By Sara Altshul
What It Is
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), with its showy sprays of creamy white flowers and purple berries, is a shrub native to Europe, northern Africa, and Asia.
What Folk Medicine Says
Dubbed "the medicine chest of the common people," elderberry and its remedies are well documented by Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Pliny the Elder. Juice from the plant's berries has long been used to ease flu symptoms, colds, and sinus infections.
What New Research Confirms
Scientists from Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem studied 60 men and women who had been suffering from flu symptoms, such as aches, fever, and coughing, for up to 2 days. Half of the volunteers were given 15 milliliters (about 3 teaspoons) of elderberry extract, and half took a placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days. Those who received the elderberry reported "pronounced improvements" in their symptoms after 4 days (compared with 8 days for the placebo group) and used 74% less painkillers and nasal spray.
Why It Might Work
Elderberry seems to prevent the influenza virus from latching on to cells. Other research has found that anthocyanins--antioxidants found in purple fruits such as elderberry--may have an anti-inflammatory effect comparable to aspirin, which could explain why the group taking elderberry experienced less achiness, pain, and fever.
How to Use
Take 3 teaspoons of elderberry extract four times a day at the first twinge of flu symptoms. The extract used in the study was Sambucol. Cost: about $13 for a 4-ounce bottle; available in health food stores.