks for the great idea sadly until now I used the bloom only to make juice never really used the berries.

  62. Melissa

    I have spotted a number of elderflower bushes, and now the berries are forming. (I’m in Massachusetts, USA.) What color should the berries be before I pick them? I’ve read that they will be blue or purple, but there’s a good bit of difference between those. Should I just try eating one to see if it’s sweet? Will it be like a ripe blueberry? Thanks.

  63. Veronica Lawler

    I made a cherry vodka the way I was taught in Romania (only they used a homemade plum brandy (Romanian moonshine). I put cherries in a large jar, added sugar closed tightly and left to ferment. Then pour in vodka and age.

  64. Lisa Lanning

    What do you think about using one of the flavored vodkas? Like a whipped cream vodka or even a strawberry vodka?

  65. Suzanna

    I made 14 8oz jars of elderberry jelly from 3 pounds of fresh berries I went out & got another pound of them to prepare some liquor can’t wait till its ready the jelly turned out fantastic

  66. Janis Mc

    Thanks for the great tips. Spent hours yesterday trying to get every little stem off of a couple lbs of elderberries. If there are a few 1/8 in stems will that be a problem?

  67. Janis Mc

    Thanks. I’m really glad to hear that. Lol

  68. Eric

    I use a simple syrup to finish lemoncello, should work for this recipe as well, no?

  69. Seth

    This is just how I make Lemoncello. I will have to try this out with this year’s harvest.

  70. Tom Kuball

    Used this same recipe with aronia berry. Turns out great!

  71. Amanda

    Made Sloe gin yesterday for the first time and whilst I was out foraging I spied loads of elderberries!! Going to try this. Will it be ready for Christmas? Do you drink it neat (like sloe gin) or use as a ‘mixer’?

  72. Amanda

    Thankyou Hank!

    I suppose it could be used rather like a cassis too?

  73. Jaye

    Hello, I started infusing the elderberries about a week ago. The vodka has already turned pretty much black, and the safety tops on the jars had popped back up (I re-used old jam jars), so I opened them up to let out the built up pressure and noticed they smelled kinda bad. Has something gone wrong? Will the bad smell go away once I’ve added the sugar? Thanks!

  74. Jaye

    I really couldn’t tell you! I have never had elderberry anything! It doesn’t really smell like anything I’ve smelled before. It’s certainly not very nice though. Not fruity at all. It sort of smells kinda like it’s gone off, but the more I smell it the more I’m unsure.

  75. Ben

    Could you do this with other berries? Mullberries, for instance? Or maybe chokecherries?

  76. Thea

    I let the jar of berries & Vodka sit for 2 months, took a taste and decided it needed no sugar, yummy, served with ice & squeeze of lime. Served this at a holiday party and it was a hit. Thanks!

  77. Karen

    Thanks for giving me the confidence to use my one Superman-size bush now as tall as my garage! Yearly, produces 2 batches of elderberry vodka, a dozen jars of jelly and 4-5 pies either with crumb topping or 2-crust and several quarts of pure healthy juice for a cousin. Giving the jelly as gifts is a wonderful experience as long as friends don’t tell where it’s from…can’t make anymore! Biggest problem, waiting to begin the HARVEST and not pickng too early.

  78. sandra

    Greetings Hank,

    I wanted to weigh in and thank you for a super yummy recipe. Just bottled up some black elderberry liqueur which is a lovely pale shade of red. Your patience in answering everyone’s questions, beginning in 2009, is impressive. My compliments and keep up the good work.

  79. johanna

    hi hank-

    just an FYI on very traditional elderberry uses from a long time ago: in Scandinavia, and Finland where i am from, we rarely eat elderberries raw; they are very slow and low cooked and then strained in a cheese cloth, without added sugar of course, to make a soup–served warm or chilled. very delicious! it’s not that the berries are so poisonous, but as is true for some fruits and veggies, there are some health advantages to cooking them…
    they are also used in sauces for wild game like pheasants.

  80. Samantha Bradley

    Is there anything you can do with the berries once strained. It seems a bit of a waste to just throw them away?

  81. c wayne brown

    Samantha, try eating a few. Let me know what you think.

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