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 Amazon.com 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.
- Cover all of the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to boil; turn down the heat to gently simmer for 20 minutes.
- After simmering, strain the berries out. (Then, I feed the strained berries to my chickens.)
- Add ¾ to 1 cup of sugar or honey to the syrup. (Sugar or honey sweetens the syrup and helps to preserve it.)
- 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.
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.
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 (www.herbco.com). 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 Amazon.com, 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’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 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426320/