ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Elderberry for Colds and Influenza

Updated on September 24, 2013

Elderberries

Influenza's Life Cycle

History and Uses

Traditional Uses

Elderberries have been used since time immemorial as a nutritious and tasty food, and also to brew alcoholic drinks – mostly elderberry wine. They have also been reputed to be useful against colds and influenza for almost as long, especially in the form of wine.

It’s quite possible that the superiority of elderberry wine is based on its alcohol content (maybe it will make you feel better even if your cold doesn’t improve) but also because the fermenting process (and the pressing of the berries before fermentation) release the active constituents and make them easier to absorb.

Discovery

The modern use of elderberry as a medicinal herb probably dates back no further than 1980, when Madeleine Mumcuoglu, a virologist, was looking for a research subject for her PhD thesis. Her research supervisor Dr. Jean Lindemann suggested researching the antiviral properties of black elderberry (Sambuca nigra) which she did – resulting in the discovery of a highly effective anti-influenza agent and a doctorate for Ms. Mumcuoglu.

She developed a standardised extract of the black elderberry, Sambuca nigra, which was proved to have powerful anti-viral effects, particularly against the influenza virus but also against other viruses including the closely related virus that causes the common cold. This is very fortunate, because a bad cold and mild influenza are virtually indistinguishable at least by laypeople.

There was an influenza epidemic in Southern Israel in 1992 which allowed her the chance to carry out studies on the effect of elderberry extract on influenza. Please bear in mind that there are no really good treatments in conventional medicine’s arsenal for influenza; although antiviral drugs do exist now, they have many and varied side effects. In addition, the most commonly used (Tamiflu) was not invented until 1996 – four years after this trial.

The results were spectacular:

  • Within 24 hours, 20% of those patients taking the extract had dramatic improvements in symptoms like fever, muscle aches and pains, and coughing.
  • By day 2, 73% were improved.
  • By day 3, 90% were improved.

In the untreated group, only 16% felt better after 2 days and the majority took a week to feel better.

There is a further point to be made here. All the patients in this trial had influenza for long enough to actually become patients; probably at least 48 hours after the onset of mild symptoms. The mode of action of elderberry extract is such that it would be much more effective if taken at the first hint of a problem. Unlike in the case of most drugs, this is an acceptable method because elderberry extract has no known side effects.

How does elderberry work?

Apart from its vitamin C and antioxidant content, elderberry extract contains neuraminidase inhibitors. The influenza virus is dotted with numerous submicroscopic spikes each of which is tipped with this enzyme, whose function is to break open a cell wall so that the genetic material of the virus can get in to infect the cell. (All viruses work by hijacking the metabolic machinery of the host cell; they can’t reproduce outside cells.) Elderberry extract basically coats the spikes and makes them ineffective.

If the virus can’t get in, it can’t reproduce – and the immune system of the host has time to create antibodies and the like to destroy the virus.

This means that the best time to take elderberry for a virus infection is when you barely know you have one, because at this time the number of viruses around will be at its lowest – and also the viruses won’t have had time to kill too many cells. (Viruses often kill the host cell by rupturing the cell membrane as part of the virus’s reproductive cycle.)

Because of its mode of action, elderberry extract works against all influenza viruses; this means that the issue there is with vaccines, which have to be changed every year and sometimes more often because the virus changes and the vaccines stop working, doesn’t exist.

Because some other viruses have similar modes of infection to influenza (notably colds but also herpes-class viruses such as herpes and Epstein-Barr and some evidence of activity against HIV) elderberry can help somewhat against these viruses as well.

Elderberry also has more general immune-stimulating activity; it increases T-cell production.

Elderberry works very well indeed in combination with immune-stimulating herbals such as Echinacea and Cats Claw.

A Suggestion

Because of the way elderberry extract works, it is best to use it as early as possible in the progress of the diseases it helps; ideally, in the case of colds or influenza, at the first sign of sniffles, an itchy nose or a sore throat. Because of this, I have always suggested that elderberry extract is one of the remedies to keep in the house ready for use. If you don’t, Murphy’s Law will tell you that the time you’ll notice the first symptoms is 11PM on a Saturday. :-)

Safety

Elderberry extract has no known drug interactions. However, its mode of action suggests that it would be best avoided if you are taking immunosuppressants after a transplant.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 

      5 years ago from USA

      I had heard good things about elderberry for colds. Voted up.

    • blueheron profile image

      Sharon Vile 

      5 years ago from Odessa, MO

      Thanks for a wonderfully infomative article! I have used elderberry juice and wine for years, for colds and flu, but I've never known how it worked. I'll be send a link to this article to a local friend who grows elderberries commercially. I know she will love it.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)