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The Season for Sambucus

Sambucus nigra is the Latin name for the elderberry! Like much of anatomy, we learn botanical medicine in Latin in medical school (for scientific & organizational/filing purposes) & translate it back to English when discussing the plants with patients. Elderberries are well-known in natural medicine circles for cold & flu prevention. However, despite being “well-known” to many, this is not a plant, berry, or syrup I grew up using. Here, I will explore both the mechanism of elderberries in cold & flu prevention, as well as how to go about making your own syrup at home.

MOA (How does it work?): Elderberries are high in vitamins & minerals, specifically potassium, vitamin A, B6, & C. (1 c. berries = 52 mg vitamin C). They have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-rheumatic, & anti-cancer properties.

How well does it work?/(Is it worth my time?): The use of elderberries date as far back in medical history as Hippocrates & his use with patients! Current research shows these berries can help to decrease the length & severity of colds & flus by >30%, when dosed correctly. In fact, elderberries are touted to be one of the strongest anti-viral plants in nature! (I am now convinced & ready to make the syrup.)

Additional benefits: Elderberry consumption has been shown to regulate glucose by increasing insulin sensitivity. Therefore, anyone experiencing blood sugar instability will likely see the added benefit of lower & more stable blood glucose levels. Additionally, the berries have been found to be chemoprotective (protective against the harmful effects of chemotherapy). I look forward to further exploring this benefit in a future integrative oncology post.

While eating a few elderberries everyday would be the most beneficial, it’s not practical for most households. Syrups contain honey, which is, by nature, antimicrobial; thus an elderberry syrup will keep for an extended period of time.

A classic Elderberry Syrup Recipe to make at home:

  • 2 c. fresh (or dried) elderberries
  • 1-2 c. water
  • honey

Heat the berries & water on the stove. Simmer for 20 minutes. Mash them to extract the juice. Strain using a cheesecloth. Measure the remaining liquid. Add an equal amount of honey to create a syrup. It will keep well in the refrigerator.

Dosage: Adults should take 1 T./day for cold/flu prevention, and take 3-4 T./day at the first sign of cold/flu & during the course of the illness. Children should take half the adult dosage.

Elderberry syrups & lozenges are also available in stores; if you choose to purchase an elderberry product instead of making your own, be certain to read the ingredient list. Opt for one low in additives (sugars, dyes, etc.) & choose an organic option, when available.

In health,

Melissa K. Doosing, MSN

AudacityLife Integrative Health

Portland, OR


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