Cold and Flu Season, by Michele Cooper

During cold and flu season, what can you do except be as careful as possible? I hate being sick. So, I very carefully wash shopping carts (many flu and cold germs are contacted in this manner), stay away from sick people, wash my hands often, and try very hard not to touch my eyes or nose while out and about.

Assure Your Health

However, there is a way you can assure your health during the cold winter months. The answer is black or blue elderberry! In the autumn, when children head back to school, which seems to be a petri-dish for germs, I immediately make elderberry syrup. Then, Jeff and I start taking it every morning.

Elderberry– A Strong Anti-Viral

Elderberry wine, pie, cordial, and syrup are yum! Elderberry is number one for cold season. Because elderberry syrup tastes great, it must not be very effective, right? No, actually elderberry is a strong anti-viral and works very well as a prophylactic to prevent viruses from replicating and ever getting a foothold in your body, and it will significantly reduce symptoms and length of cold and flu viruses if taken every 3-4 hours in the first 24-48 hours of symptom onset.

Works Extremely Well Against “Enveloped Viruses”

In fact, elderberry works extremely well against “enveloped viruses” and can even protect you from some of the really nasty ones, like Ebola, Marburg, SARS, and hanta viruses, which are enveloped viruses. (Although if those “heavies” were going around, I’d add a small amount of leaf and stem bark tincture for extra anti-viral kick as well.)

Tamiflu Potential Problem, Risk of Pandemic

Elderberry works as well as antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu)1, peramivir (Rapivab), or zanamivir (Relenza). Tamiflu especially is a potential problem, not just for its potential side effects but even worse, because it is very stable, passes out of the body, and is not degraded in surface water or in sewage plants and has been detected in river water during influenza outbreaks. “Low levels of the active substance can induce resistance in Influenza A virus in mallards, the natural influenza reservoir. If resistance is established in viruses circulating among wild birds, there is a risk of an oseltamivir-resistant pandemic or highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus through reassortment or direct transmission”.1

Influenza A is those series of viruses that are responsible for the pandemic types of flus such as the Spanish Flu (H1N1) of 1918-1920 that was responsible for the deaths of between 50–100 million people. Influenza A is also the 1957 “Asian Flu” (H2N2), 1968 “Hong Kong Flu” (H3N2), the more recent “Swine Flu” (H1N1), and the threat of “Bird Flu” (H5N1).

Sambucol, Hefty Price Tag

So, what do you do? Make and take elderberry syrup daily for the entire cold and flu season. Sambucol is a commercially available syrup, but comes with a hefty price tag. Last time I bought it (back in 2009); it was $25 for 8 ounces, although in checking today (September 2018) I note that it is down to $10 to $15 for 7.8 ounces. The reason I bought it, hefty price tag and all, was I started coming down with cold symptoms and did not have any elderberries to make my own syrup. Having Sambucol to ward off the cold gave me a few days to get berries in. I now make sure I have plenty of elderberries on hand at all times, and I make sure my children and grandchildren do as well, well before the start of school.

Poured Into Shot Glasses To Avoid Purple Splashes

In the summer of 2011, my son and grandsons moved in with me. Jack was starting the 1st grade, and Forrest was starting Head Start (pre-kindergarten). Before school started I made elderberry syrup and gave all of us some every morning. I did not want it spilled by pouring it into a spoon, and having the boys drink it off (elderberry stains and I did not want purple splashes all over my white cabinets and wood floors), so I poured it into shot glasses for them. Because of the delivery method (shot glasses), Jack began calling it “morning whisky”. I was always worried that the boys would say that to some teacher who would assume that I was getting them drunk and report me, even though there was no alcohol in the syrup at all.

Not One Got Colds or Flu During Several Years in School

Anyway, not one of us got any colds or flu for the entire time they lived with me (several years), even though the viruses ran rampant in the school the boys attended.

Dealing With Poisonous Elderberries

You may have heard that elderberries are poisonous. That is not actually correct. The bark, leaves, seeds and raw fruit contain sambunigrin, which is a chemical that is related to cyanide that can cause lead to gastrointestinal effects and make some people vomit and or have diarrhea. Thoroughly cooking the berries (simmering for about 20 minutes) destroys the sambunigrin and makes them safe to eat. The leaves and stems have a much higher amount of this chemical, so consumption of these are not recommended.

Recipe for Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup is easy to make.


I use the following ingredients:

  • ½ cup of dried berries (or you could use 1 cup of fresh berries)
  • 3 cups of water in a sauce pan
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (optional, for taste)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional, for taste)
  • 1-2 Anise star pods (optional, for taste)

Note that there are some “extras” that are not necessary but make a better tasting syrup. I always make a double batch. Lately to my double batch, I have been adding the 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, and 3 Anise star pods before simmering. All three extras are anti-viral themselves, but they are not necessary; we just like the taste.

  1. Cover all of the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to boil; turn down the heat to gently simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. After simmering, strain the berries out. (Then, I feed the strained berries to my chickens.)
  3. Add ¾ to 1 cup of sugar or honey to the syrup. (Sugar or honey sweetens the syrup and helps to preserve it.)
  4. Store it in the refrigerator.

Take 1 Tablespoon per day as a preventative measure. Children can take the same dose. Remember, this is elderberry syrup; you can pour it on their pancakes.

Elderberry Tincture

I also keep around elderberry tincture. Elderberry tincture is alcoholic and doesn’t taste very good, but it is shelf stable. Plus, it’s there in case of “emergency”, so I don’t have to buy Sambucol. It is also easy to make but takes significantly longer to make than the syrup.

Making a Tincture

For making a tincture, I put in a jar 1 part elderberry to 4 parts of 80 proof alcohol. For example, in a quart jar, I’d put in 1c dried elderberries and then fill the jar with inexpensive 80 proof alcohol. Then, I place a water tight lid on the top and shake daily for about six weeks. After the six week, I strain out the berries, reserving the tincture. The reason I usually use 80 proof alcohol is some things are better extracted using alcohol and some with water and 80 proof alcohol has both.

Using the Elderberry Tincture

Since it is a stronger extract, you can use less elderberry tincture than syrup. You could likely get away with 1 tsp. of tincture instead of 1 Tablespoon of syrup, which is good because it doesn’t taste very good, in my opinion.

Finding Elderberries

Elderberries can be purchased online from a number of websites. The ones I use most often are Mountain Rose Herbs and Monterey Bay Spice Company ( There are many more sites, so check around for best prices. When either of my favorite companies is out of stock, you can also find them, pretty much year round, at, although you may pay a premium for them in the off season. I just don’t mess around; I buy them by the pound. In fact, I buy multiple pounds of dried elderberries each year and send them to my children. I have given bottles of the syrup to each of the families in my prep group along with the recipe for making more.

Elderberry Names

Elderberry’s botanical name is Sambucus. This black or blue elderberry is most often used for medicinal purposes. These fall under the common names of European Elder, American Elder, Black Elder, Blue Elder, Canary Island Elder, and Velvet Elder.

Wild Craft Elderberries, Poisonous Look Alikes

You can wild craft elderberries and dry or freeze the berries for your syrup. It grows wild in most temperate to subtropical regions of the world and is widespread.

With any wild crafting be very sure you correctly identify the plant. Many plants have poisonous look alikes, and elder is no different. In the flowering stage, water hemlock looks similar to elder, but there are notable differences. Elder is a bush or tree. It has bark and produces berries. It is mostly confused with water hemlock in the flowering stage. Water hemlock is herbaceous, not woody and produces seeds, not berries. Since water hemlock is poisonous and can kill in a matter of minutes, even though to my eye they are not terribly similar looking, it is a good idea to be very sure.

Easy To Grow

I was thrilled when we were looking to buy the house we currently own and found an elderberry bush in the backyard. It was a minor selling point but a selling point nevertheless. You can also purchase elderberries or start them from cuttings. They are easy to grow.

There are also ornamental elderberry bushes combining beautiful landscaping and medicine. There are variegated varieties and Black Lace elderberry which produces pink flowers, but both kinds produce edible/medicinal berries. I now have several varieties of them growing in my yard. I wouldn’t be without elderberry during the cold and flu season, so I’m really glad I landscape with such beautiful bushes that also keep us healthy.

No Known Serious or Moderate Interactions With Other Drugs

Elderberry has no known severe, serious, or moderate interactions with other drugs. Elderberry has mild interactions with at least 28 different drugs.

The information presented in this article is offered for educational and informational purposes only, does not establish a doctor-patient relationship, and should not be construed as personal medical advice. All opinions expressed by authors and quoted sources are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or publishers. You should consult with your personal physician/care giver regarding your own medical care.

Much of my research comes from Herbal Antivirals by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

1Information on Tamiflu in the environment is from “Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) in the environment, resistance development in Influenza A viruses of dabbling ducks and the risk of transmission of an oseltamivir-resistant virus to humans – a review” by Josef Jarhult, MD, PhD at


  1. Thanks Coop, always enjoy learning about the natural remedies. I trust those far more than a “doctor” visit. Come to think of it, I haven’t visited a “doctor” in years.

  2. We get pure elderberry juice from River Hills. I take 1T per day mixed with about 1 oz of grape juice to temper the flavor. I haven’t been sick since I started taking it. I was motivated to improve my immunity by a month long bout of various illnesses last December.

    You can also get good cuttings from River Hills to grow your own elderberry plants. We planted 9 of them and 100% took. It will be a few years before you get berries from them.

    We’ve also started some Aronia berry plants – same kind of thing.

  3. Ya know, I am one of those people that can be around anyone that is sick with anything, and not contract their illnesses. I have found over my 50 years that the more you expose yourself to germs, the less likely you are to get sick. I see people wiping off their shopping carts, which we never did 10 years ago, hiding their faces behind the stupid looking dust masks, and a myriad of other germaphobic practices. I have also noticed that since people have started this stuff, that the cold and flu season is always worse every year. People let your kids eat dirt, eat without using alcohol on their hands and go to school without diaper wipes in their backpacks. I promise they will be better for it.

    1. Your situation is common. your view of what is happening is common too. But, You do in fact catch the colds and whatever else is going around but your symptoms are simply less than others. It isn’t about eating dirt or using (or not using) alcohol wipes. Some people are simply more genetically prone to have severe symptoms and some are not. Rest assured you get the flu and common colds and everything others get.

  4. What is the evidence that elderberry products have the effect you describe? Have statistically significant and objective studies have been completed that confirm your observations? Could it be that your extra care with hand washing and limiting exposure contributed to your lack of colds/flu? I am not being personally critical but too often association is confused with causation. And in these trying times critical and data driven thinking is of utmost importance. Respectfully submitted.

      1. Yes, this NIH reference does seem to at least support enhanced production of cytokines by Sambucol, a commercial black elderberry extract. My response is “so what?” We still have a massive lack of understanding of the very complex and intricate biological processes involved. However, this NIH abstract is either badly written or purposefully misleading. The casual reader could be led to believe that this study of Sambucol not only enhances production of inflammatory cytokines (especially TNF-alpha) in 12 (a very small number statistically) test subjects but that it “reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days.” The cited study is an IN VITRO study meaning basically in a test tube. Test tubes do not have symptoms. For reasons I do not understand the authors inserted the symptoms reduction data from another study that was quite poorly done. If Sambucol does in fact enhance cytokine production that is not necessarily a good thing. The out of control cascade of cytokines (“cytokine storm”) is responsible for most of the deaths in more virulent influenza outbreaks. The fact that certain influenza viruses kill younger, healthier people is thought to be due to their better immune system. Theoretically, why would we want to enhance a potentially lethal process? TNF is also a prominent factor contributing to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Again, we just don’t have a full understanding of how all these processes work together.
        The article by Michele Cooper advocates certain elderberry abstracts and formulations as prevention and will “assure your health during the cold winter months.” Neither this, nor the articles cited by her below, indicate usefulness in prevention of colds/flu. The one article she cited below that attempted to address prevention showed NO DIFFERENCE in contracting a cold with or without elderberry although from a design perspective the study was beyond poorly done. But she goes on to write “In fact, elderberry works extremely well against “enveloped viruses” and can even protect you from some of the really nasty ones, like Ebola, Marburg, SARS, and hanta viruses, which are enveloped viruses.” IN FACT there is zero credible evidence that I can find for that claim.
        As for treatment of influenza, there are studies that SUGGEST the possibility of a beneficial effect but none come close to proving this. Most, if not all, of those studies actually state that more research in needed.
        On the good side, elderberry extracts do not appear to be particularly toxic as long as only the berries and flowers are processed appropriately, or from a commercial source.
        My only goal with my original comment above was to encourage critical thinking not only on this specific topic, but in general…and especially if something appears to be too good to be true. In no way am I intending to be personally critical of anyone’s character or motivations.

    1. How about the National Institute of Health? Is that good enough for you? , , , , , , ,

      and a bunch more. If you would like to see all of them (several pages) go to the National Institute of Health (.gov) and type into the search feature elderberry for viruses.

      1. To your question, “Is that good enough for you?”
        My answer: Actually, no. I read read numerous articles and, as most of them clearly state, more research is needed. My take away is there is at best a SUGGESTION of benefit to elderberry abstracts for influenza and not much in the way of any benefit in other infectious diseases.

        To your question, “How about the National Institute of Health?”
        My answer: Not necessarily. “Researchers” in this same government organization, along with the CDC, regularly cherry pick, and often outright falsify, data to support their belief that firearms ownership is a disease that they must control.

        1. I will not argue with you. Use it, or don’t use it to protect yourself from colds and flus, it’s entirely up to you. I make no money or any other benefit from suggesting this to help you and others feel healthier, I’m just passing on knowledge.

  5. I also use the elderberry syrup. I add raw honey (1cup) for a better taste.

    Had only one cold last year, one this year. The cold did not go to my chest and hang out there for 6wks. I believe because of the elderberry syrup.

    No flu last year or so far this year. Did not take flu shot either.

    I would recommend it and have given it to family and friends.

  6. Good article! I have several elderberry bushes that I share with the birds. I make the tincture for shelf-stable purposes (about 2 qts), then seal them in canning jars. I add a teaspoon to hot chocolate each morning during bad weather or when I have to be among crowds in the city. I also give the jars as gifts

  7. Question about the elderberry syrup: Is it supposed to be thick like cough syrup or very liquid? I cooked the berries in a covered pan and it is very liquid, even after adding the honey.

  8. Keep your immune system in top shape thru a healthy diet (fruits+veggies), exercise, 8 glasses of water per day! Mentally focus on all things that are of good report…

    Philippians 4:8 King James Version (KJV)

    8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

    1. This verse fits my daily practice. When someone says, “How are you?” or some variation, I accept that as a reminder to notice what I take for granted. Then I reply. “I’m grateful.” In that reply I am noting my marriage, my spiritual life, running water, etc.

      Some 12-step folks call it an “attitude of gratitude”.

      My reply also allows more of a connection than saying, “I’m fine” as an answer.

      So, friend, I am grateful you posted the above passage.

      Carry on.

    1. You’d be screwed if it did have to be picked under the sign of Pisces. Elderberry grows in the summer.

      Elderberry is VERY effective against packaged viruses, Marburg, Ebola, Hanta, etc are all packaged viruses, as is herpes and chicken pox. If you actually caught Ebola or Marburg, I think the elderberry would be kind of like closing the barn door after the cows got out – those are fast moving viruses and cause your body to kill itself by sending your immune system into overdrive. I do have some stuff, a mixture of herbs that taken at 1tsp per hour would likely keep you alive if you started it immediately, but the elderberry would likely keep you from contracting the virus if you were taking it as a prophylactic. Elderberry makes your cells kind of slippery and impervious to the virus entering, thus keeping them from replicating.

  9. Natural Sources elderberry brand is a thick, concentrated syrup of elderberry. Being a science type, I bought one of every brand of elderberry syrup in the well-stocked local healthy food store, took a spoonful of each, kept the Natural Sources, and threw out the rest. It was the only one with a simple, fresh elderberry taste. It keeps forever in the refrigerator if not opened, and a year or two if it is.

    It is readily available online, and cheaper than Sambucol.

  10. Michele:
    It was nice to see your article on the elderberries, shall print it out an put it in my health binder(lost my recipes). The more you share your knowledge the better off many shall be, when and if big pharma is no longer readily available.

    Merry Christmas to you & yours

  11. To “Healthy middle ager”, have you seed what is put in “vaccines”? Check out the CDC website:

    I will start out with ABORTED human fetuses,human-diploid fibroblast cell cultures (strain WI-38 and MRC-5 (human diploid) cells.
    Mercury which “they” claimed to stop putting in the vaccines, it is under the name “thimerosol” and “insect cell”?
    “Madin Darby Canine Kidney (MDCK) cell protein” some sort of DOG protein,
    “hydrolyzed porcine gelatin”, hmmm some sort of PIG gelatin?
    “Bovine serum albumin”, COW and
    “chick embryo cell culture” Chickens?
    “Monkey kidney cells” and this was just to name a few…
    didn’t even get to the preservatives, like “formaldehyde”!!

    Vaccines, I think NOT!
    Just as a reminder, this IS OFF the CDC’s own website.

    If all I have to do is drink a little berry juice or eat some garlic or even go to Costco and get their jumbo container of Vitamin C to ward off colds, I would rather do that than take a vaccine.

  12. I have studied vaccines since my now 20 year old was born. There was a time I didn’t vaccinate and eventually came around to vaccinating all my children. That being said, when one reads that aborted babies are used in vaccines, it makes some of us pause. You are deliberately being obtuse in regards to this discussion and dare I say pig headed in your opinions. If you appreciate and value vaccines without concerns then wonderful. Let those of us that approach it with fear and trembling voice our opinions as well.

    1. H.M.A.
      Very nicely done summary which, I think, is well supported by the data.
      I am not sure how anyone could be offended by your words.
      I realize this was originally about the supposed benefits of elderberry abstracts but has drifted to vaccines.
      For the record, and complete transparency, I am a physician with over a decade in emergency medicine followed by 2 1/2 decades in oncology. My take on nearly 4 decades of practice is that every time I hear “settled science” or words to that effect I cringe because what we know pales in comparison to what we do not know. That said, I am a strong advocate of VOLUNTARY vaccination…as well as VOLUNTARY seat belt wearing, VOLUNTARY avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, etc.
      I believe the two most significant health advancements in history are vaccines and public health–which would include good personal hygiene.
      I would like to share a completely anecdotal observation regarding how beneficial overall vaccines have been to humanity.
      One of the most brilliant scientist physicians of the 20th century was Dr. Arthur Guyton who was left on crutches after contracting polio during his surgical residency in the 1940’s. My father’s secretary, one of the sweetest women imaginable, was left on crutches from polio contracted in the early 1950’s. Polio vaccine was first in use in the mid 1950’s. In my entire medical career I have seen exactly zero new cases of polio.
      My grandfather was born in the early 1900’s and had severe scars from childhood smallpox which he miraculously survived. Smallpox vaccine was not widely available until about the 1960’s. I have never seen a new case of smallpox in my medical career.

      And, finally, to re-quote from Armed Citizen above:
      Philippians 4:8 King James Version (KJV) :
      “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
      Merry CHRISTmas all,

  13. Please don’t be one of those annoying condescending people who think they know it all. I have two personal friends who have had major reactions to that vaccine with one including permanent damage and difficulty walking.

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