Home remedies for common illnesses such as the flu are exciting by all counts, but this fruit may be particularly exciting because, in our case, it grows wild near us. We can harvest it easily and for free. We use it in elderberry syrup and elderberry tea.
Is elderberry really effective against the flu?
In our household we try to consume our homemade concoction regularly in tea but when you are downed by severe flu symptoms, is a berry going to make any difference at all? Apparently so. In a 2004 study in the Journal of International Medical Research researchers found that taking 15 ml of a specific elderberry extract (Sambucol) reduced flu symptoms fairly dramatically within two days of taking the supplement. The study used a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of flu patients and measured self-reported changes in their flu symptoms. In the graph below, I plot the improvement in flu symptoms (cough, sleep quality, mucus discharge, and nasal congestion) against the days since treatment. Those in the treatment group had much quicker improvement in symptoms.
How exactly did researchers use elderberry? First, they used a product that is now commercially available, a product with dosage information conveniently available for this purpose with clear dosage instructions. You can buy it via our partner here. (It’s a very good product but we do use our own homemade elderberry syrup as I describe below.)
Second, in my opinion, the key take-away from the 2004 study is that participants consumed elderberry within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. You know when you feel that sore throat or scratchy eyes and you ignore it and hope it goes away and then it doesn’t? At that stage where you are “ignoring it,” you should be consuming the elderberry.
In our household, we use a elderberry syrup that we make ourselves from fresh elderberries. In such a case, we don’t know how many milligrams of certain elderberry components the syrup has. My strategy is to add the syrup to hot water and drink it like a tea, sipping it throughout the day for nourishment and hydration. I do find that it supports our winter health very well, so well that I do take the time every year to make the syrup. (If you’ve made it yourself, you’ll appreciate that it is no small chore to make this stuff.)
Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004;32:132-40. (Full text here.)
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