We can blame it on the baby.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Julie Messina and her partner, Alicia, had their first child, a boy named Hudson. When Julie went back to work as a Bethel kindergarten teacher, she was terrified of catching something and bringing it back to the house.
“Kindergartners literally sneeze on you,” she says.
She started researching holistic ways to be proactive in protecting her son and learned about elderberry syrup from her pediatrician and her own research. An ancient syrup made from elderberries and other ingredients, research indicates that it helps protect against flu and colds and can limit the duration of both.
Messina liked the idea of the product, but the elderberry syrup she bought in stores was not cutting it. “They were medicine-y,” she recalls. “They weren’t really palatable. They were expensive. They were super concentrated and they had junk in them. So I started making my own.”
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After taste-testing various recipes she came up with, Messina settled on one with natural, organic ingredients. It also tasted good. Really good. She shared it with friends and family and, before long, friends of friends were asking her to make it for them. Messina realized she was on to something and, with the help of Alicia, J’s Homemade Elderberry Syrup was launched in October 2018. Today the syrup is available on the J’s Homemade website and sold at 24 stores in Fairfield County. In the Bethel and Danbury area, it can be found at coffeehouses and has made its way into various specialty cocktails at bars and restaurants.
Messina makes a fresh batch each week at Mothership Bakery & Cafe in Danbury. The ingredients include elderberries, rosehips, astragalus root, cinnamon and raw honey from Stonewall Apiary in the Hanover section of Sprague. Each ingredient is rich in antioxidants, and Messina says the honey helps reduce the chances of seasonal allergies. But though it may be healthy, the flavor still counts. “It’s not a medicine; ours is a food product,” she says. “My goal was to make something that was delicious, not just healthy.”
I first tried J’s Elderberry Syrup as part of the elderberry kombucha margarita at J. Lawrence Downtown in Bethel. For this cocktail, it mixes with kombucha and tequila, adding some sweetness to the mix. On its own, the drink has a honey-forward flavor that is balanced nicely by the elderberry and other ingredients, and makes for easy drinking.
J’s Homemade Elderberry Syrup is sold in 8- or 16-ounce bottles, which sell for $17 and $30, respectively. There is also a version made with maple syrup instead of honey, since babies younger than 1 are supposed to avoid honey. The maple syrup version is also vegan-friendly.
The Messinas also have a baby girl named Avery. Because she’s still less than a year old, Avery drinks the maple syrup recipe. Hudson, who was the syrup’s inspiration, is still its biggest fan. While some parents mix it into smoothies for their kids, Messina gives it to Hudson neat. “Every day he drinks it, and is like, ‘I want more.’ ”
J’s Homemade Elderberry Syrup
Facebook, Instagram: @jshomemadesyrup