As winter drags on, more and more people around me are getting sick. I have been sure to have vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, and other immune-boosting supplements on hand and ready to use at the first signs of a cold or flu. A recent addition to my list is elderberry. Studies show elderberry benefits include activating the immune system, reducing inflammation, and binding to the influenza virus itself.
Why does elderberry help the flu?
Elderberries, the dark, purple berries from the elder tree, are rich in phenolic compounds, including flavanoids, catechins, and proanthocyanidins. These are all potent antioxidants, and they can help enhance the immune response by stimulating the production of immune cells.[1,2,3] They also fight inflammation, which may partly explain reduced flu symptoms of pain, aches, and fever seen in some studies using elderberry.
Certain compounds in elderberry actually directly act on the influenza virus, preventing it from replicating and taking root in your body. Extracts from elderberry can also have antiviral activity against viruses including the H1N1 flu, herpes simplex virus, and others as well.[2,4]
Does it work?
At present, studies in humans are small and limited, but initial evidence suggests that extract of elderberry can shorten the duration of the flu. Researchers found that elderberry extract, does, indeed, increase the production of immune system cells in humans, activating the immune system significantly.
In another study, patients were either given 15 mL elderberry syrup (Sambucol) or 15 mL placebo four times a day for five days. The first dose was given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. Ninety percent of people who were given elderberry recovered completely within 2 to 3 days, while it took 6 days to recover for people given placebo. The study found elderberry to be effective against both influenza A and B. In both, the length of the illness was reduced by 3 to 4 days when elderberry was used.
Researchers are also investigating other elderberry benefits, including helping depression, improving lipid metabolism, and helping boost immunity for people with conditions like cancer or AIDs.[3,5,6,7]
Using elderberry for flu treatment
As opposed to some medications that are used to treat flu symptoms, elderberry is safe and can even be used for infants and children. The brand Sambucol has been used effectively in many studies and comes in syrup (10 mL per dose) or tablet form. Take elderberry at the first signs of flu-like symptoms for best results, and continue using for 2 to 5 days, as directed on the label. Learn more about preventing and fighting the spread of illness with these additional resources:
Share your experience
Have you ever used elderberry for flu treatment? Did it work? What other elderberry benefits do you know of? Share your experience with this natural remedy in the comments section below.