Elderberry, or black elderberry, is a species of the genus Sambucus, a large shrub native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. However, it has spread to most parts of the United States and is cultivated across the world.
Evidence suggests elderberry could possibly help shorten the duration of the flu.
In fact, many studies show great results in reducing both the severity and duration of flu symptoms when elderberry products are used within 48 hours of flu symptoms first appearing. However, care must be taken when consuming raw, unprocessed elderberry as its seeds, leaves, bark, and unripe or raw fruit could be potentially toxic as they contain a cyanide-producing chemical called sambunigrin.
This article takes a closer look at the effectiveness of elderberry in relieving flu symptoms and why you should take precaution when preparing it at home.
Black elderberry is commonly referred to as European elderberry or as its scientific name, Sambucus nigra. Historically, cultures around the world have used elderberry to treat a number of conditions that range from cough, inflammation, and pain to respiratory problems like cold and flu-like symptoms. Nonetheless, it is only recently that it has gained a widespread attention in the scientific community as a supportive treatment for flu.
It is marketed as a dietary supplement and is available in the following dosage forms:
Manufacturers claim that elderberry products can boost immunity and often combine it with vitamin C and zinc.
A number of studies suggest elderberry has a potentially beneficial role in preventing the flu or at least curbing the disease duration. But a conclusive result regarding the beneficial role, especially when it is used alone and not in combination with other products or medicines, is still not validated by high-quality studies in human.
Perhaps the most important piece of evidence backing elderberry is that it is known to possess antiviral and antibacterial properties. Studies show that elderberry can increase production of variety of cytokines including interleukins and tumor necrosis factor, two important modulators of our immune system. It also seems to prevent viral (e.g. flu virus) attachment to our cells.
An important note regarding most available studies that looked at elderberry treatment for the flu is the amount of elderberry used. A concentrated juice might be able to curb or prevent viral infection and activate host immune system. However, the amounts contained in supplements may be nowhere near the amounts used in studies. Some studies reported using doses of up to 22 grams of elderberry per day!
The US FDA recognizes elderberry and its products safe for the intended use. But you should keep in mind that the unripe or raw fruit contains potentially toxic substance sambunigrin which can produce cyanogen inside the body.
Moreover, fruit seeds may also contain a small amount of cyanide. The good news, because cyanide is volatile, you can get rid of these toxic substances by heating or cooking the berries or juice. Fortunately, products that you can purcahse over the counter have been manufacuterd or processed in a way that makes them safe to take. If you are not purchasing a dietary supplement of elderberry at the store however, and want to cook or process elderberry at home, it is imperative that it is prepared properly.
One study concludes that elderberries and flowers collected at the foothill are suitable for moderate consumption as they generally contain the lowest levels of the cyanogen-producing chemical.