Winter weather is still hanging on in many parts of the country and could be around for another month or two, depending on where you live. Unfortunately, winter’s nasty pals cold and flu aren’t going anywhere, either.

Now we have the coronavirus to add to our worries. So, finding an effective antiviral remedy is more urgent than ever.

The most effective antiviral herb I’ve come across is elderberry. It’s pretty well known – I find many people who don’t care beans about supplements rely on elderberry extract to prevent cold and flu or reduce symptoms once they’re sick.

You can find this natural remedy in everything from liquids and capsules to tasty lozenges and gummies. I take it faithfully myself. I won’t say it’s foolproof – I came down with flu several months ago despite being on elderberry. But it definitely helps.

If you don’t know about elderberry extract, it’s time you did! Let’s take a closer look at one of the oldest “new” cold and flu remedies around.

Elderberry comes from the Sambucas tree, and the most common type is Sambucus nigra, otherwise known as European elderberry or black elderberry. Although it’s a European native, elderberry is widely grown in other parts of the world, too.1

These tart berries are typically cooked as food, often sweetened in a juice, tea, jam, or even wine. Various parts of the elderberry tree have long been used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Dates Back to Ancient Egypt

Elderberry dates all the way back to ancient Egypt where women used it to improve their complexions and healers applied it to burns. Later, Native Americans relied on elderberry to treat infections of all kinds. Today, in Europe, elderberry is still an important part of natural medicine.

Typically, the flowers and leaves are used to relieve pain, inflammation and swelling. The dried berries can help influenza and stop a variety of infections.2

Elderberry Relieves Flu Symptoms in as Little as two Days

One Norwegian double-blind placebo-controlled study focused on 60 patients (aged 18 to 54 years) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 hours or less.3

The study’s authors reported that “symptoms were relieved on average four days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared to those receiving the placebo.”

The researchers concluded that although the extract offers an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for flu, a larger study is warranted.

Another study of 64 people found that taking 175 mg elderberry extract lozenges for two days resulted in significant improvement in flu symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches and nasal congestion, after just 24 hours.4

Personally, I’ve found this to be true, and sometimes the relief is faster than that.

Rich in Antioxidants and a Virus-Fighting Protein

Science shows elderberry is rich in vitamin C, zinc and antioxidants. But those are all found in many types of food. Elderberry’s special edge appears to come from hemagglutinin protein, which may be the real source of its flu-fighting power.

Hemagglutinin protein is shown in research to stop a virus’s ability to replicate by stopping its ability to penetrate the cell wall. As a result, the protein prevents the virus from spreading, which researchers believe reduces flu symptoms.

In another study, researchers examined elderberry’s antiviral power in 312 air travelers. As you probably know, air travel can be the conduit for contracting cold and flu.5

In this study, the people taking capsules containing 300 mg of elderberry extract three times per day who become ill experienced a shorter duration of illness and less severe symptoms.

Elderberry as a Flu Preventive

Researchers found that people who have taken elderberries have higher levels of antibodies against the flu virus.

This means it’s possible that elderberry not only helps relieve flu symptoms, but may also be able to prevent the flu.6 However, it’s important to note that there’s not yet confirmation through clinical study that elderberry can actually prevent the influenza virus.

All I can tell you is that I take it every day during the winter months, and I get relatively few colds. As I mentioned earlier, the herb wasn’t strong enough to save me from flu, but at the same time I got over my flu pretty quickly.

Most package directions will tell you to take a low dose of elderberry extract for prevention, and up your dose if you actually start to feel a cold coming on.

This isn’t scientific, but I can tell you I’ve taken quite large doses of elderberry when I had a cold, with no bad side effects. If it’s potentially toxic, that would be news to me. I believe it’s very safe.

  6. Roschek Jr. B, Fink RC, McMichael MD, et al. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009;70(10):1255-61. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.06.003.