December's Health Genie: Elderberry

Note: This article is not meant as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult with your medical practitioner before using any type of remedy, herbal or otherwise.

Dear Health Genie,

Elderberry is very popular among my friends. I have noticed that City Market offers a few different brands of Elderberry syrup.  How and why does one use it?

Thank you,
Curious Customer

Dear Curious,

Elderberry, or sambucus nigra, is one of countless botanical remedies with a rich history. I can certainly shed light on some reasons why this herb has enjoyed greater popularity than others.

This berry is sweeter than most herbs, and therefore more amenable to children.  Most Elderberry syrups contain honey, alcohol or both.  Aside from heeding the precaution to avoid use of honey with infants younger than twelve months of age, it is generally agreed that elderberry preparations are safe for use with children in small amounts.

Elderberry has traditionally been used to strengthen respiratory immunity in the fall, winter and spring. Traditions that recognize substances as either warming or cooling assign a warming quality to this plant that has long been used as a diaphoretic (it promotes sweating). Gently warming and diaphoretic actions of some plants, like elderberry, have been considered potentially helpful for common acute conditions for which a healthy immune response includes fever.

Research suggests another way elderberry may support health immune system response: anotable study on the use of elderberry was conducted by virologist Madeleine Mumcuoglu on patients in Israel in 1993 during an influenza breakout. The study suggests that flu sufferers given elderberry syrup daily were relieved of most symptoms in half the time of the other patients. The virologist involved in this study went on to conduct more specific research on elderberry. She found that constituents in elderberry neutralize or deactivate a specific protein on the surface on many viruses, including influenza A and B, in a way that prevents viral replication. Studies conducted by this researcher and others support this finding.

In 2009 the journal Phytochemistry published the results of a study that demonstrated certain flavonoids in elderberry bind to the influenza A (H1N1) virions, blocking host cell recognition and entry. Virions that are unable to enter a host cell are incapable of reproducing.  Furthermore, virons not allied with a host cell are more easily detected by the immune system. When a virus is detected by immune cells, white blood cells begin making antibodies, which also neutralize the specific virus. If further research supports this finding, we can see how elderberry would be helpful in supporting one category of healthy immune system response. 

One local herbalist, Jill Frink of Samhain Botanicals, suggests 1 tablespoon per one hundred pounds of body weight several times per day. Elderberry is one of the most popular herbal products at City Market; so feel free to stop by and ask more questions!

Good Luck,
The Health Genie


  • Grieve, Maude as edited by Leyel, C.F. in 1971. A Modern Herbal:
  • The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with their Modern Scientific Uses.  Dover Publications, Inc. New York, N.Y. 10014 (This Dover edition, first published in 1971, is an unabridged republication of the work originally published by Harcourt, Brace & Company in 1931.)
  • Mumcuoglu, M, Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, Manor O, Regev L, Schlesinger M. 1995.  Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9.
  • Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS. 2009. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. Epub 2009 Aug 12.
  • Roxas, M, ND, Jurenka, J MT ASCP.  2007.  Cold and Influenza: A Review of Diagnosis and Conventional, Botanical, and Nutritional Consdierations.  Alternative Medicine Review. 2007 12 (1):25-48.
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