Elderberry has a lot going for it—and for you—during cold and flu season. This herbal immune booster contains dense antioxidant levels, is a good adjunct to allergy treatments, and helps relieve symptoms of the flu and common cold. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) has been used to prevent and treat influenza since the time of Hippocrates in fifth century BCE. In fact, the father of Western medicine referred to the elder tree as his “medicine chest.” It was also used by early American Indians to soothe rheumatism and fever.
Recent clinical studies confirm that elderberry can help prevent and relieve flu symptoms, including the H1N1 virus. One recent study showed that patients with flu symptoms who took elderberry lozenges for two days showed statistically significant decreases in fever, headache, and nasal congestion than those taking placebo.
Clinical trials of patients with the flu suggest taking the herb at the first sign of illness and to continue doing so for three to five days. People given elderberry syrup in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that their flu symptoms ended an average of four days sooner than those given a placebo syrup.
In a study published early in 2011, researchers found that elderberry liquid extract also possesses antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacterial pathogen responsible for strep throat and other infections.
The berries develop from tiny cream-white flowers into deep bluish-red berries with a black tinge. The deep color indicates the berries contain high levels of antioxidants called flavonoids, which is supported by research compiled in The American Botanical Council Clinical Guide to Herbs. Other helpful compounds include anthocyanins; these anti-inflammatory substances help reduce the achiness associated with the flu. Elderberries are also high in quercetin and vitamin C, both of which ease allergies and strengthen the immune system.
A versatile fruit, the pleasant-tasting elderberry can be prepared in a variety of ways, including as syrups and teas. Elderberry combines well with many other herbs because of its mild, sweet flavor. The consumption of prepared extracts has shown no sign of toxicity at proper dosage levels and remains very safe for adults and children. A small percentage of the population is allergic to elderberry.
Sick Days Add Up
Each year, the US population contracts about 1 billion colds while the flu accounts for 25 million annual doctor visits. Kids are definitely not immune—the common cold results in 189 million lost school days per year.