Elderberries for the Flu
From Natural Health magazine, Jan/Feb 2000 issue
Elderberries are thought to protect against infection with the influenza (flu) virus. And once the person comes down with the flu, elderberries may also reduce the severity and duration of the illness and its symptoms. Elderberries are also believed to relieve upper respiratory congestion caused by colds or allergies, and are currently being studied as possible treatment for the herpes and Human Immunodeficiency (HIV) viruses.
What Are Elderberries?
Elderberries are the dark purple fruit of the elder tree. Though the majority of research on the healing properties of the elderberry has been done on the European black elder, the North American species is believed to have the same curative properties.
How Do They Work?
Elderberries contain antiviral proteins that prevent viruses from invading cells. Elderberries are rich in vitamin C — an antioxidant that boosts immune function — and in bioflavanoids which according to Bradley Bongiovanni, N.D., a naturopath in Cambridge, Mass., strengthen cells, making them less reactive to allergens and germs.
Elderberries may possess expectorant and astringent properties that encourage the release of phlegm and reduce congestion. The berries also induce sweating which may help break a fever of rid the body of infection.
A 1995 placebo-controlled study of 40 patients diagnosed with influenza published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that 90 percent of flu patients who had taken 10 ml of elderberry extract four times a day were completely symptom-free after three days.
Symptoms of patients in the untreated control group persisted for six days. According to Madeleine Mumcuoglu, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a former virology researcher at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, research has shown that patients who take elderberry extract have elevated levels of immune system proteins called cytomkines in their blood-streams.
In a 1998 study at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, chimpanzees given a tablespoon of elderberry extract every day during the cold and flu season were three times less likely to get sick than those in the control group, who received fruit juice. Those in the treated group who did get sick were only ill for an average of 24 hours, compared to two to six days for those in the control group. There hasn’t yet been any research on elderberry’s decongestant properties. Preliminary laboratory studies indicate that elderberry extract inhibits reproduction of the herpes and HIV viruses in vitro.
Elderberry extract is slightly acidic and can irritate the stomach lining. Taking it with food should minimize any discomfort. While there are few known side effects for com-mercially prepared elderberry extracts or capsules, the bark and leaves from the elder tree may produce an allergic reaction of they come in contact with the skin. Raw berries are mildly toxic and will cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested.
How To Take
Dosages vary depending on the manufacturer’s formulation, so read the labels, but they usually range from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of extract twice daily for flu prevention, and up to 4 times that amount for treatment.