Honoring the Tradition of Elderberry for Immune Health
By Christine Dreher, CCN, CCH
In our modern world, it seems that so much emphasis is placed on the newest and latest remedies. Forgotten are many of our past remedies and herbs that have continually demonstrated their healing abilities over time.
One of these time-honored herbs is elderberry (sambucus nigra). Long praised throughout history for its strong anti-viral benefits, elderberry has been used for centuries for cold and flu symptoms. The dark black berries from the elder shrub have also been used as a healthy and therapeutic food since 5 BC. The writings of Hippocrates describe the use of tonics derived from elderberry. Further, there is record of the ancient Greeks and Romans using it to shorten the severity and duration of respiratory distress. In the Middle Ages, elderberry was traditionally used to help support the immune system. In Europe, where the tree is native, it is consumed throughout the winter season to promote immune health. Lastly, the flavorful berries have long been used to make preserves, wines, and cordials.
Cold, flu, upper respiratory symptoms, and fever have all been treated with elderberry for centuries. It has mild diuretic and laxative properties, meaning that it helps to cleanse the body and it is a diaphoretic that brings on sweating (which means it can help break a fever). In animal studies of colitis (colon inflammation that usually causes diarrhea), elderberry has been shown to have a healing effect.
Elderberry is rich in a number of constituents with health-supportive properties, including flavonoids (hyperoside, isoquercitrin, rutin), lectins, and anthocyanins (chrysanthemin, sambucin, sanbucyanin), as well as vitamins C, B1, B2, and B6. Flavonoids, otherwise known as antioxidants, help your body's immune system to fight unwelcome viral invaders.
Pharmacologic studies demonstrate that the powerful antioxidant capacity of elderberry matches the power of blueberry to put excess free radicals, which are associated with accelerated aging and chronic diseases, out of commission. Studies also demonstrate that elderberry reduces low density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation—the free radical attacks on "bad" LDL cholesterol that make it even more hazardous to your heart's health.
Elderberry inhibits neuraminidase, the enzyme used by viruses to spread infection to host cells. These sorts of envelope viruses account for about half of cold and flu occurrences, including the hot button H1N1 virus. Elderberry constituents literally "coat" the virus, preventing it from attaching to receptor sites so that it ends up bouncing off. Once coated, it can be more easily detected by the immune system, which then can dispatch it.
What's more, in placebo-controlled, double-blind studies, elderberry has been shown to disarm flu viruses and actually prevent them from replicating in the body. A study in the July 2009 issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Phytochemistry indicated that elderberry extract prevents H1N1 influenza infection. The summary of this research states:
Christine Dreher, CCN, CCH is a Clinical Nutritionist, Herbalist, Author, President & Founder of Christine's Cleanse Corner, Inc., that specializes in nutritional and health education.