What Is Elderberry?
The flowering shrub known as Sambuca nigra, or elderberry, grows in the warmer parts of Europe and America. For centuries its flowers and berries have traditionally been used to make wine and soft drinks, and its berries consumed as food. In addition, all parts of the plant have been used as traditional herbal medicine.
What Is Elderberry Used For?
It has been commonly observed that darkly pigmented berries such as blueberries, grapes, and elderberries serve as rich sources of antioxidants called anthocyanins. Scientists have isolated four anthocyanins from elderberry extract, and these appear to greatly enhance cell resistance to the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species, a particularly damaging type of free radical, in animal studies.
Because of its high content of flavonoids such as anthocyaninns, as well as polysaccharides, researchers have reason to believe that elderberry might possess antiviral properties. And indeed, work done in both laboratory and clinical settings seem to indicate that elderberry can help to fight common infections such as colds and even herpes simplex. But it is elderberry’s apparent effectiveness against influenza that has captured the public’s interest.
Although folk healers have traditionally used elderberry as a flu remedy, it was not until the early nineteen-nineties that scientist began to seriously examine this. An Israeli study during an outbreak of Type B flu showed that 93% of flu patients who received an elderberry extract were completely symptom-free with just two days, while those taking a placebo took three times as long to get well.
During a flu epidemic a few years later in Norway, research showed that elderberry also provides relief from the Type B strain as well. Of the sixty patients involved in the study, 90% of those patients given elderberry extract showed pronounced improvements in flu symptoms after three days, nearly. Once again, those receiving only the placebo took much longer to recover.
The unusual effectiveness of elderberry extract may derive in part form its ability to upregulate the body’s production of what are called inflammatory cytokines, which enable the immune system to attack invading viruses. This is an interesting example of how something normally thought to be bad for us, inflammation, can actually be helpful in the right context, much like clotting of the blood. Given its potential as an immune-boosting and immune-modulating substance, clinicians have proposed that elderberry extract might have a role to play in helping chemotherapy patients, who are often terribly vulnerable to secondary infections because of their weakened condition. More work in this area is needed before any definite recommendations can be made, however.
How Is Elderberry Taken?
Just as the best time to buy fire insurance is before your house burns down, not after, the best time to take elderberry extract may be before you have been exposed to the flu virus. Many people begin to ingest it at the start of an outbreak, so as to increase their chances of remaining well. But even those who have already become ill find that taking elderberry extract three times a day can be quite helpful. Elderberry comes as a tea, as syrup, as a lozenge, and as a pill. In theory, any of these forms should be effective, In practice, children (and many adults) tend to prefer the good-tasting syrup.
Is Elderberry Safe?
No side effects have been observed. Of course, if you take medication or have any chronic health conditions, speak to your doctor before using this natural remedy.
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.