Letter Re: Sambucol (Black Elder) for Influenza

Intro From JWR: I’ve received more than 10 e-mails from folks on three continents about using elderberry extract for treating influenzas. However, I was reluctant to print any of them until now. I guess I was being overly cautious, because in the just past day I got two letters that cited clinical studies rather than hearsay:

Hello Jim,

I’ve been a believer in the effectiveness of an Israeli-made extract called “Sambucol” for a number of years. My seat-of-the-pants reaction is that it definitely does ward off colds/flu. The following is from the manufacturer:

Effect of Sambucol® on several strains of Influenza virus.
Sambucol®, a standardized extract, is a preparation based on the berries of the Black Elder, used as herbal remedy for influenza virus infections. It contains a potent antiviral compound, AntiVirin® as well as a high amount of three flavonoids (Bronnum-Hansen and Hansen, 1983.) The flavonoids are naturally occurring plant antioxidants.
Laboratory tests:
Sambucol® was shown to reduce hemagglutination and inhibited replication of human influenza virus type A, type B and animal strains from swine and turkeys in cell cultures.
Clinical Study:
A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical study was conducted during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the Sambucol® treated group within 2 days. A complete cure was achieved within 2 to 3 days in nearly 90% of the Sambucol® treated group and within at least 6 days in the placebo group. “Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus nigra L) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama”, Z. Zakay-Rones et al. J. Alt Compl Med 1995;1:361-369.

Second clinical study on flu
In a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in Norway, Sambucol® was shown to significantly reduce the duration of the flu by approximately four days. The use of rescue medication (pain relievers, etc.) was significantly less in the group receiving Sambucol® than in the placebo group. “Randomized study on the efficacy and safety of an oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections” Thom Erling & Therje Wollan, J. Int. Med. Res., 2004;32(2):132-140.

Sambucol has been the subject of two double-blind tests, both of which confirmed its efficacy. See:

I can also attest to its ability to stop flu in its tracks from personal experience. It works if one takes it at the first sign of flu symptoms. We also make our own elderberry extract, and it works as well. – D.M.

Another reader sent this useful link from the NIH: