Elderberry Syrup for the Flu Season Blues

Now that flu season is upon us, I’m taking requests for homemade elderberry syrup. Last year I made elderberry syrup for busy teacher friends, and it is one of my favorite medicines because it tastes delicious and can be taken before or during a cold or flu to prevent or reduce the duration of symptoms.

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Need some science?  Sambucus nigra, or Elder berry, has demonstrated antiviral activity against influenza, supported by in vitro and in vivo studies, clinical use in Europe as well as documented traditional use. Clinical trial studies are linked here and here, for the inquisitive mind. I have summarized the findings for you below.

  • Elderberry extract stimulates production of cytokine immune cells, and inhibits replication of viruses in cells.
  • Elderberry extract kills certain types of Streptococcus bacteria as well as viruses in a petri dish (making it truly antibacterial and antiviral- some plants to which this label is inappropriately applied more indirectly raise host defense through other means).
  • Elderberry’s mechanism of action is to deactivate hemagglutinin spikes on the virus coat, without which the virus is unable to pierce and enter cell walls in order to replicate.
  • Elderberry syrup has been shown to reduce the duration of flu symptoms by 3 to 4 days in double-blind placebo-controlled studies.
  • Because all influenza strains have these hemagglutinin spikes, elderberry is a broad spectrum preventive medicine for flu, unlike flu vaccines which must match the strain closely to be effective.

There is a commercial supplement available called Sambucol, which doctors in Europe commonly prescribe for flu. While Sambucol is standardized and lab tested for active ingredients, it is easy to make a tasty and effective syrup of your own for way less than the cost of the supplement.

I make my elderberry syrup, based on a Mountain Rose Herb recipe, with:

1 cup of elderberries

1 cup of rose hips (incredibly high Vitamin C content)

1 cinnamon stick

3 whole cloves

1 Tbsp ginger (for taste)

I simmer these on the stove with a quart of water, reducing it to a single cup of liquid over the course of half an hour.

*(A side note here, Monty Python fans will remember the insult“your father smelled of elderberries;” dried elderberries smell like old socks to some people, and this smell comes out strongly while they are cooking. Fortunately the smell dissipates once the berries are fully cooked, and does not affect the taste at all.)

I let the syrup cool, strain it, then add 1 cup of honey, and if it is not going to be drunk immediately or put directly into a fridge I add a half cup of brandy to preserve it. It is best to store the syrup in a cool dry place, or in the refrigerator if you plan to keep it for more than a few months.

A dose for an adult is 1 tablespoon of syrup daily for preventive care, and 1 tablespoon every 2-3 hours while flu symptoms are present.

It is the tastiest way to keep cold and flu away. As I said, I am taking requests. Say the word if you would like me to set some aside for you!

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