Elderberry has a very long history of medicinal use. It was even deemed by Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” as his “medicine chest,” because of how well it cured a variety of health conditions. There’s even elderberry-based medications dating back to Ancient Egypt – crazy, huh?
This anti-viral super fruit contains powerful antioxidants that are found in numbers higher than blueberries, cranberries, goji berries and blackberries (2). It’s no wonder, then, why so many people have been flocking toward this fruit to help prevent the seasonal flu and other viral-related illnesses.
Anti-Viral Compounds in Elderberry
The active compound in elderberry that makes it a potent anti-viral is called none other than antivirin. This compound is found in proteins of the black elderberry, and contain strong anti-viral properties that are strong enough to stop the flu virus in its tracks (3).
In fact, when used within the first 48 hours of onset of flu symptoms, elderberry extract has been found to reduce the duration of the flu and relieve symptoms on an average of four days earlier (4). During the 1995 Panama flu epidemic, the government even utilized elderberry to fight the flu.
Elderberry For Cold and Flu
As mentioned above, elderberry is a potent anti-viral that is strong enough to prevent or eliminate the flu virus.
Studies that have examined the effects of black elderberry utilized the trademarked Sambucol syrup. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, Sambucol reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days (5).
Elderberries contain compounds called anthocyanidins, which are known to have immunostimulant effects. A 2016 study published in Nutrients showed that supplementing with elderberry helps reduce the duration and symptoms of a cold in air travellers (6). Traveler’s who used elderberry from 10 days before travel until four to five days after arriving overseas experienced reduced cold symptoms, and an on average two-day shorter duration of their colds.
Black elderberry has even been proven to be effective against the Avian flu, specifically the Panama B strain. In one study, those treated with standardized elderberry extract, Sambucol (SAM), experienced significant improvements of their influenza B symptoms – over 93.3% of them. A complete cure was achieved within 2 to 3 days in nearly 90% of the SAM-treated group and within at least 6 days in the placebo group (7).
In another 2009 study, researchers randomized patients into two groups: One group was given four doses of 175-milligram proprietary elderberry extract daily, and the other group received a placebo daily for two days. The extract-treated group showed significant improvement in almost all flu symptoms, while the placebo group showed no improvement. The researchers concluded that the extract was effective in controlling influenza symptoms (8).
Other Elderberry Benefits
Elderberry benefits extend much further than just flu and cold relief. Below are a few of the many benefits elderberry has to offer.
1. May Help Prevent Cancer
Black elderberry has a potent effect on the immune system, making it a great antidote for those suffering from a depressed immune system, cancer, and AIDS (9).
One study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food compared the anti-cancer properties of European and American elderberry fruits. Both plants possess strong antioxidant capacities, but the American elderberry has not been grown or as readily promoted as its European counterpart.
The study tested the extracts of both berries for their anticancer potential. Both extracts showed significant chemo-preventive potential. Additionally, the American elderberry extract inhibited ornithine decarboxylase, an enzyme marker that is related to the promotion stage of cancer formation (10). This suggests that elderberry could be used as a natural cancer treatment option.
2. Eases Allergies
As a result of modern diet and lifestyle, more and more people become prone to autoimmune conditions, like allergies. Fortunately, black elderberry has been used for treating hay fever-like symptoms. It is also said to act as a detoxification aid by enhancing liver function (11). The anti-inflammatory effects of black elderberry also help reduce the symptoms that come along with allergies, as well as help strengthen the immune system.
3. Lowers Blood Sugar
Both the flower and the berry of this plant have been traditionally used to treat diabetes, and now research has confirmed this. Black elderberry has been found to stimulate the secretion of insulin, which ultimately lowers blood sugar levels. It also stimulates glucose metabolism, a process often inhibited in diabetics.
A study investigated black elderberry’s insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions in vitro. It found that an aqueous extract of elderberry significantly increased glucose transport, glucose oxidation and glycogenesis without any added insulin (12). Glycogenesis is the process whereby excess sugar is cleared out of the bloodstream, and into your muscles and liver – ultimately, it helps maintain normal blood sugar.
4. Clears Sinus Infections
Being an anti-inflammatory, elderberry is without a doubt, a great natural remedy for alleviating pressure and infections of the sinuses. One study utilized a propriety blend called Sinupret, which contains elderberry flowers. They used Sinupret to treat bacterial sinusitis along with an antibiotic and a decongestant. Study participants who took the combination did better compared to those who did not take Sinupret at all (12).
Where To Buy Elderberry Extract
The most commonly used elderberry extract is Sambucol, however, I suggest using something a bit more natural like Nature’s Answer alcohol-free Sambucus. It has less ingredients and contains a highly extracted formula.
There are other brands out there, but Nature’s Answer is my favourite (I use their other herb blends, and they work quite effectively!).
Use it according to the directions on the bottle – in studies that have utilized Sambucol, children were given 1/2 tablespoon of Sambucol extract four times per day, and adults were given 1 tablespoon four times per day.
If you’re unsure about anything, consult with a local Naturopathic doctor.