Flu season. Those two words are enough to make parents, teachers, and doctors run to the store to stock up on disinfecting wipes and medications. We all know that the flu can take you out of commission for longer than most viruses. It will leave you shivering and sweating on the couch watching bad TV, and out of work long enough that your boss actually believes that you’re really sick. Every year it seems there are new flu prevention/shortening products that hit the market and tempt us with their grandiose claims. But did you know that one of the most effective treatments for the flu lies within a small berry on a plant that can be grown in Colorado?
I’m referring to the Elderberry, of course. (Common Elderberry: Sambucus nigra L. ssp. Canadensis). I always look forward to this time of year when I can harvest a bounty of fresh elderberries at a family friend’s house. The dark juice stains my fingers a beautiful deep purple, and my mind fills with excitement in anticipation of making fresh elderberry syrup! One summer in Iowa while visiting my Grandpa’s old farm I discovered multiple towering elderberry shrubs that were as tall as trees. They were bursting with white, delicate, sweetly scented elderflower umbrellas. Once I learned about the incredible health benefits of this plant, I started to make elderberry syrup and share it with my clients.
The Little Berry That Packs a Punch
Both the elderberry and elderflower are excellent for staying healthy and fighting off the flu virus. Although lovely and tempting, do not eat the raw berries—consumption in various quantities can cause cyanide build up in the body and make you quite ill. The seeds contain cyanide glycosides which is greatly reduced when the berries are processed using proper methods. (I.F. Bolarinwa et al., 2016. Toxicology. A Review of Cayanogenic Glycosides in Edible Plants) Never fear, cooking the berries volatalizes this toxic compound that makes them inedible in the raw form.
So, what makes elderberries so helpful to our bodies? They are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, vitamin B6, and anthocyanins (water-soluble vacuolar pigments). They also contain tannins, sterols, and essential oils and are considered a healthy food. In fact, elderberries have an antioxidant capacity that ranks high when compared to fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, and mulberries.
The berries can be made into wine, jam, syrup, and pies, while the flower petals can be eaten raw or made into a fragrant tea. The flowers can also add an aromatic flavor to pancakes or fritters.
Psst—here’s a delicious tip: pour the syrup over vanilla ice cream for a special treat!
Elderberries Are an Old Friend
Past generations knew the power of elderberries for health and they were utilized for many different ailments such as stomach ache, sinus congestion, diarrhea, sore throat, common cold, and rheumatism. Additionally, elderberries have diaphoretic, laxative and diuretic properties which make them helpful with constipation. Folk medicine traditions considered all parts of the elderberry plant to be valuable in healing.
Native Americans also have a tradition of using elderberry for its healing properties (Birchers et al. 2000) and particularly to treat fever and rheumatism (Moerman 1986). Elderberry was considered a Holy Tree during the Middle Ages, capable of restoring and keeping good health and longevity.
Scientific Results of Elderberry Studies
The benefits of elderberries in treating common viruses are real and are reflected in multiple studies on the subject. From 1999-2000, an experiment entitled ‘Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections’ was conducted in Norway.
Sixty patients suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 hours or less were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study during the influenza season. Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza. (Journal of International Medical Research, April 2004)
The Online Journal of Pharmacology and PharmacoKinetics reported on a study entitled ‘Pilot Clinical Study on a Proprietary Elderberry Extract: Efficacy in Addressing Influenza Symptoms’ in 2009. The study, reported by Fan‐kun Kong, PhD., looked at influenza-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and nasal symptoms and their response to elderberry extract. The results were pretty amazing in demonstrating the power of this berry.
Following the first 24 hours of treatment, the proprietary elderberry extract group showed significant reduction in fever
All patients with fever in the elderberry group returned to normal temperature within 48 hours. In the placebo group, the majority of the patients failed to show any improvement in fever within the 48‐hour treatment period, and only 2 patients (22%) in this group returned to normal temperature.
Through 24 hours of treatment, the proprietary elderberry extract group showed a significant reduction in headache symptom
In contrast, headaches became more severe in the placebo group
No improvement in headache was reported by any single individual subject in the placebo group
The study concluded that using elderberry syrup during the active stage of colds and flu, to minimize distress, appears to support immune function and offers a natural, safe, and effective option.
(Online Journal of Pharmacology and PharmacoKinetics, Volume 5: 32‐43, 2009, Fan‐kun Kong, PhD.)
Now doesn’t that just make you want to add elderberry syrup to your flu season arsenal?! And you can use it with the peace of mind that you are harnessing the power of mother nature to treat your body, and not ingesting unnatural ingredients. It’s nature’s flu shot!
Upcoming Elderberry Medicine Workshop
On November 2, I will be hosting a Elderberry Medicine Workshop from 1:00-2:30pm at People House in Denver. Sample elderberry in various forms, craft your own elderberry remedy, and discover why elderberry will be your best friend. Register Today!