Elderberry Extract for the Flu?

Elderberry Extract for the Flu?


Elderberry itself has long been used in folk medicine to treat influenza, colds, and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and other viruses.   Some research suggests that elderberry extract is effective for treating ‘the flu’ or influenza infections.

Elderberry extract, derived from the small, dark-purple berries of the elder tree (Sambucus nigra), has been a fixture in traditional medicine for centuries. This extract is not only valued for its health benefits but also for its unique sensory characteristics. Let’s explore the origins, taste, and smell of elderberry extract and its place in herbal lore.

Origins of Elderberry

The elder tree, native to Europe, North America, and parts of Asia, has a rich history in folklore and traditional medicine. Historically, all parts of the elder tree – bark, leaves, flowers, and berries – have been used for medicinal purposes, but it’s the berries that are most widely used today.

Elderberries have been a part of traditional remedies dating back to ancient Egypt. In Europe, elderberry was considered a “medicine chest” due to its wide range of applications. The berries were commonly used to make syrups, tinctures, and wines, believed to treat ailments ranging from cold and flu to pain and inflammation.

The Taste of Elderberry Extract

Elderberry extract has a unique taste profile:

  • Tart and Fruity: The predominant taste of elderberry extract is a blend of tart and sweet. This flavor profile makes it quite pleasant to consume, especially when compared to other medicinal herbs and supplements.
  • Earthy Undertones: There is also an underlying earthiness to elderberry extract, which adds to its depth of flavor.

Because of its appealing taste, elderberry extract is often used in a variety of products including syrups, gummies, lozenges, and teas, often mixed with other ingredients like honey or spices to enhance the flavor.

The Aroma of Elderberry

The aroma of elderberry extract is as inviting as its taste. It has a distinctly fruity and slightly floral smell, reminiscent of other dark berries. This pleasant aroma contributes to its popularity in various culinary and herbal preparations.

Elderberry in Modern Wellness

Today, elderberry extract is most commonly touted for its immune-boosting properties. It’s rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, which give the berries their characteristic dark purple color. Elderberry is widely used to help alleviate symptoms of the common cold and flu, and ongoing research continues to explore its full range of health benefits.

Safety and Usage

While elderberry extract is generally safe for most people, it’s important to consume commercial preparations rather than raw berries, which can be toxic if not properly cooked. As with any supplement, consulting with a healthcare professional before starting elderberry is advisable, especially for those with underlying health conditions or those taking medications.

Elderberry extract stands out in the world of herbal supplements for its pleasant taste and aroma, as well as its storied history in traditional medicine. Its continued popularity in modern wellness practices speaks to the enduring appeal and potential benefits of this natural remedy. Whether used for its health benefits or simply enjoyed as a flavorful addition to teas and syrups, elderberry extract remains a delightful and intriguing component of natural health.

Elderberry RCT for Influenza A/B Infections:

Researchers from Norway published the results of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) which studied the effect of oral elderberry syrup for treating clinically diagnosed Influenza A and B infections (Zackay-Rones et al, 2004).  The researchers additionally used laboratory confirmation methods to confirm infection with either influenza A or B viruses.

The study itself included sixty patients between the ages of 18-54.

Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza. These findings need to be confirmed in a larger study.”

For this study, patients received a dose of 15 ml of Elderberry extract, Sambucol®, which they took 4 times per day (q.i.d.) for 5 days.  The study itself was sponsored by the manufacturer of this product.

Update: A more recent study in vitro found that Elderberry extract was effective at preventing H1N1 infection (Roschek et al, 2009).

From the study authors:

The H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32 microM) and Amantadine (27 microM).

Though promising, more research is necessary to confirm the effectiveness of elderberry extract at preventing H1N1 infection.


  1. 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 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.
  2. Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS.  Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro.  Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. Epub 2009 Aug 12.
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