Posted: May 06, 2014 11:00 AM
Elderberry syrup has long been used to reduce the length of illnesses and to boost natural immunities. Learn why it works and how to make it.
Photo credit: Kristin Marr

Natural healing is all the rage these days as people turn away from chemicals and back to the tried-and-true remedies of our grandparents. One excellent homeopathic catch-all to have in your arsenal is elderberry syrup. Elderberries have been in use quite literally for centuries, even referred to by Hippocrates as his "medicine chest" because of the amazing number of ways the elderberry bush could be used.

Is there anything elderberries won't fix?

Elderberries relieve arthritis pain, have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anticancer properties, are high in flavonoids/antioxidants to help prevent cell damage, contain Antivirin which prevents flu viruses from passing through the membranes of healthy cells, help relieve nasal congestion, soothe upset stomachs and relieve gas, have detoxifying properties, are high in vitamins A, C, B6, potassium, iron and betacarotene, relieve sciatica and neuralgia pain and provide relief from chronic fatigue syndrome. Whew. All that from a tiny little berry.

Conventional medicine can't knock it

What is really impressive about the elderberry is its ability to hold up to modern scrutiny. So often natural remedies aren't validated by the establishment. Not the case with the elderberry. Even WebMD — one of the more mainstream sites for medical information — has a hearty list of uses for elderberries to include "boosting the immune system" and "activity against viruses including the flu."

"Nature's Tamiflu"

Sambucol was shown to be effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, Sambucol reduced the duration of flu symptoms to three to four days.

The most common form of elderberry, Sambucus nigra (in this case sold under the brand name "Sambucol"), was even studied by the National Institutes of Health. Their findings: "They are natural remedies with antiviral properties, especially against different strains of influenza virus. Sambucol was shown to be effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, Sambucol reduced the duration of flu symptoms to three to four days." Also: "Sambucol Elderberry Extract and its formulations activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. Sambucol might therefore be beneficial to the immune system activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases. Sambucol could also have an immunoprotective or immunostimulatory effect when administered to cancer or AIDS patients, in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments." Rarely will you see such a glowing review of a non-pharmaceutical remedy from a government website.

It works for us

My family started taking elderberry syrup daily three months ago — at the height of cold and flu season. We each take a tablespoon in the morning, and more throughout the day if we are feeling something icky brewing. Since we've added the syrup to our morning routine I've seen a drastic improvement in our overall health. Sure, we've still gotten a sniffle or two here and there, but nothing has lingered as illnesses tend to. And the "flu" viruses we have caught have been drastically reduced in duration. Oh, and it's super yummy too.

Have I sold you yet? If so, good news. You can make this magic elixir in the comfort of your own home with relative ease. Kristin Marr from Live Simply shares with us her simple elderberry syrup recipe (the one my family uses). Just six ingredients and about an hour of prep stand between you and healthier living.

Elderberry syrup ingredients
Photo credit: Kristin Marr

What you will need:

  • 3/4 cup dried elderberries
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 cup raw honey (local and seasonal, if available)

For preparation instructions, continue to Live Simply >>

Oh, and never fear: If you don't have the time or inclination to make your own, you can find commercial elderberry syrup at many chain drugstores these days. It's not as potent (without the raw honey you lose a little of the immune-boosting properties), but it still has the amazing elderberry in all of its healing glory.

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