Immune Booster: The Magical Elderberry


I have been interested in “food as medicine” for as long as I can remember.  In fact, if my funds were unlimited I would enroll in a naturopathic medicine program (specifically the one offered at National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon) and pursue this further.  My funds are limited, however, so whenever I have the opportunity to learn about “ancient” ideas that relate foods to their healing powers I like to learn as much as I possibly can and then pass the information on.  Su Stone shares this passion and is a wealth of knowledge regarding the medicinal properties of plants and I am very grateful when we have the opportunity to talk about them.

Su has been touting the health benefits of Elderberry syrup for the past few months as cold and flu season has established itself.  It’s delicious!  I decided to explore this natural cold & flu remedy a bit further and the following is some of what I learned.  There is a lot of information out there.  If you decide to explore this topic further, be sure your information is coming from reliable sources.

Elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, has a long history of medicinal use.  There is evidence to suggest it may have been cultivated by prehistoric humans.  Recipes have been discovered dating back to Ancient Egypt for elderberry-based medicines, and most historians can trace its healing powers back to Hippocrates, “the father of medicine” whose most famous statement reads: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Elderberries contain a plethora of beneficial phytochemicals, including quercetin, phenolic acids, anthocyanins, anthocyanidins (which help stimulate the immune system), and flavonoids that have proven to be some of the most powerful antioxidants known.


1.       Cold and flu relief:  The anthocyanidins in elderberries offer major immune system benefits and have been known to provide alleviation of cold and flu symptoms, as well as immune strengthening properties in general.

2.       Sinus infection help

3.       Lower blood sugar: the extract of the elderflower and elderberry has been shown to have insulin-like properties in removing sugar from the blood.

4.       Natural diuretic & laxative: promoting both urination and normal bowel movements.

5.       Healthy skin: the bioflavonoids in elderberry, along with antioxidants, contain high amounts of vitamin A, a natural skin booster.

6.       Allergy relief: elderberry helps relieve the over-reaction of the immune system along with resulting inflammation.  Some herbalists highly recommend elderberry in the treatment of hay fever.


Elderberry can be taken in many forms.  Elderberry syrup is simple to make (see the recipe below), but also available for purchase.  Other forms include tea, wine, juice, jams, ointments, lozenges, pills, powder and capsules.


·         It is very important to note that raw berries or other parts of the plant are unsafe for consumption, as they contain a cyanide-inducing chemical that can result in diarrhea and vomiting.  If you are consuming cooked elderberries and experience any mild allergy symptoms simply discontinue use.

·         If you are planning to give elderberry products to small children consult your pediatrician first.  If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis, ask your doctor before consuming elderberry products since they may stimulate the immune system and have negative effects on your health.

·         Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take elderberry.

·         If you are taking medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, constipation, asthma or inflammation do not use elderberry products as these may interact with medications.

Homemade Elderberry Syrup


·         2/3 C Dried black elderberries (I use Frontier brand Whole Organic Elderberries purchased on Amazon)

·         3 ½ C water

·         2 Tbsp. fresh or dried ginger root

·         1 tsp. cinnamon

·         ½ tsp. ground cloves

·         1 C raw (local) honey (I use ½ C; I thought the original recipe was too sweet.)

Place all ingredients EXCEPT HONEY in a medium saucepan and stir.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to simmer for about 45 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by almost half.  Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm.  Mash the berries using the back of a spoon.  Pour through a strainer into a large glass jar (using a funnel placed over the jar helps).  Add honey and stir well.  Place a lid on the jar and store in the fridge.

Standard daily dose is ½-1 tsp. for kids and ½-1 Tbsp. for adults.  If illness strikes, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours until symptoms disappear.



University of Maryland Medical Center: Elderberry

Dr. Josh Axe  Elderberry Benefits & Uses, Including Cold & Flu Treatment

Follow Sheri Allen, MPH, RD, LDN:

Registered Dietitian

Sheri Allen is a Registered Dietitian who works to help people understand the connection between the foods they eat and the way they feel. She brings extensive education and experience, including the Masters program at University of NC Chapel Hill and an internship at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center.
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