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Elderberry seems to be part of the latest health rage, especially in the age of pandemic due to COVID19. It is one of the supplements you may be unable to find on the shelves, and you may be wondering why.

While elderberry may be new to you, it has been used in folk medicine for centuries as a way to treat influenza and colds. The berry in particular has antiviral properties, which make it very useful for the treatment of the common cold. From folklore and ancient traditions, the elder tree has many different interpretations; for some, it was a tree symbolizing the cycle of life to death, thus an ominous tree. In other traditions, the tree was believed to ward off malevolent spirits and protect against witchcraft. Today it is used medicinally for many different therapeutic reasons, mainly having to do with supporting the immune system.

There are many types of elderberry plants, but the flowers and berries of the European elder (Sambucus nigra) are the most studied and most commonly used in herbal cures. It is important to note, herbal remedies use a cooked form of the berry, as in its raw state it contains toxins which can leave the consumer with a terrible stomach ache and possibly vomiting. Take home message here: don’t eat the berries raw! The real question, though, is why would you? Elderberry syrup is a spoonful of medicine that tastes amazing, so you won’t mind taking it, especially when feeling crummy.

There have been many studies to determine its efficacy in resolving symptoms caused by the influenza virus. Here’s what we know:

  • A component in elderberry juice may inhibit the virus from infecting cells.  Think of this component working like a bouncer at a bar or nightclub; it’ll keep the virus out of your cells, especially the cells of your respiratory tract where viruses love to sneak in.
  • Elderberry syrup may decrease the length of flu-like symptoms. When used during early stages of influenza-like symptoms, those who received 15mL of elderberry syrup four times a day for 5 days had resolution of their flu-like symptoms an average 4 days faster than those who received the placebo syrup (PMID: 15080016). This means less time feeling miserable and more time getting back to doing the things you love. 
  • Elderberries may be as effective as Tamiflu, which is a pharmaceutical many allopathic doctors give at the onset of symptoms of the flu (PMID: 19682714). Unfortunately, tamiflu (generic name oseltamivir) is only effective if given within the first 24-48 hours of flu-like symptoms, which is generally when you’re feeling your worst and have no motivation to get out of bed). Tamiflu also has some adverse reactions reported in some folks who use it, including causing headache and vomiting (does this sound like some symptoms of the flu to you, or is that just me?).

 

Additionally, with its antioxidant properties, high levels of vitamin C, and centuries of use, it is not only a tool to help fight a cold or flu, but also useful in smaller amounts to use preventatively during cold and flu season. 

Today, you can find elderberry extract in the form of syrup, lozenges and capsules. If you have a local herb shop near you, consider making your own elderberry syrup. It makes for a fun at-home project during this time of physical distancing. If you’re strapped for time, make sure you purchase a high quality elderberry syrup.

As always, before starting a new supplement, contact your Naturopathic Physician to make sure it is the right fit for you and your health care goals!

Feel better and stay healthy friends. We will get through this pandemic together!