Elderberry has been popular among natural remedy enthusiasts for centuries. Although, it has generated much conversation on the internet in recent years. As soon as autumn hits, you can find many people mixing up this ancient concoction for daily consumption in hopes of preventing the flu, cold and other ailments. However, as with many popular medications and remedies for cold and flu treatment, you may be skeptical if elderberry really works despite having and friend or two rave about the medicinal berry.
Skepticism of such natural remedies and medications is not unfounded with companies often producing misleading advertising during cold and flu season, a time we all tend to panic a bit and try as best we can to avoid these thriving germs. Airborne, the popular “cold fighting” drug of the early 2000’s, for example, settled a lawsuit over $20 million in 2008 for their false advertising claims as a “miracle cold buster.”1 To this day, you will still see the medication on the shelves now vaguely marketed as an “immune system booster.”
What are the facts about Elderberry?
So to cut through the hype, what are the facts about elderberry? Elderberries are produced by the European elder, a native tree to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. However, it can grow in parts of the United States too. The tree produces a red variety of elderberries and a blue / black variety. Only the blue / black elderberry is used for medicinal purposes. Other parts of the tree including the leaves, bark, fruits, roots, and flowers, are also used in traditional medicine, naming the herb as a “medicine chest” by Hippocrates.2
Elderberry can also be used in wines, pies, teas and jams. When it is used for medicinal purposes, many individuals are making homemade elderberry syrup. The berries are typically boiled with honey and medicinal spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Users can purchase Elderberry in capsules, logenzes, tinctures, and other combination products. No standard dosage of elderberry exists, yet many adults consume a tablespoon or two a day in hopes of preventing a cold or the flu.
Uncooked elderberry can be dangerous, causing severe nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, weakness and need for hospitalization. Older, unverifiable records report childhood deaths from consuming American black elderberry, a related berry to the European variety used medicinally.3 It is unknown exactly how much elderberry is safe for child consumption.
Can Elderberry really prevent or cure a cold or the flu?
Are you considering Elderberry to relieve your cold or flu symptoms? Well, for most people it is probably worth a try. Little is known about how the ancient remedy works, and if it truly works. The berry contains flavonoids, chemicals which are believed to aid in reducing inflammation.
Scientist who are funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) study the antioxidant effects of elderberry. They hope to discover if the plant helps cure infection. Currently, the NCCIH reports, “Although some preliminary research indicates that elderberry may relieve flu symptoms, the evidence is not strong enough to support its use for this purpose.”4
Israeli scientists may disagree. After studying the effects of an elderberry extract that is commercially available known as Sambucol®, Israeli research reported the growth of influenza viruses in lab dishes were suppressed when the elderberry extract was introduced. This research team also reported that patients with confirmed cases of avian flu, H5N1, who were given the extract recovered faster than those in the study’s placebo group.5
An Australian study from 2016 may also suggest that extract from the European elder may shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms. A group of 312 participants was divided into two groups, one taking a placebo and the other taking elderberry extract. The group given elderberry recorded a decrease of symptoms days sooner than the placebo group.6
Although the research presented seems promising, most health authorities will agree that more research is needed to confirm the health benefits of Elderberry. Some studies suggest that combination products consisting of elderflower along with various herbs may be helpful for sinusitis. Due to the usage of multiple ingredients, the role elderflower plays in their effects, if any, is unknown.4
Are there any dangerous interactions between Elderberry and medication?
At this time, there are no negative interactions reported between the usage of elderberry supplements combined with other medications.7 Unknown interactions could exist. You should always discuss the possible risks and benefits of supplemental usage with your doctor.
What are the best ways to avoid a cold or the flu?
To reduce the risk and spread of cold and flu, remember to follow the suggestions reiterated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for decades: avoid contact with those who are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after no longer having a fever controlled by medication, clean surfaces that may be contaminated, wash your hands often, and cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze.8 Also discuss the possibility of receiving a flu shot with your doctor.
Are you experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms and do not have a general practitioner? Visit ccmhhealth.com/providers to search for one of our providers.
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1 CNNMoney. 4 March 2008. Airborne settles lawsuit for $23.3 million.
2 Jaret, Peter. 29 February 2016. Health. Immunity Boosters for Cold and Flu Season.
3 Center for Disease Control (CDC). 6 April 1984. Poisoning from Elderberry Juice — California.
4 National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). September 2016. European Elder.
5 Blackburn, Nicky.Isreal 21C. 29 January 2006. Study shows Israeli elderberry extract effective against avian flu.
6 Tiralongo, Wee & Lee. 8 April 2016. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.
7 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. 4 June 2016. Elderberry.
8 Center for Disease Control (CDC). 1 August 2018. CDC Says “Take 3” Actions to Fight the Flu.