Nature’s Medicine Chest: Elderberry

The subject of this article has appeared in this column a few times in the past ten years, but its importance never seems to get old.  Especially now, in this stressful holiday season, our immune systems may be compromised so it’s the perfect scenario to come down with the flu.  If you aren’t up to date on natural cold and flu remedies, (even Dr. Oz is mentioning this remedy), or even if you are, it’s never a bad idea to know what natural product is of use when we do come down with a runny nose, aches and chills, sore throats, or just a sickly lack of energy.  Throughout the years, whenever I am exposed to seasonal illness or feel that I “might be coming down with something”, my go-to remedy always contains elderberry.

Ancient folklore has given the plant Elder, and its berries, almost magical properties. In the British Isles, elder bushes/trees are said to be the home of one of the most powerful of all faeries, Hylde-Moer, and the English referred to elder as “nature’s medicine chest”.  Although elderberry’s curative abilities are perhaps not magical, they are truly impressive and effective.

According to many modern virologists, this little plant may be one of the best combatants of the flu virus known. The modern Elder plant possesses medicinal properties that act as a blood cleanser, diuretic, anti-inflammatory agent and a mild laxative.  It has been used successfully for such conditions as bronchitis, common cold and influenza symptoms, coughs and fevers, neuralgia and sciatica, as well as rheumatism and skin disorders.

Two of the compounds found in elder protect the liver against free-radical damage.  Other compounds have anti-microbial qualities.  Elderberry works as a simple cleanser and antioxidant that often can stop health problems before they get a chance to start.

Containing substances called Sambucus nigra agglutinins (SNAs), elderberry locks receptor sites on certain strains of flu viruses, keeping them from infecting our cells.

Often flu strains send out enzyme spikes to dissolve the walls of healthy cells, permitting access to the cells by the virus.  Compounds in elderberry thwart this process, keeping the cells from infection from at least eight strains of human influenza virus.

This powerhouse of the herb kingdom contains essential fatty acids Omega 3, 6, and 9, sterols (powerful immune system boosters), vitamin C, and flavonoids like rutin and quercitin, as well as other naturally occurring chemicals that activate a healthy immune system.

In clinical trials, elderberry syrup was tested against 10 different influenza viruses in vitro and it immobilized and prevented many strains of the viruses from penetrating healthy cells and replicating.  When tested on subjects with the flu, participants who received elderberry syrup were relieved of symptoms on average four days earlier than the group without supplementation.

A study in Israel determined that elderberry extract activates a healthy immune system by increasing cytokine production.  Cytokines, hormone-like proteins secreted by our cells, regulate the immune response, so they not only reduce symptoms, but also stimulate antibody protection in the body.

Elderberry has been proven effective against 8 strains of influenza, a stronger performance than any vaccine for combating viruses.  Also studied for use in treatment of HIV, Epstein-Barr and herpes viruses, elderberry is a gentle herb that can used safely for long periods, as it maintains a constant vigilance against any invading germ without harming the body.

In Europe, elderberry is considered an herb of longevity and is used as a “resistance enhancing” tonic.  For all these reasons, elderberry is a safe and smart choice for the elderly, children, or anyone with special care needs.

Available in teas, lozenges, syrups and extracts, as well as pill form, elderberry is an effective and invaluable ally during cold and flu season.  Whether you find elderberry in combination with Echinacea, zinc, vitamin C, goldenseal, boneset, lomatium, grapefruit seed extract or other immune system boosters, elderberry packs a punch against colds and flu.  However you take it, just make sure some derivative of elderberry is in your medicine cabinet this season, and all year round.


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