Need an easy way to prevent and treat colds and the flu that the whole family can use? Well then let me introduce you to the humble elderberry.
This little berry has been a game changer come cold and flu season. So let me share all the ways elderberry can help keep you stay healthy and how to use this little gem.
What is Elderberry?
Here’s a quick little background on elderberry.
Elderberry is a berry that comes from the Elder (sambucus) plant, which can be a bushlike tree and grown mostly in the northern hemisphere (source). The most commonly used type is sambucus nigra. This is the type you’ll find on store shelves and the type I’ll be discussing here.
Elderberry has a long history of use in folk medicine but more recently studies have proven the wisdom of our ancestors…of course it always takes a while for science to officially catch up with the knowledge that humans have passed down for hundreds of years.
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What is elderberry syrup good for?
Elderberries contain polyphenols of which most are anthocyanins, flavonols, phenolic acids and proanthocyanidins. (source). Polyphenols protect the body from oxidative damage, they can also fight cancer, slow aging, reduce inflammation, improve your cardiovascular system and more (source).
Elderberry is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of calcium, iron, and vitamin B6. Not too shabby eh!
According to one Review in The Journal of Functional Food,
Elderberry has medicinal properties associated with the presence of polyphenols, which are compounds with potential antioxidant properties. They can greatly affect the course of disease processes by counteracting oxidative stress, exerting beneficial effects on blood pressure, glycaemia reduction, immune system stimulation, antitumour potential, increase in the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the blood plasma, including also glutathione, and the reduction of uric acid levels (source).
An invitro study showed elderberries’ promise in helping to regulate blood sugar by improving the rate of glycogenesis (the processing of sugar out of the bloodstream) (source). This could be useful for diabetics and prediabetics.
But one of the best documented uses of elderberry is its ability to shorten the duration and severity of colds and the flu (source). Who doesn’t want less misery during a cold?
In a study done on air passengers, the participants given elderberry were shown to experience a two day reduction in their colds when compared to the placebo group, as well as a reduction in overall cold symptoms (source). Two whole days!
In another study patients that received 15 ML of elderberry syrup four times daily for five days recovered on average four days earlier compared to the placebo group (source). That’s pretty impressive for a bit of berry juice!
How to take elderberry syrup to prevent and treat colds and the flu
Unlike some stronger herbals, I prefer to take elderberry regularly throughout flu season to boost my resistance. Basically if it’s after September and I’m leaving the house, I’m taking a 1-2 teaspoons of the syrup to stay on top of any viruses. I also do the same with my kiddo.
This regular light dosing of elderberry syrup is usually enough to keep us free of illness (along with our organic whole foods lifestyle).
However, if we start to feel sick, or have a close encounter with someone who is already sick then we begin a full daily antiviral protocol asap.
That antiviral protocol means 2-4 tablespoons of elderberry syrup every 2-4 hours per day for the adults (adult recommendation taken from Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book Herbal Antivirals)
For kids I recommend about 1/4-1/3 the adult dose depending on the age and size of the child. Note there are 3 teaspoons in 1 tablespoon. For my 5 year old I do 2 teaspoons every four hours.
I also like to add an herbal tincture of Virattack made by Herb Pharm to my elderberry syrup to further help combat a virus. This is a great all purpose antiviral tincture.
I also recommend supplementing with either fresh ginger juice or the ginger tea I wrote about in this post, Antiviral Ginger Tea. This is because ginger is another potent antiviral and can help dampen a virus from getting established.
Add vitamin C for an extra punch
For the kiddo she’ll usually get 500mg-1000mg of non-gmo (no-filler) vitamin C powder mixed into juice two to four times daily depending on the severity on the illness (though she’s never been so sick as to warrant high doses).
These vitamin C levels are much higher doses than typically recommended but I tend to agree with doctors like Dr. Ronald Hunninghake who advise taking high doses of vitamin C supplementation especially during illness. He points out that humans are one of the few animals that don’t make their own vitamin C.
Keep in mind some recommendations for vitamin C during illness (from the high C camp) can go as high as 30,0000 mg per day. That said I tend to stay below the 5000 mg mark per day for adults and 1500 mg for kids. I’ve also read that high dose vitamin C can displace copper, so I only use high doses during illness and then taper back down to lower supplemental levels. I’ve also seen reports of vitamin C resistance (with scurvy like symptoms) following after such high dosing so again I do keep in on the lower end as long as I’m getting better, and I also taper off slowly (instead of going cold turkey) once the illness is over.
Precautions about using elderberry syrup
Properly prepared cooked elderberry syrup in generally safe in appropriate doses is well tolerated by adults and kids.
However, if you intend to wild harvest or make your own, keep in mind that the seeds, stems, leaves, and roots of the black elder and red elder contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside, which is toxic to humans (source).
However “toxic” usually means nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. According to Stephen Harrod Buhner in his book Herbal Antivirals, people have a wide range of sensitivity to the cyanide in elder and with some more sensitive than others.
That said, cooking the ripe berries almost completely eliminates the toxic glycoside (cyanide) rendering the berry safe to eat. The longer you cook the berry the more glycoside is reduced. It is also recommended that you start with cold water and boil briskly for 30 minutes before reducing heat so as too eliminate the most glycoside.
It should also be noted other species of elder contain more glycoside so unless you know what you are doing stick to black elder.
So just to summarize here, never eat raw elderberries, cook your berries properly (cold water first then boiled), and stick to ripe black elder berries (sambucus nigra).
A simple recipe for homemade elderberry syrup
I recently made my own elderberry syrup for the first time and it was super duper easy. Plus I ended with so much extra (from just a fifth of the bag of elderberries) that I gave away several jars.
While there are some exotic recipes out there for elderberry syrup I’m offering you the simplest most basic recipe, which is also designed for maximum safety. But feel free to get fancy with options like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, rosehips, and orange peel if you wish.
Non-Fancy Pants Elderberry Syrup
- 1 cup of organic dried elderberries (or two cups of fresh)
- 8 cups (2 quarts) of clean filtered water
- 2 cups of raw organic honey (must be raw)
- Add the berries to COLD water in a pot and bring to boil
- Boil for 30 minutes then reduce to simmer and cook until water in reduced by half (this was about 2 hours for me)
- Turn off the heat and let cool
- Mash the berries with the back of a spoon and strain through a sifter (or through a nut milk bag like I did)
- Add the raw honey (I used Manuka) to the cooled liquid and mix (adding honey to hot liquid will kill the beneficial components of the raw honey)—I also blended the mixture on low in my Vitamix (don’t cut back the honey or used pasteurized honey as raw homey is what allows the syrup to keep longer)
- Store in clean (preferably sterilized—boiled) glass jars and refrigerate. Done!
Some recipes call for sugar instead of honey but you’ll need to use more to keep the mixture from spoiling. I prefer raw honey for its therapeutic effects.
Most recipes also call for less water but in this recipe the cooking time is longer so as to reduce the most glucoside possible.
As i mentioned earlier you can also add any combination of ginger root, cinnamon, cloves, rosehips, and orange peel for therapeutic effects and flavor.
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There you have it! Now you know why and how to use elderberry syrup this season. Elderberry syrup is generally safe, easy to take, and works very well to prevent and treat colds and flus.
If you want to buy your own this is the brand I trust and recommend.
You can also get more great supplements recommendations in the Filtered Living Shop.
How about you? Have you used elderberry syrup? Do you have a favorite recipe? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time!
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Atkinson, M. D. and Atkinson, E. (2002), Sambucus nigra L.. Journal of Ecology, 90: 895–923. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2745.2002.00698.x (link)
Andrzej Sidor, Anna Gramza-Michałowska, Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review, Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 18, Part B, October 2015, Pages 941-958, ISSN 1756-4646, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2014.07.012. (link)
Tiralongo, E., Wee, S. S., & Lea, R. A. (2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients, 8(4), 182. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu8040182 (link)
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