Written by contributor Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home
As the snow flurries swirl outside the window, and I recover from my first flu of the year, I’m reminded how important it is to keep our immune system shored up and functioning well this time of year.
One of my passions over the past two years has been to discover how herbs can be used in so many simple ways, but with astounding effectiveness. Today I want to share with you an herb that anyone can use easily and safely for the whole family, to fight winter colds and flus.
Elderberry has burst onto the scene in recent years for its flu-fighting abilities. Though it has long been a part of folk medicine, modern medicine is beginning to take notice of this amazing herb. What makes it so powerful?
It contains Sambucus nigra agglutinin, which may prevent some strands of influenza from reproducing, helping to stop the flu virus dead in its tracks.
It is also high in flavanoids, reduces swelling, fights inflammation, and boosts the immune system. We all know that vitamin C is a potent weapon for immune function, and elderberry contains large amounts of it.
Another benefit to elderberry is that it provides soothing relief for many flu and cold symptoms, like headaches, fever, fatigue, coughing and sore throat. Recent clinical studies have even begun to sing its praises:
- A preliminary study found that elderberry extract (ViraBLOC) helped reduce flu symptoms when taken within 24 hours of symptoms starting. One study suggested that elderberry could kill the H1N1 virus in test tubes, but researchers don’t know whether it would be effective against H1N1 in people. (source)
- A small study published five years ago showed that 93% of flu patients given Sambucol were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days. (source)
- Researcher Erling Thom, with the University of Oslo in Norway, studied 60 patients infected with two strains of the flu virus. In the half of the group that took Sambucol, 90% had complete cure within 2-3 days, while the placebo group didn’t recover until day 6 and required more over-the-counter medications for their symptoms. (source)
- In an Israeli study, 20% of those patients taking Sambucol had dramatic improvements in flu-symptoms within 24 hours. By the second day, 73% were improved and by day three, 90%. In the untreated group, only 16% felt better after two days. The majority of that group took almost a week to begin feeling better. (source)
I love it when science begins to confirm what herbalists have known for a long time!
When and how to use elderberries?
This wonder berry can be used both preventatively and as a remedy once you are already sick. From my understanding, though, it’s most effective once you’re already fighting a cold or flu virus, as opposed to something like echinacea which is more of a general immune system booster.
Of course, there are plenty of other natural remedies to try for colds or flus. But the more I learn about elderberry and try it myself, the more that I believe it’s a good one to reach for right away.
3 ways that you can use elderberries to beat the flu
What I love about elderberries is that they’re easy to use, no matter which option you choose!
I know some of you are newer to using herbs, so let’s go in order from the simplest and quickest, to the slightly more involved ways to use elderberries.
Tea is a great place to start. Anyone can make herbal tea to boost their health!
The absolute easiest way is to buy a high-quality tea bag like Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Elder. I took this recently while I was sick, because my shipment of bulk elderberries hadn’t arrived yet. The key is to steep for a long time (15-20 minutes) with something on top of the mug while the tea steeps. A small plate, a tupperware lid, etc. This keeps the medicinal qualities of the herbs in the tea.
Another brand that I would recommend is Yogi Green Tea Triple Echinacea, which also includes elderberries.
If you want to get the goodness of elderberries into your kids, syrup is the way to do it!
I was looking at the Sambucol eldeberrry extract (a popular brand) at the store last weekend, and it reminded me why I make my own remedies. It included plenty of elderberries, of course, but also glucose syrup, purified water, citric acid, and potassium sorbate. It’s not terrible. There are certainly medicines and supplements with even worse ingredients, but it’s also not necessary.
This week, I made some more of my own elderberry syrup with just dried elderberries, raw honey, water and a bit of lemon juice.
This is quick and simple to make, and it tastes very pleasant. It was a winner with my kids, who asked for seconds even though they aren’t sick.
Tinctures used to seem so daunting to me, but once I began making my own this year, I realized that there’s really very little to it. The beauty of a tincture is that you get a very concentrated amount of the herb in a small dose, plus it will last for a very long time (without refrigeration), whereas something like a syrup is only good for a few weeks.
There are two basic ways to make a tincture. One uses glycerin and heat and takes just a few days, and the other uses strong alcohol like vodka and no heat, but it has to sit for several weeks before it’s ready.
If you want to go the vodka route, here are two tutorials to try:
I opted for glycerin, partly because that’s what I had on hand, and partly because the nice, sweet taste is easier for kids to take.
You can see the entire glycerin-tincture making process in this post on my own blog. Note that it’s not an elderberry tincture in the post, but more of a vitamin and mineral one that I use as a daily supplement. However, the basic process is the same.
I currently have some elderberry tincture just finishing up, and all I did was fill a jar 1/5 with a mix of dried elderberries and rosehips (I wanted a combination because the rosehips pack a huge vitamin C punch), and then added glycerin and water in a 60:40 ratio until the jar was almost full. You could make it with straight elderberries, without needing to add anything else. Leave it in your crockpot, or you can just use a pot on your stove (you’ll just have to watch the water level more carefully) for the 3 days, then let cool and strain.
I store my finished tinctures in glass jars in a cool, dark cupboard and they’ll keep for years that way. For an adult, I would use a few dropperfulls daily, and less for a child, depending on their size and weight.
Where do you get dried elderberries?
If you don’t have a source of fresh elderberries where you live, which I don’t, it’s easiest to buy them dried in bulk.
Have you tried using elderberry for fighting flus and colds? What was your experience with it?