Elderberry: The Antiviral Prescription

By Abrar Al-Shaer

When you go to the doctor for the seasonal flu or cold-like symptoms, the best that can be prescribed are medications for symptom relief. With the fall and winter seasons hastily approaching, the much dreaded cycles of colds and viral infections await. Many assume there is nothing to be done when fighting a viral infection. However, elderberry is an ancient herbal medicine and nutritious berry that has been extensively studied and used around the world to combat viral infections for centuries. Elderberry is not only a potent antiviral herb, but its flower also contains countless benefits ranging from antipyretic to anti-inflammatory properties.

Historically, elderberry has been known to effectively prevent upper respiratory infections, reduce cold/flu symptoms, and shorten the duration of viral infections. One of the first placebo-controlled and double blinded clinical trials involving elderberry use and influenza found that 93% of patients taking elderberry extract had a significant decrease in flu symptoms within two days, while the placebo group’s symptoms started to decrease after six days. Another randomized controlled trial studied the effects of elderberry syrup on influenza infection. Sixty patients suffering from flu-like symptoms were given 15 mL of elderberry syrup (or placebo syrup) 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, four times a day for 5 days. The group that received the elderberry syrup recovered from the infection (had significantly reduced symptoms) four days prior to the placebo group, and required significantly less use of over-the-counter medication. Other animal studies examining antiviral mechanisms of elderberry extracts reported increased neutralizing antibodies in the serum of flu-infected lung tissue. Nutrients contributing to elderberry’s many antiviral properties include countless flavonoids, anthocyanins, vitamin A, and vitamin C. About 100 grams of fresh elderberries contains 600 IU of vitamin A and 36 mg of vitamin C. Vitamin A is known to reduce susceptibility to infectious disease, and vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that aids in reducing oxidative damage to cells.

As for elderberry’s antipyretic properties, elderflowers can be used to treat fevers in children and adults. You can have the child drink an elderflower tea by steeping 2 teaspoons of dried elderflowers for twenty minutes in a cup of hot water, then straining the flowers from the water and sweetening with honey. For adults a more potent anti-fever remedy can be used by mixing a handful of elderflowers with dried peppermint covered in about a pint of boiling water. You then steep the mixture for half an hour, strain, sweeten, and drink. As for the prominent antiviral uses of elderberry syrup, creating the remedy from the berries is very simple, and can be followed in this video. However, it’s important to note that elderberry is best consumed when boiled, since it causes diarrhea and vomiting if eaten raw. Additionally, for a more palatable taste, elderberry gummies are a wonderful way to incorporate preventative medicine into your household’s everyday foods. To get the most benefit from the elderberry syrup, a ¼ cup should be consumed 4 times a day immediately after onset of symptoms, and is most effective within 24-48 hours post-infection. A great bonus of elderberry syrup is the safety of the remedy. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of elderberry as generally safe for everyday consumption as a medicinal food. However, like all medicinal foods, consulting with a healthcare professional is important if you are unsure of elderberry’s uses pertaining to your particular medical history or current health status.

With the many immunological benefits of elderberry, it is worth remembering that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stocking up on elderberry syrup during the winter months, and taking a couple tablespoons of elderberry everyday during flu season will likely save many trips to the pharmacy. Instead of riding out the storm of a nasty cold, elderberry is a powerful everyday remedy to get back on your feet faster and healthier than before.


Peer-reviewed by Yiqing Wang

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