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Elderberry Benefits to Shorten the Cold or Flu

As more and more people look to herbs and natural remedies for their family, one of the first places they start is with elderberry benefits and its many uses. In this post, we’re discussing the many benefits of elderberries and the evidence of how they can help shorten a cold or flu.

Elderberries on a bush with the sunset in the background.

Why We Love Elderberries

With the cold and flu being a yearly thing most of us have to deal with, it’s great to have a few homemade remedies on hand. We love these cough remedies that are safe for all ages, as well as this immune-boosting throat-soothing tea, this Amish remedy for relieving chest congestionhomemade mustard plaster for chest congestion relief, and this easy remedy for relieving sinus and nasal congestion.

Elderberries were actually one of the first things I ever foraged for. It was back when I was in high school, living in the mountains of Southern California, and I turned those berries into all kinds of home remedies.

Now, living in North Idaho, elderberries grow wild all over the place, so I continue to make homemade elderberry syrup, juice, tea, jelly, tincture, elderberry gummies and even elderberry wine.

It’s important to note that I am not a certified medical practitioner. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat but is for informational purposes only. Please contact your healthcare professional before introducing new herbal and natural remedies into your wellness routine.

What are Elderberries?

The elder plant grows wild in many places across the United States and Europe. It’s a large bush that can grow to the size of a tree. It will first produce white clusters of elderflowers from early June to late July (depending on your climate), which will turn into dark purple or bluish elderberries in late summer and early fall.

The hardwood from the elder tree has even been used for instruments because of its hollow nature.

According to the West Virginia University Extension Office, there are ten known species of elderberry. The two most people want for their medicinal properties are Sambucus nigra, a European native, and Sambucus canadensis, native to North America.

Red elderberry bush.

Elderberry Varieties

Do be cautious of the other kinds of elderberries. The “European red elderberry (Sambucus racemose) is also found in the northeastern United States. It is highly toxic to humans and not recommended for commercial fruit production. It is mainly used as an attractive landscaping plant, but extreme caution is warranted due to its toxicity. The seed in the berries, stems, leaves and roots contain chemical cyanogenic glycoside (sambunigrin) that metabolizes within the digestive tract with the help of bacteria into hydrogen cyanide leading to some serious problems.” (Source)

Someone harvesting elderberries from a large elderberry bush.

Here are some of the other varieties of elderberry:

  • “‘Beauty,’ as its name suggests, is an example of an ornamental European variety. It boasts purple foliage and pink blossoms that smell of lemon. It will grow from 6 to 8 feet (2 m.) tall and across.
  • ‘Black Lace’ is another spectacular European cultivar that has deeply serrated, dark purple foliage. It also grows to 6 to 8 feet (2 m.) with pink flowers and looks very much akin to a Japanese maple.
  • Two of the oldest and most vigorous elderberry types are Adams #1 and Adams #2, which bear large fruit clusters and berries that ripen in early September.
  • An early producer, ‘Johns’ is an American variety that is a prolific producer as well. This cultivar is great for making jelly and will grow to 12 feet (4 m.) tall and wide with 10-foot (3 m.) canes.
  • ‘Nova,’ an American self-fruiting variety, has large, sweet fruit on a smaller 6-foot (2 m.) shrub. While it is self-fruitful, ‘Nova’ will thrive with another American elderberry growing nearby.
  • ‘Variegated’ is a European variety with striking green and white foliage. Grow this variety for the attractive foliage, not the berries. It is less productive than other elderberry types.
  • ‘Scotia’ has very sweet berries but smaller bushes than other elderberries.
  • ‘York’ is another American variety that produces the largest berries of all the elderberries. Pair it with ‘Nova’ for pollinating purposes. It only grows to about 6 feet (2 m.) tall and across and matures in late August.” (Source)
A jar of elderberry syrup with fresh picked elderberries around it.

Health Benefits of Elderberries

“Most historians typically trace its healing abilities back to Hippocrates, the ancient Greek known as the ‘Father of Medicine,’ who described the plant as his “medicine chest” because of the wide array of health concerns it seemed to treat.” (Source)

Since elderberries contain vitamins A, B, and C, they naturally stimulate and wake up the immune system. This makes them a great remedy for seasonal illnesses such as colds and the flu. (Source)

Boosting your immune system naturally when the weather begins to change can actually help you fight off those germs. According to Good Gut Nutrition, elderberries also contain twice the antioxidants that blueberries have.

Doctor Madeleine Mumcuoglu researched elderberries and their effect on flu viruses. The results of her research was “Sambucol was at least 99% effective against the avian flu virus, H5N1, and in cell cultures significantly neutralized the infectivity of the virus.” (Source)

Abby's Elderberry text and quote.

Immunomodulating Herb

Elderberries fall into a unique category of immunomodulating herbs. “Immunomodulators are medicines that change your immune system so it works more effectively. They include treatments that increase or decrease your immune response.” (Source)

Elderberries are herbs that help boost, maintain and sometimes even calm down your own immune system to help keep you healthy and in homeostasis. (Source)

In our society, we’re used to reaching for immunostimulating herbs because we’re sick and need something to help right now. But elderberries work differently. This article discusses elderberry’s ability to help shorten the length of influenza A and B virus infections.

What is Cytokine?

One of the ways elderberries work in our immune system is through cytokines. Cytokines are chemical messengers that control the activity of immune system cells. Basically, they send a signal that the invaders, or the bad guys, are over here, so our immune system can properly respond to the threat of virus or bacteria and knock it out. (Source)

Abby's Elderberry products on a wooden counter.

Cytokine Release System (CRS or Cytokine Storm)

One of the concerns with cytokine is if you already have deep respiratory issues and heavy lungs due to excess phlegm, cytokine can create further breathing issues by causing more liquid making it even harder on your already congested lungs. (Learn more about cytokine storms here.)

If you’re dealing with heavy chest congestion, this is something you’ll want to be aware of and consider a different remedy until the congestion clears.

Some of the benefits of elderberry are as follows:

  • Boosts/stimulates the immune system
  • Fights and protects against bacterial and viral infections
  • Helps clear sinus infections or upper respiratory infections  (Source)
  • Reduces the symptoms and duration of a cold or the flu (Source)
  • A natural diuretic (promotes bowel movements)(Source)
  • Anti-carcinogenic (Source)
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • May ease allergy symptoms
  • High in antioxidants (Source)
Elderberry syrup in a mason jar with a spoonful of syrup on a table.

How to Use Elderberry

As mentioned above, we like to use elderberries to make elderberry syrup, juice, tea, jelly, tincture, elderberry gummies and elderberry wine. It’s important to note that the berries should either be cooked or dehydrated prior to consuming or making these recipes in order to be considered safe.

My favorite way to extract the benefits of the elderberries is to steam juice them. That way I’m not having to fuss with all the tiny stems and leaves.

The elderflowers can be used for teas, jellies, and wine. The dried elder leaves can be used to create an elder leaf balm, which is great for bruises, sprains, strains and tired muscles.

A young girl with a branch of fresh elderberries.

Where to Find Abby’s Elderberry

You can find Starla and Brad over at Abby’s Elderberry. They offer multiple kinds of elderberry syrup, including unsweetened, honey or maple syrup sweetened, or a low-glycemic glycerine sweetened option.

They also offer a couple of tea options, dehydrated elderberries and an elderberry syrup kit, as well as The Elderberry Book (pictured above). For our Homesteading Family viewers, they’re offering 15% off sitewide with coupon code “HOMESTEADINGFAMILY” at checkout.

The Elderberry Book in the grass with elderberries beside it.
A man and wife smiling.

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