Chances are, if you’ve gotten a cold or the flu the past couple of years, you may have run across Elderberry as an aid to help with the symptoms. If not, it is worth checking out as it is very effective.
Elderberry has had a following for being a powerful weapon against colds and the flu for many years. There’s even some evidence to show that prehistoric man used elderberry, most likely as a medicinal plant. Elderberry can also trace its use back to ancient Egypt, and Hippocrates is known to have used elderberry for a variety of health treatments.
Elderberry has been used to improve sinus issues, nerve pain, inflammation, fatigue, allergic reactions and more. Elderberry can not only fortify the immune system, but there is scientific evidence to show that it may actually have genuine antiviral properties. Elderberry has also been shown to have a “significant effect on cold duration and cold associated symptoms…”
Elderberry is a shrub that grows dark colored berries. It’s official name is sambucus nigra and it generally grows wild in Europe and North America. Both the flowers and the berries have been used to make jams, jellies and drinks. It is important, though that only the ripe berries are used, as the uncooked, unripe elderberries have been shown to be toxic and contain a type of cyanide—which is a poison.
The ripe elderberries contain high powered antioxidants, including quercetin, kaempferol, rutin, and phenolic acids. They also contain flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that can help prevent cell damage, and anthocyanidins, which are natural chemical compounds with immune-boosting, and anti-aging benefits.
Elderberry is best known for its powerful immune boosting properties, especially when it comes to colds and the flu. The anthocyanidins in the elderberry are the most active when it comes to fighting colds and flu. Not only does it tend to shorten the duration of a cold or the flu, but it also helps to reduce some of the miserable symptoms. This 2009 study of patients with the flu showed significant improvement in their flu symptoms with four doses of 175 mg. elderberry extract a day.
Another study published in the Journal of International Medical Research shows elderberry extract being highly effective when used within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu. It can actually shorten the duration of flu symptoms by an average of four days.
Along with colds and flu often come sinus infections. These can be miserable and last for weeks sometimes. Sinus infections happen when the nasal cavities become inflamed, swollen and filled with nasal discharge.
Sinus infections can be either a result of a bacterial infection or a viral infection. This study done in the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland examined the use of an elderberry product on bacterial sinusitis. Treatment consisted of the elderberry, along with an antibiotic (doxycycline or vibramycin) and a decongestant. Those who took the combination medication improved faster than those who did not take the elderberry product.
What makes elderberry so effective for colds, flu and sinus infections?
Considering that colds and flu are the most common viral infections that spread quickly among people, it’s important to find just what makes elderberry so effective against these common viruses.
When a virus enters our bodies, it begins to enter our cells and replicate—overwhelming our immune system. It’s the swift replication of the virus that helps it gain a foothold and when that happens, we become ill and feel the symptoms of the cold or flu virus. Elderberry actually inhibits that replication.
Elderberries’ powerful antioxidants actually block a key viral protein that allows the flu virus to attach to our cells and gain entry. It’s a bit like locking the front door of your house to prevent burglars from entering and taking over.
The interesting thing, however, about elderberries is that once a cell has been infected with a virus, the same powerful natural chemicals in the elderberry are also effective at stopping the virus from replicating or reproducing. Meaning that elderberry is effective at blocking the virus at several different stages of infection.
Elderberries also stimulate the body’s cells to release immune system substances like cytokines, that fight the invaders as well.
In addition to using elderberry syrup for colds and the flu, the flowers of the elder plant are also known to be helpful for allergies. Allergies result from an overreaction of the immune system combined with inflammation, and this berry improves immune function and helps to modulate overreactions, as well as calming inflammation.
Elderberry Effective Against Other Diseases
Elderberry’s antioxidants, polyphenols and other phytochemicals also help to fight diabetes, lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity.
Elderberry, along with other berries, rich in anthocyanins. These plant chemicals have cancer-fighting properties as well, and can inhibit, delay or reverse cancer cell formation.
According to this study in the Journal of Medicinal Food, extracts of elderberries showed significant protection against cancer cells. And the American variety of elderberry actually is also effective against an enzyme related to promoting cancer cell growth.
Since elderberries have such powerful antioxidants and other phytochemicals, it stands to reason that elderberries should be protective against heart disease—and they are. In fact, in one study, mice with high cholesterol and low HDL (protective cholesterol) had lower cholesterol, as well as better liver function. These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities protect the heart against heart diseases and clogged arteries, which result from inflammation.
Another study shows elderberry extract being beneficial to help lower high blood pressure. One of the prevalent theories of high blood pressure is that it is an inflammatory reaction. So, it makes sense that elderberry’s strong anti-inflammatory benefits extend to hypertension as well. Polyphenols that help to lower blood pressure may also even help to reduce side effects of blood pressure-lowering medications.
Elderberry helps to promote urine production, helping improve the health of the kidneys, reducing excess fluid, and helping the body detox. In addition to helping with urinary function, it also improves constipation and helps regular bowel movements.
While elderberry is effective against a wide variety of physical diseases, it is also amazing to fight aging. Antioxidants protect against us against oxidation—a major factor in aging–along with protection against sun damage and excessive wrinkling.
Anthocyanins are a natural plant pigment found in elderberries and other berries, as well as red grapes. These fruits have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Some researchers also feel that this plant compound may improve skin’s structure and condition to enhance overall skin health.
Risks and Side Effects
Elderberry has massive health benefits, but it’s important to realize there are some health considerations as well. Remember that only ripe, cooked berries from the sambucas species are edible. Raw berries or other parts of the elderberry plant can be poisonous and contain a chemical similar to cyanide. Consuming raw berries can result in diarrhea and vomiting.
Elderberry syrup is not recommended for kids unless you have consulted first with their pediatrician.
If you have an autoimmune disease, exercise precaution and check with your doctor before taking, as it may stimulate an immune reaction.
Elderberry can interact with some medications, so check with your doctor if you are already taking prescription medications including diabetes medications, diuretics, cancer and chemotherapy, immunosuppressants, laxatives or theophylline.