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MEG Medicine Pantry: Elderberry for Cold & Flu Symptoms


Let’s talk about the Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), aka  Elder, Common Elder, American Elder,  and European Elder. It’s been used medicinally throughout history for a variety of ailments, and studies are showing that there is good reason. Elderberries are high in vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as iron and potassium. They are also a good source of inflammation-fighting quercetin.

The 2017-2018 flu season has caught many folks off guard. It’s the most widespread outbreak of the flu virus in more than a decade. Did you know that several studies across the globe have proved that elderberry syrup can be effective in treating and lessening the symptoms of influenza viruses? It’s true.

I’m not going to get into a debate about flu vaccines here; I am not a medical expert, I only know what works for me. I have had the flu just once in my life, and I personally believe that a good deal of the credit for that goes to daily use of a neti pot, a daily dose of my winter tonic (aka ‘fire cider’), and elderberry tincture or syrup when I feel cold and flu symptoms creeping in.

In a double-blind study1 in 1993, 93.3% of subjects taking an elderberry preparation called Sambucol reported significant improvement in their flu symptoms within two days versus six days for those given the placebo.

Not only is elderberry effective as a flu treatment, it may also help to prevent the flu virus, as reported in another study in the journal Phytochemistry in 20092. The report showed that flavonoids contained in elderberries produce antibodies that bind with H1N1 virion (that’s the infectious form of a virus), and prevent it from infecting host cells. A study reported in the Journal of Thoracic Disease3 explained that flavonoids from elderberries (including the quercetin mentioned earlier), are “comparing favorably to the anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®).

Tamiflu is the prescription-only antiviral flu treatment that is persistently in short supply during flu outbreaks, but elderberries can be as close as your garden. In the past I have always acquired elderberry syrup and tinctures from others, but the recent research I’ve done that went into writing this post led me to order my own plants; they will make a welcome addition to the garden.

For a great tutorial on how to make elderberry syrup, check out this video from Mountain Rose Herbs:

Freezing some of your elderberry syrup will help it to last longer, and ensure that you can have some available when it is needed.

A Final Note

It is important to cook elderberries before consuming them. Raw elderberries can cause a buildup of cyanide in your system, which is toxic and be dangerous.

Disclaimer: This website does not provide medical advice. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

1Zakay-Rones, Zichria, et al. “Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virusin Vitroand Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus NigraL.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 1, no. 4, 1995, pp. 361–369., doi:10.1089/acm.1995.1.361.

2Roschek Jr. B, Fink RC, McMichael MD, et al. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009;70(10):1255-61. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.06.003.

3Shen X, Zhang X, Liu S. Novel hemagglutinin-based influenza virus inhibitors. Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2013;5(Suppl 2):S149-S159. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2013.06.14.

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