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Elderberry, Nature’s Potent Anti-Viral

Elderberries, the dark blue or black fruit of the European elder tree, have been utilized as a food source and in folk medicine for thousands of years.  The Elder tree, scientific name Sambucus Nigra, is a plant native to Europe, Africa, parts of Asia, and has now become widespread across North America.

As a food source, elderberries have long been recognized as a powerful storehouse of nutrition.  They are rich in amino acids, fiber, potassium, trace minerals, vitamins A and B, and per serving contain more vitamin C than oranges.  In addition, elderberries are very rich in bio-flavonoids, like anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants credited with providing anti-cancer and immune stimulating properties.

In natural medicine, elderberry has a rich history of use, addressing a variety of health conditions from vision improvement and cancer prevention to treating sinus problems, coughs, colds and viral infections, especially the flu. In regard to influenza A and B, elderberry appears to possess unique qualities that make it one of the top antiviral herbs in the world.  Perhaps the volume of historical reference about the use of elderberry in treating influenza has prompted a contemporary rediscovery of its potential health benefits.  

Whatever the cause, elderberry is experiencing a resurgence of recommendations from physicians and pharmacists alike for symptoms of viral respiratory illness.


Elderberry’s anti-flu effects can be attributed to a couple of primary pathways that work in tandem.  One mechanism is a complex process by which the flavonoids bind to proteins on the outside of the virus and prevent its attachment and entry into host cells, thus inhibiting the ability of the virus to replicate and spread.  The second is that elderberry is believed to assist in activating the healthy immune system by boosting the production of cytokines, which are essentially messengers that help regulate the body’s immune response to disease.  In essence, elderberry targets the virus itself while simultaneously boosting the natural defense mechanisms of the body.

The results of numerous scientific studies appear to support the remarkable antiviral properties of elderberry.  One study in particular, published 2004 in The Journal of International Medical Research, has attracted the attention of many in the conventional medical community. This randomized, double-blind study was conducted by a medical school in Israel on sixty patients between the ages of 18 and 54 who were identified in the early stages of influenza infection (within 48 hours of symptom onset).  The active treatment group received 15 ml (1 tablespoonful) of elderberry syrup four times daily for 5 days, versus a placebo group which received a syrup identical in every way minus the elderberry extract.  The efficacy of the treatment was evaluated by overall wellness as well as specific symptom assessment.  The symptoms assessed included: aches and pains, frequency and degree of coughing, mucus discharge, nasal congestion, and quality of sleep.  

The results were significant.  The elderberry group achieved a designation of “pronounced improvement” after 3 to 4 days while the placebo group only reached this level after 7 to 8 days.  Both groups of patients were fully recovered from symptoms after eight days.  

In their concluding discussion, the study authors claim that the duration of influenza can be reduced by 3 or 4 days via use of elderberry syrup.


While it is prudent to remember that these results are only the product of a small study, they are both interesting and promising.  In addition, many clinicians are recommending elderberry to members of a household that are in contact with an individual that has the flu.  It is believed that the syrup’s potent antiviral activity may help prevent some secondary cases of flu among family members.     

Here at Sona, our pharmacists maintain an open mindset about the potential benefits of herbal medicines.  Alongside prescription medications, they can certainly play an integral role in wellness.  Our goal, as always, is to promote the health and wellbeing of customers who seek our counsel and recommendations.  

Our experience with elderberry during the 2016-2017 flu season has been very positive.  We are proud to carry a line of  the highest quality organic black elderberry products by Gaia Herbs, a local company from Brevard, N.C.   

Next time you visit Sona, please take a moment to ask one our pharmacists to show you these products and discuss the potential benefits for you and your family.  We look forward to speaking with you!

Scott Henson

Source: Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.  J Int Med Res 2004; 32: 132-40.