Despite us all being immunized, we had the flu run rampant through our house for the first time earlier this year. I even missed my first day of class because all I could do was sleep, shuffle to the couch to take my temperature, drink a little chicken stock, shuffle back to bed, and repeat. It was especially scary when my kids got it since at the time my youngest was under a year old, but thank God the symptoms were nothing more serious than the general suckiness that is fever, achiness, and fatigue caused by flu.
When our family first started getting hit with the flu, we took a kid (whichever was sick first; it’s all a blur now) to a clinic (because of course she got sick on a weekend). They did a test to tell us that yep, she had the flu and asked if we were interested in Tamiflu.
I’m not averse to medicine. I’m a chemist, and I know that there are so many new drugs that can save lives. But we asked the doctor how Tamiflu would benefit our child before we agreed. We were told that the treatment would shave about 12-24 hours off the course of illness, and that there were side effects associated with the drug such as nausea and vomiting or (very rarely) even mental and behavioral effects. The risks didn’t seem worth it to only take a day off of the illness, so we decided to forgo that route.
I started researching natural remedies and preventative measures we could take to avoid getting sick and to shorten illnesses with fewer side effects. And by research, I mean I asked Dr. Google. I found a lot of people recommending elderberries to boost the immune system.
What I read sounded promising, but I couldn’t help but wonder, Is this legit, or is it just hype? After all, “natural” doesn’t always mean “effective” and sometimes is actually dangerous. So I decided to deepen my search and see what I could find in the scientific literature about elderberry use.
Most of the time, there’s not a lot of information on natural remedies in scientific journals, so I wasn’t expecting much from my search. But this time, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are hundreds of articles about elderberries!
And there’s some strong evidence in favor of them. For example, several people have studied the action of elderberry extract on bacteria and viruses. For example, one study found that H1N1 (swine flu) was completely blocked from infecting cells treated with elderberry extract. Elderberry extract also inhibited several bacteria, including MRSA, in another in vitro (test-tube) study.
This all sounds great, right? The thing is, just because a product works in vitro does not mean that it’ll actually help a sick person. After all, a test tube and a human body are two very different environments. So scientists see these kinds of studies as a great start, but they generally want more hard evidence.
The “gold standard” of testing a treatment is a randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled study. Such a study goes like this: A person goes to the doctor because he has the flu, or at least flu-like symptoms. The person agrees to be part of a study and is given a treatment. The medicine is either real or a placebo; the doctor doesn’t know which and the patient doesn’t know which (someone else in the background keeps records of who gets what). Later, the doctor checks to see how the person’s symptoms are doing, still not knowing which medicine he got. Only after the study is over is it revealed who got the real treatment.
I found two different studies designed this way. In the first, patients were either given an elderberry extract lozenge or a placebo lozenge to take four times daily. The patients were then observed by their doctor two days later. Most of those who got elderberry extract felt better after those two days, and in fact, over a quarter of them had no more symptoms! The other group, though, did not improve much (if any) during that time.
In an even more convincing study, flu or flu-like patients were given either elderberry syrup or a placebo. Both groups took the syrup four times daily. The treatment group got better four days sooner than those who got the placebo. Four. Freaking. Days. Plus, there were no negative side effects found from elderberry extracts in either study!
I’m not gonna lie, I was really impressed by these results. In fact, after reading this, I grabbed my sick husband and made him take a tablespoon of elderberry syrup, which I had been taking because I started getting sick a few days ago (by the way, my symptoms were much milder than usual this time around too!).
So how do you get elderberry syrup? It’s possible to buy it pre-made. I wanted to know that mine was fresh, though, so I chose to make my own. I bought some dried elderberries from our local natural health food store (or the Crunchy People Store, as I affectionately call it).
Elderberries were surprisingly inexpensive; I got over half a cup for less than $3.50. After digging around the internet for a recipe, I settled on that from Wellness Momma. As far as taste goes, it’s not bad, but there is definitely a distinct elderberry aroma and flavor going on. My kids will take it with only a little whining. I think part of the taste issue is that the cloves in the original recipe are really assertive, so perhaps taming that will help. I tweaked the recipe I found, and probably will further the next time I make it. Note that I halved the recipe simply because I’d rather have to make it again instead of risk my syrup going bad before I can use it all.
NOTE: Don’t just straight-up eat elderberries. There are some potentially harmful compounds that are left behind when you make a syrup or tincture (alcohol extraction).
Here’s the recipe! Seriously, try out elderberry syrup and see how it helps your family. Remember: babies one or under CANNOT have honey to avoid risk of botulism, so you’ll have to find a different way to feed it to them.
Elderberry Syrup recipe
adapted from Wellness Momma
1/3 cup dried elderberries
1.5 cups water
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, cut into a few chunks
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 or 2 dried cloves (optional)
1/2 cup honey, preferably raw
Stir together the first five ingredients in a small saucepan and set to boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for at least 45 minutes or until the water level has decreased by half (next time I’ll probably let it go longer than 45 minutes to get the syrup further concentrated, but I was checking on it between trying to get kids to go to sleep and was afraid I’d forget and scorch it). Remove from heat and allow the extract to cool to at least lukewarm before pouring it into a strainer set over a glass jar or bowl. Use the back of a spoon to press any remaining juice out of the elderberries. Finally, add the honey to the jar and stir with a fork or whisk to mix well. Keep syrup in the fridge. Kids (over one year! Remember the honey!) can take 1/2-1 tsp daily (exact measurements aren’t a big deal here), while adults can take 1/2-1 Tbsp daily to boost the immune system. If a cold or the flu does strike, up your intake to four times daily.
That’s it! Please SHARE with your friends so we can help each other boost our immune systems. Just click on the image above to Pin it! Thanks and happy parenting!