Ask Keri: I’ve been hearing more and more about elderberry as a cold and flu remedy. Does it really strengthen the immune system?
Keri Says: While the research isn’t conclusive, elderberry has been used as a cold- and flu-fighting remedy for ages and is associated with immune-boosting benefits in some studies. And there’s no real downside to taking it as a supplement (other than the cost!), since it’s an antioxidant-rich fruit either way.
Who knows why it’s suddenly having a “moment,” with lot of people talking about its benefits, but here’s what you really need to know—especially during sniffle season.
Elderberry: The Research
Like a lot of natural remedies, people will tell you elderberry can cure almost anything. What we really know is this: First, elderberries are rich in powerful antioxidants like flavonoids and vitamin C, and we know that a diet filled with antioxidant-packed foods is one of the best strategies for maintaining a strong immune system.
In addition, elderberry has been shown to have an antiviral effect in mice. More clinical trials are needed, but a few small human studies have shown promising results. In one study of 60 people with flu symptoms, participants who took 15 ml of elderberry syrup four times per day saw relief from their symptoms an average of four days earlier than those who didn’t.
Another study looked at whether elderberry extract helped air travelers avoid colds (since people often get sick from flying). Among just over 300 participants, more colds did occur in the placebo group, but the difference was not statistically significant. However, those who didn’t take the extract did have report colds that were significantly longer and more severe symptoms.
Elderberry: How to Take It
While ingesting elderberry extract or syrup is totally safe, don’t go picking the berries and popping them in your mouth—they need to be cooked. The unripe fruit and other parts of the plant can cause cyanide poisoning, with effects like nausea or vomiting.
Your best bet is to buy an organic, high-quality syrup or extract. Some companies also make gummies, and you can buy elderberry juice, just watch out for added sugar. The berries themselves are very tart, so companies may add more sugar than you expect to sweeten it up.
The Bottom Line
If you feel like you keep getting sick and need an immunity boost, adding elderberry to your daily routine could be a strategy worth trying. Just don’t expect a spoonful of syrup to address other habits that might be wreaking havoc on your body’s defenses, like lack of sleep or chronic stress.