Elderberry is getting a lot of attention because clinical research shows that some elderberry extracts and lozenges, may help reduce cold and flu-like symptoms and duration if taken within 48 hours of onset. That does not mean it prevents or cures, rather that it speeds recovery. Please seek medical attention if you believe you have the flu or if you have any symptoms of the flu.
According to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the leaves, stems, seeds, raw and unripe berries and other plant parts of the elder tree are toxic. Avoid those. They also caution against taking large amounts of the elderberry flower since those may also have the same substance present. Cooking renders the seeds safe for consumption.
Black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) naturally contain vitamins A, B, and C and stimulate the immune system. Israeli researchers found that the complex sugars in elderberries support the immune system in fighting cold and flu.
In one placebo-controlled, double-blind study conducted by Israeli virologist Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, 93.3% of the people taking an elderberry preparation reported significant improvement in influenza symptoms within 2 days of starting it, compared with the 6 days it took for the placebo group to see improvement.1
In another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed in Norway, researchers gave either a placebo syrup or elderberry syrup to patients who reported having flu-like symptoms for less than 48 hours. The results were similar to Dr. Mumcuoglu’s results. On average, the patients who received the elderberry syrup saw relief of symptoms 4 days earlier than the group that received the placebo syrup. As an added benefit, the patients in the elderberry syrup group reported taking significantly fewer over-the-counter medications in hopes of symptom relief.2
Researchers also have found that people who have taken elderberries have higher levels of antibodies against the influenza virus, showing that not only may the berry be able to treat flu symptoms, it may also be able to prevent influenza infection.3
Ingredient Notes: I sweeten my syrup with honey, but you could use organic sugar or evaporated cane juice as well. Use mild-flavored honey since the flavor will come through strongly in the reduced syrup: if you don’t like the taste of the honey on its own, you probably won’t like the final product.
The sugar also helps with the preservation of the syrup, so while you can certainly increase the sugar if you prefer sweeter syrup, do not leave it out if you want to water-bath can the final product. If you want to make a sugar-free version, freeze it instead of canning it, and prepare yourself for a shockingly tart syrup… like sipping a sweet-tart.
Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe
- 1 pound (4 cups) fresh or frozen elderberries, or 1/2 pound dried elderberries, picked over and all stems removed.
- 3 cups filtered water
- 1/4 cup honey or 1/3 cup sugar (can increase quantity to taste)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 small piece fresh ginger, peeled (optional)
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