Aside from the pleasant flavor of elderberries and their flowers (used widely in European cordials and liquors, and a perfect addition to crepes), the properties of Sambucus nigra have been part of preventative medicine for centuries.
I personally love the plant as a sweet addition to a native landscape. The flowers are lace-like and fragrant, bees, butterflies and other pollinators love them.
Medicinally, not just for its reputation in the prevention and treating the symptoms of flu, elderberries seem to also strengthen the immune system and help relieve allergies.
The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a placebo-controlled study on Sambucus nigra's effects on the "inhibition of several stains of influenza." The results showed:
"reduced hemagglutination and inhibited replication of human influenza viruses type A, type B, and of animal strains from Northern European swine and turkeys, and A in Madin–Darby canine kidney cells,"
"A placebo-controlled, double blind study was carried out on a group of individuals living in an agricultural community (kibbutz) during an outbreak of influenza B/Panama in 1993. Fever, feeling of improvement, and complete cure were recorded during 6 days. Sera obtained in the acute and convalescent phases were tested for the presence of antibodies to influenza A, B, respiratory syncytial, and adenoviruses. Convalescent phase serologies showed higher mean and mean geometric hemagglutination inhibition (HI) titers to influenza B in the group treated with SAM than in the control group. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the SAM-treated group within 2 days, whereas in the control group 91.7% of the patients showed an improvement within 6 days."
Here's the kicker:
"A complete cure was achieved within 2 to 3 days in nearly 90% of the SAM-treated group and within at least 6 days in the placebo group (p < 0.001). No satisfactory medication to cure influenza type A and B is available. Considering the efficacy of the extract in vitro on all strains of influenza virus tested, the clinical results, its low cost, and absence of side-effects, this preparation could offer a possibility for safe treatment for influenza A and B."
As comforting as this evidence is, it is not expensive nor off putting to take elderberry syrup as a daily regimen, unlike some other preventative measures (coffee enemas and garlic clove chaw anyone?).
Even for non-believers, sipping the concentrated juice is a treat, much less a tonic. With the added benefits of cinnamon, fresh ginger, clove and raw honey, it's hard to be critical about such a means of prevention. And this time of year, when the flu is knocking people out left and right, it's worth taking every means possible to dodge getting sick. Even kids are eager to slurp this recipe up, and gain from its tasty defenses.
Place water, elderberries, ginger, cloves and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain contents through a mesh collander. Pour warm liquid into a jar and add honey. Tighten with a lid and shake until honey is dissolved. Store in fridge.
Take 1/2 to 1 full teaspoon per day for children and up to 1 full tablespoon daily for adults. Take every 4 hrs while fighting the flu virus.
*Note: Dried elderberries can be ordered online or found in bulk at the French Broad Food Co-op.