Flu season is scary and I always like to boost my and my family’s immune system with different things! One of my favorites is Elderberry Syrup! I used to buy some at Sprouts Market when I did not know any better and I did not realize how easy it is to make my own with much less honey and more elderberry! I had to experiment with it a few times to get it right though.
I am updating this article and recipe as I got a lot of comments and questions about using elderberry for those who were diagnosed with autoimmune disease. As I was “lucky” to get diagnosed with autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), I am more likely to get sick and the general consensus is that one has to be careful with the immune-boosting herbs. Just do a quick Google search and you will find so many opinions on this subject matter. Unfortunately, there is not that much research on elderberry, echinacea, and other immune-boosting herbs in an autoimmune population. So, what should we do? Avoid elderberry or embrace its’ use?
From my own experience, I have never had side effects from taking elderberry syrup for short periods of time. I do not take it long-term to boost my immune system as it is very potent and then I may need much higher doses to conquer the flu virus if needed. At the first sign of cold/malaise/flu-like symptoms, I support my body with high levels of Vitamin A, D, some zinc such as zinc lozenges and elderberry syrup for 4-7 days and when I get better I stop.
So, what does PubMed search show?
Elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and herpes simplex. We investigated the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry syrup for treating influenza A and B infections. Sixty patients (aged 18-54 years) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 h or less were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study during the influenza season of 1999-2000 in Norway. Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza. These findings need to be confirmed in a larger study. (2)
Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.
Interesting that the bigger sample of 312 people was tested and the conclusion was similar:
Travellers using elderberry from 10 days before travel until 4–5 days after arriving overseas on average experienced a 2-day shorter duration of the cold and also noticed a reduction in cold symptoms. The incidence of adverse events was low overall and no adverse effects could be directly attributed to elderberry. (3)
Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial
What is even more interesting is that elderberry syrup may have mechanisms that help fight flu! To me, it sounds amazing, because I do not prescribe Tamiflu anymore as I am aware of its’ potential side effects and also that it may contribute to the mutation of flu virus! Does not elderberry sound too good to be true? Let’s see!
Sambucus nigra L. products – Sambucol – are based on a standardized black elderberry extract. They are natural remedies with antiviral properties, especially against different strains of influenza virus. Sambucol was shown to be effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, Sambucol reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days. […] We conclude from this study that, in addition to its antiviral properties, Sambucol Elderberry Extract and its formulations activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. Sambucol might therefore be beneficial to the immune system activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases. Sambucol could also have an immunoprotective or immunostimulatory effect when administered to cancer or AIDS patients, in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments. In view of the increasing popularity of botanical supplements, such studies and investigations in vitro, in vivo and in clinical trials need to be developed.
The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.
If you are interested in a more in-depth evaluation of immune-boosting herbs, see the references below.
Optional: Peel of 1 Lemon (try not to get any of the white pith)
Optional: 1-2 cloves
Optional: 2 tablespoons fresh or dried ginger root
Optional: 1 tsp cinnamon powder or a couple of cinnamon sticks
Optional: ½-1 teaspoon turmeric
Be careful with cloves especially, as they may give a very bitter taste if you put too many. For example, I put 8 cloves the first time and it turned out very bitter or rich in tannins type of taste (have you ever had black tea that was boiled for a long time stove-top? The taste is similar).
• Put the elderberries (and other spices if using) and the water into a stainless steel sauce pan. Do not add the honey yet!
• Simmer on low heat for about 40-50 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by ½ (this is called a double decoction)
• Strain, pressing out the berries. Let the mixture cool off a bit to warm temperature, then whisk in the honey until dissolved.
Take 1 tablespoon adults /1 teaspoon children of this syrup every day to support the immune function or 1 Tablespoons for an adult/1teaspoon for a child every 2 – 3 hours at the first sign of cold or flu. Until symptoms get better.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any illness or disease.
The information provided is for general educational purposes, has not been reviewed nor approved by the FDA and is not intended to take the place of advice from your medical professional, licensed dietitian or nutritionist.
You are solely responsible for your health care and activity choices. Participation in this challenge does not constitute a client-coach relationship.
Zhanna Tarjeft, FNP is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner and a founder of Sprouts Health Functional Medicine Practice in Gilbert, Arizona. Her articles are a matter of personal opinion and do not constitute direct medical advice. All conditions are unique and require the direct review and care of your own physician. To book an appointment with Zhanna Tarjeft contact her at (480) 550-9551