Have you ever tried elderberry syrup to prevent or decrease cold symptoms? Well, if not, it’s time you did! An ancient folk remedy used by Europeans and Native Americans, the elderberry has been used for a variety of ailments, most widely to prevent or alleviate symptoms of the common cold or flu. Fans of the little black berries swear by their efficacy and insist that when taken at the very first sign of a cold (which means it must be kept in the house at all times — and during cold/flu season especially), you can bypass the cold entirely. Others say that it might not prevent the cold, but it can definitely shorten its duration and decrease the severity of symptoms. Let’s take a look at why science thinks it works, and then we’ll check out a recipe you can use to make your own delicious homemade batch of elderberry syrup this cold season!
According to the University of Michigan Health Library, only the dark blue or black elderberries (also referred to as Sambucus nigra), and not the red varieties, are medicinal in North America and Europe. While both the flowers and berries of the plant can be used in different types of treatment, the berries show antiviral activity and are most popular for use in both factory-produced and homemade syrups. The elderberry is also immune-supportive and antimicrobial.
In a double-blind trial, U of M Health Library states that the “administration of an elderberry extract decreased the number of days with cold symptoms by 52% and decreased average symptom severity by 58%, compared with placebo, in people travelling on intercontinental flights. The amount used was 600 to 900 mg per day of an extract standardized to contain 20% polyphenols and 15% anthocyanins…” Additionally, the Health Library shares that a similar study on elderberry and inflluenza showed a faster recovery rate for those receiving elderberry syrup of 38% extract (four tablespoons daily for adults, and two for children) than those receiving placebo.
To explain it further, the Health Library states that flavonoids containing quercetin are likely what packs the elderberry’s punch. Anthocyanins high in antioxidants make up part of these flavonoids, boosting immunity and inhibiting viruses like influenza. Animal studies indicate elderberries may also be anti-inflammatory as well. The bonus is that there have been no interaction concerns or side effects reported when syrups properly made from the berries are used. However, unripe berries, roots, leaves, and stems may be toxic and cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, so be sure you’ve researched and carefully read the packaging on your elderberry ingredients before ingesting.
Although you can find elderberry syrup for sale in most pharmacies (I’ve seen this brand at Meijer and Walgreen’s, but others swear by this brand or others from health food stores — but it can get pricey when taking it throughout the cold season as each 8 oz bottle can cost between $10 – $15…following some of the brands on social media might get you a coupon or two. And even though the elderberry gummies look tasty for kids and the lozenges, etc., seem more convenient, I personally haven’t had the same luck with anything other than the original syrup), some opt to make their own at home.
Wellness Mama has shared her famous elderberry syrup recipe on her site, which uses organic dried black elderberries she orders online — and these sell out quickly as cold season approaches, so get on this soon if you plan to do it! Her recipe makes a full quart of elderberry syrup, which can be stored in the refrigerator and used as a regular pancake syrup as well as an occasional medicine, or you can take a shot or two daily for prevention throughout the cold and flu season. (I used to take a bottle with me in my purse when substitute teaching in the elementary schools a few years ago, and I’d take a tablespoon every four hours. Miraculously, I made it through several winters this way without getting sick, even when surrounded by coughing and sneezing children all day long.)
Wellness Mama references the research of Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu of Hadassah-Hebrew University in Israel on her website, and Dr. Mumcuoglu is also featured on the packaging of Sambucol brand elderberry syrup. According to the site reference, Dr. Mumcuoglu found that, “elderberry disarms the enzyme viruses used to penetrate healthy cells in the lining of the nose and throat. Taken before infection, it prevents infection. Taken after infection, it prevents spread of the virus through the respiratory tract. In a clinical trial, 20% of study subjects reported significant improvement within 24 hours, 70% by 48 hours, and 90% claimed complete cure in three days. In contrast, subjects receiving the placebo required 6 days to recover.”
Pair all the scientific evidence with the fact that it tastes good too, and you really can’t miss with elderberry syrup!
* As with all my articles, please consult your physician before attempting this or any other home remedy to be sure it’s right for you.