June 20, 2024


Free For All Food

6 Elderberry Mocktail Recipes to Boost Immunity This Holiday Season

As if we didn’t already have immunity boosting on our minds, we’re now fully entrenched in the cold and flu season. For obvious reasons, we’d probably all like to do what we can to stay well this winter.

You’ve heard the guidance on wearing masks, washing your hands, and keeping physical distance. But your diet is one area of influence that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

Among the foods that may shore up your immune system, elderberry packs a punch. While it might not be the kind of berry you pick up for snacking (I’ve never seen it in the produce aisle), its juice makes for plenty of tasty drinks.

You could certainly whisk it in with gin or vodka for a cocktail — but too much alcohol has been shown to suppress immunity, according to a 2015 research review.

That’s why I’m all about sipping on elderberry mocktails this holiday season.

Elderberries have been used for a variety of medicinal purposes for centuries. In modern times, scientific study has uncovered evidence for some of these applications, especially immunity boosting.

A 2019 study in the Journal of Functional Foods found that elderberry extract was an effective treatment for the flu because it inhibited pro-inflammatory cytokines (cells that mediate and regulate immunity) in the early stages of illness.

In a review of scientific literature from 2015, researchers concluded that the numerous antioxidants in elderberries:

Some of the immune-strengthening power of elderberries may come from their high vitamin C content.

This micronutrient, which is itself an antioxidant, may reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, according to a 2016 review — especially when you ingest large doses within the first 24 hours of symptoms.

Granted, this doesn’t mean that knocking back a few mocktails with elderberry syrup will cure the cold or flu.

And there’s no evidence as of yet that foods derived from elderberries combat the novel coronavirus, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

However, with their high antioxidant content, these berries and their extract can make a healthful addition to your diet.

In recipes and products, you may see references to both elderberry and elderflower.

Are they two different things? Sort of.

The elderberry bush produces elderflowers, which eventually ripen into elderberries. Berries and flowers are said to have different flavors, with flowers tasting lighter and, well, more floral.

In drink recipes, you’ll likely see elderberry and elderflower syrups used interchangeably. Elderberry is also sometimes referred to as “sambucus,” its botanical name.

Extract or syrup?

Elderberry extract is a concentrated source of the immune-boosting polyphenols or antioxidants contained in elderberries. Elderberry syrup is just that: a sweet syrup with elderberry flavor.

Studies that show benefits are typically using extract, not syrup. It’s also important to note that content and benefits can differ greatly among different brands.

Shop for elderberry syrup and elderberry extract online.

Try these drink ideas and imbibe some elderberry this holiday season.

Immune boosting elderberry sparkler

Anything with “sparkle” in its name sounds like just the thing for holiday celebrations. Even better when it’s full of immune support from elderberry and ginger, as in this glass of fizzy fun from Posh Little Designs.

Start to finish: 5 minutes
Serves: 1


  • 2 tsp. elderberry syrup or extract
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp. fresh grated ginger
  • Crushed ice
  • Sparkling or tonic water
  • Frozen or fresh blueberries, for garnish


  1. Into a tall glass, pour elderberry syrup or extract, lemon juice, and ginger. Mix to combine.
  2. Fill glass with crushed ice. Top with sparkling water and garnish with blueberries.

Rose and elderflower mocktail

The combination of rose petals, rosewater, elderflower, and sparkling elderflower soda amps up the floral flavor in this delightful drink from The Hedgecombers. More good news: It’s only 4 calories per serving!

Start to finish: 5 minutes
Serves: 1



  1. To make rose ice cubes: fill an ice tray with water and place a rose petal in each cube. Freeze until solid.
  2. Fill a tall glass with rose petal ice cubes, then add rose water.
  3. Top with sparkling elderflower beverage.

Elderflower blueberry-lime virgin cocktail

Even kids can enjoy this bubbly, tart blueberry-lime mocktail from Sugar Salted.

Use frozen blueberries if fresh are too pricey or harder to find in the winter months. Pro tip: Wild blueberries contain more fiber and antioxidants than cultivated ones.

Start to finish: 5 minutes
Serves: 1


  • 2 tbsp. elderflower syrup or extract
  • 1–2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • Small handful blueberries
  • Ice
  • Lime slices
  • 1 cup mineral sparkling water
  • Fresh mint, for garnish


  1. In a glass, combine elderflower syrup or extract, lime juice, and blueberries. Lightly mash them all together with a muddler.
  2. Top with ice and lime slices; pour in mineral water until it reaches the edge of the glass. Add mint leaves.

Lychee, mint, and elderflower mocktail

Grab your blender and mix the unique taste of lychees with zippy mint and elderflower in this faux martini from Delightful Vegans. Lychees add to the drink’s vitamin C content.

Start to finish: 10 minutes
Serves: 4


  • 1 (230-gram) can of lychees and their juice, plus more for garnish
  • Small handful fresh mint, plus more for garnish
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp. elderflower juice
  • Ice
  • Lemon and lime bitters drink


  1. To a blender, add lychees, mint, lemon juice, elderflower juice, and ice. Pulse to a crushed-ice consistency.
  2. Pour into 4 cocktail glasses, until each they’re about 3/4 full. Top with lemon and lime bitters drink. Garnish with additional lychees and mint.

Elderflower lemonade with rosemary

You may associate lemonade with summertime, but in most parts of the country, lemons are a winter fruit. This citrusy elderflower mocktail from Sew White puts a full sprig of rosemary in your glass for a festive look.

Start to finish: 5 minutes
Serves: 2



  1. To each of two tall glasses, add a few ice cubes.
  2. Add a dash (about 1 tbsp.) elderflower cordial to each glass.
  3. Add a lemon slice and a rosemary sprig to each.
  4. Top both glasses up with lemonade and serve right away.

Apple cider punch with sambucus

With the additions of a cinnamon simple syrup and pear juice, this apple cider punch from The Speckled Palate tastes like fall in a glass. A dash of sambucus (aka elderberry) syrup finishes things off with extra antioxidants.

Start to finish: 45 minutes
Serves: 1


For the cinnamon simple syrup:

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick

For the punch:

  • 3 oz. apple cider
  • 3 oz. pear juice
  • 1/2 oz. cinnamon simple syrup
  • 2 tsp. elderberry syrup or extract
  • Ice
  • Apple and pear slices, for garnish


  1. To make cinnamon simple syrup: In a small saucepan, heat water over medium-high heat. Add sugar and stir until dissolved.
  2. Remove from heat and add cinnamon stick. Let steep for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.
  3. Strain syrup into a Mason jar and refrigerate.
  4. To make punch: Into a glass, pour apple cider and pear juice. Add cinnamon syrup and elderberry syrup.
  5. Add ice and sliced apples and pears as garnish.

The wonderful thing about sweet drinks is their ability to pair with both sweet and savory dishes. Try any of these mocktails with a dessert course or a hearty holiday meal.

Apple and pear flavors go especially well with pork, while lighter florals like rosemary and rose petals may better complement turkey.

Hosting a brunch to kick off the new year? Serve the lychee-and-mint elderberry mocktail as a refreshing starter.

Or if you’re thinking of trying a “dry January,” swap out your evening beer or wine with a lower-calorie, healthier alternative like the immune-boosting elderberry sparkler.

Cold and flu season may coincide with the holidays, but it doesn’t mean the celebration can’t go on.

There’s no time like the wintry months to swap high-calorie alcoholic drinks with lighter, immune-supporting elderberry mocktails.

Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.