Hilary Stiebel pours a batch of her organic elderberry syrup./Photo by Angie Gray
Inside Hilary Stiebel’s suburban kitchen, a fruity aroma emerges from a steaming pot on the stovetop and permeates the air. It’s as comforting as the smell of noodle soup or a cashmere blanket on a crisp fall day.
On a high-top kitchen table, beside jugs of local Highland Orchards honey and hands of herbaceous ginger, are small porcelain serving bowls filled with elderberries, rosehips, clove buds and Ceylon cinnamon bark, all waiting to be boiled in Stiebel’s next batch of elderberry syrup.
Stiebel started making the elixir when she was pregnant, as an alternative to over-the-counter cold medication. “Within 48 hours, my cold and flu symptoms were gone,” says the Wilmington wife and mother of two young daughters. “Since it worked for me, I kept making it for my family, preventively, to help keep them healthy.”
This wasn’t Stiebel’s first introduction to natural healing. As the programs manager at Philabundance, a nonprofit food bank that serves the Delaware Valley, Stiebel spends a lot of time researching nutritious foods to feed the masses. She also attended Long Island University Global when it was Friends World College, studying plants and alternative medicine in the rainforests of Costa Rica and Belize.
As Stiebel began taking note of elderberry syrup’s myriad benefits—fewer illnesses and allergies, plus improved digestion—she “hopped down a rabbit hole” of research and experimenting with recipes. Around the same time, she noticed elderberry was becoming ubiquitous, showing up in health food markets in various forms and claiming to build the immune system to help the body fight cold and flu.
“Elderberries are powerful antioxidants and flavonoids, aiding the body in healthy cell turnover, and reducing inflammation and viruses,” she says.
When family and friends sought their own supply, the seeds for a business were planted and Hilary’s Homemade soon blossomed. She’s making a couple batches a week this season for a few dozen loyal customers, and that number is growing.
Once steeped, the liquid mixture needs to cool for a couple hours. While that’s happening, Stiebel arranges a small assembly line of elegant bottles labeled with her logo, then pours them about a third full of honey through a funnel. “It’s important to use local, raw honey,” she explains. “This contains local pollen, which helps with allergies.”
Enhancing the elderberries’ properties, rose hips pack more vitamin C than any citrus fruit, says Stiebel, noting they were given to soldiers during World War II to ward off scurvy. It also protects joints, raises metabolism and fights free radicals. Clove is also an antibacterial that helps expel mucus and soothe sore throats; ginger helps raise body temperature to sweat out a virus; and Ceylon cinnamon boosts immunity and may prevent certain cancers from growing, among other things.
“The raw honey,” Stiebel adds, “is a natural cough suppressant and sleep aid.” Taking it year-round may stop the sniffles in the warm and cold months, whether from allergies or the common cold.
Stiebel also offers DIY kits so you can make your own elderberry syrup at home. For more information, visit hilaryshomemade.com.