It's Elderberry Season Ya'll
Just before the pandemic, one herbal remedy was starting to trend to treat the common cold and seasonal flu. For the past 3 or 4 years Elderberry products have been making their way into the average home but like all supplements that become popular it’s useful to know which products are more likely to carry the benefits and others that might just be taking advantage of a buzzword on the label.
Elderberry History: Elderberry comes from a plant where all parts can be used medicinally – the bark, berries, flowers. It’s versatility inspired Hippocrates to name it “the medicine chest of the common people”. Each part of the plant carries different properties, but basically the plant is “elder” and it’s berries and flowers are the most commonly used parts of the plant. The flowers were traditionally planted on the edges of gardens as “protection”. One story has it that Portuguese wine makers in the 1700’s used elderberry to cut their wines for flavor. They found wine helped improve arthritic and rheumatoid aches. When the government made them remove elder from the wine, it’s said wine drinkers noticed an increase in aches and pains.
How and Why Does It Work? Elderberries are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, folate, and flavonoids that are all immune system boosters. When using herbal remedies, note that the dosage will be more than taking over the counter drugs. It’s suggested to take elderberry syrup several times a day at the onset of a cold or flu. There isn’t a magical compound in elderberry that can’t be found in several other remedies – but especially combined with real honey in a syrup (honey is also an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal) it becomes a powerful cold/flu fighter. According to an article featured on US News, “Elderberry is thought to have neuraminidase inhibiting activity. What this means is that it will block the viral neuraminidase – (an enzyme) which allows the virus to be released from an infected cell after replicating – of influenza viruses specifically. Essentially, if elderberry does contain this property, it may prevent viral reproduction by blocking the release from an already infected cell.” One randomized study in Norway found that those who took regular doses of elderberry syrup reduced a cold or flu by about 4 days compared to counterparts.
Buying Elderberry Products:As with all supplements, marketing can be deceiving. Elderberry gummies are popular right now but keep in mind that the heating process, added sugars, pectin, and ability to use fake flavor may make products like that fraudulent even if the packaging is very natural and green-washed. When buying any supplement, spend the extra couple dollars on a trustworthy manufacturer. Herb Pharm and Gaia Herbs are two common ones that can be found at most health food stores but stay clear of the CVS knock off brands.
Added Benefit: While not the most convenient, my hunch is that a farmer’s market or homemade elderberry syrup will have a much more noticeable impact if it uses real honey (most commercial honey and honey flavor is just sugar syrup with flavor additive). The flexibility to add thyme in your recipe will target respiratory infections, or ginger will heat the body to flush out a fever. You can also add immune power-boosters like echinacea, astragalus, or adaptogens of choice. If you’ve ever made cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, you have the skills to DIY elderberry syrup.
PS: I just ordered a pound of dried elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Stay tuned for my blog launching in January 2023 to see how DIY elderberry syrup turns out for me and which recipe works best in an apartment kitchen.