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Elderberry: Nature’s Top Antiviral Herb

The science speaks for itself—elderberry works in a unique way to combat cold and flu viruses and strengthen immune function.

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With a long tradition of medicinal use, elderberry has become one of the most popular supplements for enhancing immunity. In recent years, studies have found that it is an effective antiviral treatment for colds and flu, reducing symptoms and shortening the time it takes to recover. Here’s a look at some compelling studies:

Cold Prevention on Long Flights: One study compared the effects of a standardized elderberry extract and a placebo on colds among 312 economy-class passengers on flights from Australia that lasted at least 7 hours. Among those who took elderberry starting 10 days before a flight, 12 people caught colds, compared to 17 who took a placebo. Where colds did occur, symptoms lasted an average of two fewer days in the elderberry group.

Faster recovery: An analysis of other studies, which included a total of 180 people, found that elderberry significantly reduced the duration and intensity of upper respiratory infections. When the research was published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, the authors wrote, “These findings present an alternative to antibiotic misuse for upper respiratory symptoms due to viral infections, and a potentially safer alternative to prescription drugs for routine cases of the common cold and influenza.”

Flu fighter: In the Czech Republic, researchers compared the effectiveness of Tamiflu with a natural hot drink— a combination of elderberry and standardized echinacea—in a group of 473 people with flu. Both remedies were taken within 48 hours of symptom onset. The drink was as effective as the drug, with fewer side effects.

How Elderberry Works Its Magic

At the University of Sydney in Australia, researchers found that elderberry helps block the flu virus from attaching to a cell and entering a cell; it restricts the virus from replicating once it has infected a cell; and it strengthens a person’s immune response.

“This observation was quite surprising and rather significant because blocking the viral cycle at several stages has a higher chance of inhibiting the viral infection,” said study coauthor Peter Valtchev, PhD.

Elderberries to combat cold & flu
Photo: Adobe Stock

More Reasons to Take Elderberry

In addition to immune support, elderberry is also used to help relieve constipation, hay fever, sinus pain, nerve pain, high blood sugar, chronic fatigue syndrome, water retention, dull skin, and gum inflammation.

An elderberry wash or tea made from the plant’s flowers, applied topically, is used to help heal wounds, sprains, bruises, and bee stings.

Related: DIY Elderberry Spice Syrup

How Much Is Enough?

Adult dosages in studies have used different forms of elderberry supplements:

  • A standardized elderberry syrup: Within 24–48 hours of initial symptoms, 1 Tbs. taken 4 times daily for 3–5 days.
  • Lozenges containing 175 mg of elderberry: Within 24 hours of initial symptoms, taken 4 times daily for 2 days.
  • Capsules of a standardized elderberry extract: 300 mg taken 2 times daily for 10 days before a long flight, and then 3 times daily for the next 5–6 days.
  • For elderberry tea or other types of supplements, as well as children’s supplements, follow product directions. Elderberry is not recommended for people with autoimmune conditions.

Related: Antiviral Herbs & Vitamins

Elderberry and Covid-19

Since it has antiviral properties and strengthens immune function, elderberry could theoretically help ward off many types of infections. However, it has not been scientifically tested for prevention or treatment of Covid-19, a type of coronavirus.

At the University of Connecticut in Storrs, researchers reviewed possible effects of various natural substances on Covid-19. They noted that in a study of human cells, elderberry demonstrated antiviral activity against another coronavirus, NL63, which causes respiratory tract illnesses such as runny noses, coughs, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia. However, this does not prove that elderberry will have the same effect on Covid-19.

In severe cases of Covid-19, there is a phenomenon described as a “cytokine storm,” where the immune system overreacts and cytokines cause damage to lungs and other tissues. Some experts have expressed concern that elderberry might contribute to such a reaction.

This thinking stems from a small Israeli test-tube study in 2001, which examined the effect of an elderberry extract on blood samples from 12 healthy people. Although the supplement increased levels of cytokines, the researchers noted that this was a healthy response—not a harmful one.

Among their conclusions, published in a French journal, European Cytokine Network, the researchers wrote:

“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.”

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