You may have never heard of elderberry extract but it’s wonderful thing to have around. Since the time of Hippocrates, elderberries have been used for wine, syrup, jams, and to treat a host of ailments, including colds and flu. In fact, the entire elder tree has been used medicinally in Europe and North America for centuries. (1) And of course there’s the Elder Wand.
Most of us have succumbed to the flu at least once in our lives and it’s a very uncomfortable and inconvenient experience. Modern medicine has devised flu vaccines to protect us but they are controversial for several reasons and there’s no hard evidence that they consistently work. (2, 3, 4) Elderberries, on the other hand, have been clinically shown to contain efficacious anti-viral properties.
Elderberry Extract Benefits
Several studies have shown that a black elderberry extract, trademarked as Sambucol, enhances our natural immune response by increasing the production of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. These proteins attack numerous viruses, including influenza, herpes simplex, and respiratory syncytial virus. Taking elderberry extract has been shown to reduce the symptoms of the flu in three to four days. (5)
An Israeli study of Sambucol found that it works quickly against several strains of influenza viruses, with ninety percent of patients completely cured in two to three days after supplementation. (6) A particularly virulent micro-organism that has become known as the H1N1 (Type A) flu is highly contagious and accounts for an estimated ninety-six percent of all confirmed types of flu in Canada. (7) Elderberry extract has been found to almost completely block H1N1’s (and others’) replication, shutting it down in short order. (8)
One of the phytochemicals in elderberry has been aptly named “antivirin” from a 1967 study that first published its discovery. Antivirin (AV)
“inhibits the development of plaques of polio virus in the fluid of the cultures in the absence of viral infection…AV is a new substance which is produced from cultured cells and inhibits the intracellular multiplication of several animal viruses…AV may be one kind of complicated protein…The effect of this inhibitor was of rather wide spectrum. Both of RNA viruses and DNA ones were inhibited with this inhibitor.” (9)
Some years ago, the avian (H5N1) flu was widely publicized as a potential pandemic. In truth, only 860 confirmed cases have been reported worldwide since 2003, however, over half of those cases proved fatal. (10) While its transmission between humans has not been demonstrated, the fear is that H5N1 might evolve to enable its ability to do so, as most micro-organisms will adapt to protect themselves against threats to their survival (such as antibiotics). (11, 12) Elderberry extract has been found active against H5N1—it’s with good reason that Hippocrates referred to the elder tree as his “medicine chest”. (13)
Elderberry Extract Isn’t Just Limited to the Cold And Flu
Just as important as elderberries’ ability to stop viruses in their tracks after infection, by virtue of their antioxidants they can prevent infection in the first place.
“In addition to its antiviral properties, Sambucol Elderberry Extract and its formulations activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. Sambucol might therefore be beneficial to the immune system activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases.” (14)
Other studies of Sambucol’s effects suggest that its stimulation of the immune system make it a potent antidote to people suffering from a depressed immune system, cancer, AIDS, and consequences of chemotherapy. (15) Elderberries are naturally rich in vitamins A, B6, C, calcium, and iron.
Sambucol (named for elderberry’s botanical name, Sambucus Nigra L.) also contains echinacea and bee propolis—other ingredients highly effective in boosting the immune system. Unlike pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications, Sambucol hasn’t demonstrated any adverse side effects.
Sambucol is readily available and can be taken straight, mixed with hot water and honey, or with sparkling water for a sweet-tart refresher.
Elderberry Extract Dosage
The recommended dosage based on the study mentioned previously is the following:
- Children – 1/2 tablespoon four times per day
- Adults – 1 tablespoons four times per day
Words of Caution If You’re Going To Make Your Own Elderberry Extract Syrup
Most varieties of elderberry are toxic, as they contain relatively high amounts of cyanide. If you make your own elderberry syrup or elderberry wine, ensure you use a safe species and cook all parts of the plant first. Elder is in the same family as honeysuckle, so avoid elderberries if you’re allergic to honeysuckle. Additionally, the elderberry is a diuretic; consult your healthcare provider if you have kidney problems or are taking diuretic medication.