It’s cold season – and that means it’s time to start boosting your immune system so it’s ready to fight off infections before they start attacking.
One of my favorite cold-fighting natural remedies is the elderberry. If you’re scratching your head and wondering to yourself, “what are elderberries?” you’re not alone. Many people have never heard of these potent berries, but they are tiny, powerful, and pack a serious punch with their many health benefits.
Elderberry comes from the plant Sambucus nigra, also known as European elder. Native to Europe, Africa, and some parts of Asia, this large shrub or small tree can grow up to 30 feet tall and grows berries and flowers that can be used as medicine (1).
Elderberries have been used as a medicinal staple for centuries because of its anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antiviral properties. Elderberry can help heal wounds when applied topically and help treat illness like cold and flu when consumed.
Before we get into just how you can take advantage of the powers of elderberry for colds, let’s look at a few of the health benefits of this incredible plant.
Elderberry Health Benefits
1. It boosts the immune system.
Elderberry has long had a solid reputation as a natural remedy, and a lot of it is due to its immune-enhancing properties.
How does it work? Elderberries act on the production of cytokines, which are one of the main components of the immune system that work to fight off disease and infection. More cytokines means a healthier immune system.
One study actually found that elderberry extract was able to increase the production of five important cytokines in the body by 1.3 to 6.2 fold. This was even more effective than other herbal remedies that were tested in the study (2).
This means that elderberry could potentially help patients with lots of conditions that suppress the immune system. Those suffering from cancer, AIDS, and influenza are just a few of the possible groups who could benefit from the immune-enhancing effects of elderberry.
2. It can prevent cancer.
Elderberry is rich in many health-promoting ingredients, some of which have even been shown to treat and prevent cancer.
Antioxidants like anthocyanins, flavonoids, and polyphenolics are all anti-carcinogenic and help neutralize free radicals and stop the growth of cancer cells.
Elderberry itself has also been shown to be chemopreventative, meaning it is able to stop or slow cancer formation. In one study, it was shown to inhibit an enzyme known as ornithine decarboxylase, which can help spur the growth of cancer (3).
Plus, it’s high in other cancer-fighting nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin A, making it a powerhouse for good health.
3. It can treat constipation.
If you’re tired of constantly straining and feeling bloated and full, elderberry might be able to help.
Elderberry is a natural laxative, meaning it can get your digestive system moving, restore regularity, and relieve constipation. It’s commonly used in conjunction with other ingredients to promote bowel regularity and treat chronic constipation.
In one 2010 study, participants suffering from chronic constipation were treated with a compound containing elderberry. It was able to increase the number of bowel movements per day and improve overall bowel function for patients, making it a safe alternative treatment for constipation (3).
4. It can lower blood sugar levels.
In addition to its many other awesome health benefits, elderberries are even great for lowering blood sugar and treating diabetes.
Elderberry extract has been shown to help your body handle glucose better. It helps speed its transport and boosts your body’s ability to metabolize it. It also helps wth insulin secretion to get it to the liver and muscles, where it can be used as fuel. Plus, it increases glycogenesis, a mechanism that prevents excess sugar from building up in the bloodstream to keep blood glucose levels normal (4).
This matters because when blood sugar remains elevated over time, it can cause serious health problems. Weight loss, increased thirst and hunger, fatigue, and poor wound healing are some symptoms that you can expect when blood sugar is chronically high. Over time, diabetes and insulin resistance can develop, causing some serious health problems if left untreated.
Elderberry, along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, can help prevent chronic blood sugar spikes by helping insulin to do its job effectively and stopping glucose from building up in the bloodstream.
5. It fights off the cold and flu.
Probably the most impressive health benefit of the elderberry – and probably the reason you’re reading this post – is its effect on cold and flu viruses.
This is because of its awesome antimicrobial and antiviral properties, which make it super potent in fighting against infections.
An elderberry flu study did a great job demonstrating just how powerful this plant really is.
Researchers looked at the effect of elderberry extract on some of the types of bacteria that are most commonly responsible for upper respiratory infections as well as two different strains of the influenza virus (5).
Amazingly, they found that the elderberry extract acted against the bacteria and also stopped the spread of the flu viruses right in its tracks.
Another study looked at elderberry syrup and its effectiveness against influenza A or B viruses. Participants suffering from influenza symptoms received either elderberry syrup or a placebo. On average, the elderberry syrup was able to relieve symptoms four days earlier, proving that it’s a safe and super effective method to treat the flu (6).
A Few Cautions about Elderberry
Despite its health-boosting qualities, there are some cautions when it comes to taking elderberry.
When taken at the recommended dosage for short periods of time, negative side effects don’t typically occur.
However, keep in mind that this is a potent herbal health remedy and you should always consult your doctor before starting. This is especially important if you have any other underlying conditions or are on other medications.
Unripened or raw elderberries should not be consumed, as they can contain cyanide and be poisonous. The bark, seeds, and leaves of the elder tree can also be toxic and should be avoided.
Children should not be given any product containing elderberry without first talking to a pediatrician. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid it altogether. Additionally, those with an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus should talk to their doctor before taking as elderberry can affect the immune system.
How to Make Elderberry Syrup for Colds
While elderberry is available in commercial preparations, like Sambucol, they’re often filled with additives, chemicals, and extra ingredients that aren’t great for your health.
Instead, I recommend making a batch of elderberry syrup yourself. Not only is it super easy, but you can also control what goes in it, so you cut out a lot of the junk found in pre-made products. It only requires a few ingredients, comes together in a cinch, and is one of the best natural remedies for fighting infections.
If you’re wondering where to buy elderberries, fear not. While they may not be available at your local grocery store, you can easily find dried elderberries online or even grow your own elder plant if you feel like exercising your green thumb.
Either way, when combined with a few other health-promoting ingredients, elderberry syrup is a seriously awesome way to improve your health and avoid getting sick.
- 2/3 cup dried elderberries (approximately 3 ounces)
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 1 knob of ginger, peeled
- 1 cup of raw honey
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- 2 cups water
- Add water, elderberries, and spices to boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cover with a lid, allowing mixture to simmer for 30-45 minutes and then remove from heat.
- While this mixture is simmering, use a potato masher to frequently mash elderberries.
- Pour raw honey into a separate glass jar.
- Using a funnel, filter your syrup mixture through a cheesecloth into the jar of honey. Twist the cheesecloth to make sure that you get all of the liquid from the elderberries.
- Stir the mixture vigorously to dissolve honey and then seal and store in the refrigerator.
Because the honey acts as a natural preservative, this mixture should stay good in the fridge for several months with no problems.
I recommend taking 1 tablespoon daily for adults and up to 1 teaspoon daily for children over 2 years old. Alternatively, adults can feel free to take a teaspoon every 2 to 4 hours as a quick pick-me-up when feeling ill.
An Elderberry a Day Keeps Colds at Bay
Regardless of whether or not you’re feeling ill right now, incorporating elderberry into your routine is one of the best ways to stay healthy and keep cold and flu symptoms from rearing their ugly heads.
Elderberry syrup for colds is one of my favorite natural remedies – and one of the absolute best things you can do for your health.
Give it a try and see for yourself! You might just be able to dodge the sniffles and sick days this year after all.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.