First off, I want to acknowledge that I've been trying to get this blog post finished for 3 weeks. Since Denver established shelter-in-place as a result of COVID-19, I figured I would have all the time in the world to blog and work on some projects I've had in mind. As a result of shelter-in-place, my school and work have both closed, leaving me with a lot of unstructured time. At first I had aggressively high hopes, but I've since relaxed into doing what feels best from day to day, whether that's studying and research or long walks and working on a puzzle. The first week of quarantine I cooked up some homemade elderberry syrup, which is easy to make, very cost-effective compared to store-bought versions, and a good way to keep your immune system strong.
Black elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, is widely known as an effective cold and flu remedy for boosting the immune system. In this post I'll share why elderberry is used for immune support, the science behind its efficacy, and my recipe for elderberry syrup.
Elderberry has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. As early as 400 BCE, Hippocrates recorded using various parts of the elder tree medicinally, and herbalists have continued this practice for generations. In modern herbalism, the berries, flowers and bark of the elder tree are the most common parts used. Some of the many therapeutic uses are to treat stomach ache, inflammation, sinus congestion, constipation, sore throat, allergies, and the common cold.
Elderberry extracts may help to prevent the early stage of viruses (including coronavirus strains), influenza, and other microorganisms. Flavonoids and anthocyanidins are both chemical components of elderberry that likely contribute to this effect. Found in many plants, flavonoids have an array of anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties. Anthocyanidins are chemical compounds in plants with anti-inflammatory and immunostimulant effects. They can also be found in other purple and blue colored foods, such as blueberries, blackberries, plums and eggplant.
You may have heard about what's called a "cytokine storm" as a possible side effect from taking elderberry. Cytokines are small proteins secreted by the immune system as part of the immune response. A cytokine storm is a severe immune response that typically is associated with late-stage illness or sepsis. While its true that elderberry and other herbs can stimulate the immune system and thus the production of cytokines, there have been no specific case reports of elderberry-induced cytokine storm.
There is some debate among herbalists as to when elderberry is appropriate to use. My opinion is that elderberry is most beneficial preventatively, due to its powerful immune supporting function. If you should start showing any viral symptoms, such as fever, chills, headache or body aches, personally I would switch gears to a different herbal treatment depending on symptoms. Many people don't realize that herbalism is most effective when formulas are highly specific to your current condition, and that even one symptom could change an herbal recommendation. If you are interested in a tailored herbal consult, I offer remote consultations which you can schedule by emailing me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 1/2 cup dried elderberries (I like Mountain Rose Herbs)
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp diced ginger
- 1/2 cup raw honey
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1. Combine elderberries, water, cloves, cinnamon and ginger in a pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower temperature and simmer for 20-30 minutes. The amount of water should reduce by about 1/3.
2. Remove from heat and use a flat kitchen tool (I used the pestle from my mortar and pestle) to crush the berries.
3. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and allow it to cool for 10-20 minutes
4. Mix in honey and apple cider vinegar, whisk to combine.
Store elderberry syrup in the fridge. Take 1 tbsp 1-2 times a day.
This article is not intended for the purpose of providing medical advice. All information, content, and material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment.
1. Gaia Herbs. "The facts on black elderberry and COVID-19." https://www.gaiaherbs.com/blogs/seeds-of-knowledge/the-facts-on-black-elderberry-and-covid-19
2. Strugala, P et al."A comprehensive study on the biological activity of elderberry extract and Cyanidin 3-O-Glucoside and their interactions with membranes and human serum albumin." Molecules, October 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6222845/
3. Tisoncik, J et al. "Into the eye of the cytokine storm". Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews. March 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3294426/
4. Werming-Morgan, D. "Elderberry is anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and modulates the immune system." University of Oxford, February 2020.