Elderberry: What, Why, & How



NOTE: Flu vaccines, while effective against some flu strains, do not provide complete coverage. Each year, epidemiologists predict which flu viruses will be present in order to develop the most accurate vaccines. While they do their best, it is similar to predicting the weather, so there is a chance of inaccuracy. To receive the flu vaccine is a personal decision, one that you make for yourself and your family, as with every health choice. This article is not about the flu vaccine. This article highlights the use of elderberry for cold and flu prevention and treatment. Elderberry can be used as an adjunct or alternative therapy to the flu vaccine.

What is elderberry?

Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) is the berry of the flowering elder plant. It has antiviral properties; it disarms flu viruses’ ability to invade cells. It is immune boosting; it dramatically increases the production of antibodies called cytokines. Elderberry is a very effective natural remedy against the flu virus. In 2002 in Oslo, Norway, a study was done to determine the efficacy of elderberry in comparison to Tamiflu. Patients given elderberry recovered from the flu in 2-3 days, patients given Tamiflu recovered in 4.5-5 days, and patients given a placebo recovered in 6 days. Tamiflu, which is also an antiviral, is the most common treatment for flu symptoms. Unfortunately, its side effects mimic flu-like symptoms, it can allow for secondary bacterial infections, and it has even been linked to cases of suicidal ideation. It is also expensive. Elderberry has relatively no side effects (for those with autoimmune disorders, special consideration is discussed below) and is inexpensive.

Where is elderberry grown?

Elderberry is native to the many parts of the United States and Europe.

Can I grow elderberry?

Yes. Elderberry bushes are very easy to maintain. Elderberry grows best in full sun, with slightly acidic, well-draining soil. It typically begins producing fruit within 1-2 years of planting. Raw berries are poisonous and must be cooked before consumption. The raw plant contains a cyanide-producing substance that is inactivated by cooking.

What forms can elderberry be taken in?

Syrup, teas and tinctures, and jam.

Where can I purchase elderberry?

Any health food store and some local farmers markets. You can also grow and make your own.

Who is elderberry contraindicated for?

Elderberry is safe and effective for adults and children over the age of 2. It should be used cautiously in pregnancy and with breastfeeding. As it is an immune-stimulant, those with autoimmune disorders should not take elderberry without discussing it and the potential side effects with their healthcare provider. Always read the product label and information and use as directed. Elderberry can either be prepared as a plain syrup or with additives, such as honey, cinnamon, ginger and clove, which can have additional health benefits, but can be harmful to some demographics, like those mentioned above. Additionally, there is a possibility that elderberry can contribute to the overproduction of cytokines (proteins released by white blood cells to attack pathogens), which can cause them to attack healthy tissues. In order to avoid the chance of this, you can take a natural anti-inflammatory with elderberry, such as turmeric.

When should I take elderberry?

Elderberry not only helps at the onset of cold and flu symptoms, but even prior to exposure to the flu virus. For best results, take elderberry throughout the fall and winter months.

How much elderberry should I take for each dose?

Dosing for prevention and for treatment are different. Increasing the dosing during sickness helps give you a boosted immune response when you need it most. For prevention, ages 12 years and older take 2 tsp a day, and ages 2-11 years take 1 tsp a day. For treatment, take the same dose (1-2 tsp, depending on age) 4 times a day. Each dose should be 3-5 hours apart. Parents, always use a measuring tool to give the proper amount to your children. Refrain from guessing to prevent overdosing. Be consistent with your dosing. Syrups, as with all medicines, should be respected. Never assume that taking more is helpful.

Jaimeé Arroyo Novak, FNP

(1) Fassa, P. (2009, May 30). Elderberry trumps tamiflu for flu remedy. Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/026354_flu_Tamiflu_elderberry.html#