How to Prevent Colds & Flu with Elderberry – Sambucus Nigra?

Klaus Ferlow, HMH, HA—07/2016
New scientific evidence corroborates the healing abilities of the elderberry tree and how it can be used as a cure and a preventative for colds and flu by its ability to bind viruses and stimulate the immune system. In fact, elder is a very important herbal medicine.

FOR CENTURIES the berries and flowers of the Elderberry have been popular which dates back to Ancient Egypt and the father of Medicine Hippocrates has mentioned that the plant as medicine chest. The Elder used to be classified in the honeysuckle family, however recent genetic evidence has led botanist to reclassify it into the muskroot family. Many names are used: black elder, blue elderberry, bore tree, hourtree, common elder, elderberry, ellhorn, sweet elder, sureau noir (French) sambuco (Italian), and sauco (Spanish). The ripe fruit, commonly known as berry, as well as the flower are the parts used in herbal medicine.

Finally, there is now solid evidence to back up the folklore, thanks to Israel researcher Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, PhD., of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medicinal Center. In 1980 Dr. Mumcuoglu, intrigued by elderberries reputation as a cure and or prevention for colds & flu, did her thesis on the antiviral effects of elderberry. She patented a procedure to isolate the potent disease fighting compounds from elderberry, then tested her extract Sambucol on patients of the flu outbreak at Kibbutz Aza in Israel. Twenty percent of the flu sufferers who used it showed significant relief from fever, muscle aches, sore throat, inflammation, coughing and other symptoms with in 24 hours, and another 73 percent felt better after the second day and in three day over 90 percent reported completed cured!

Internal, elderberry can be also used for sinusitis, hay fever, bronchitis, eczema, boils, dermatitis, chronic nasal catarrh and spasmodic croup. Clogged ears due to cold respond well to the flowers and both have anti-inflammatory properties to fight arthritis and rheumatic pains. It is also used as an ointment for tumours, burns, cuts, chapping, skin eruptions. Furthermore for night sweats, dropsy and syphilis. Elderberry wine as an old tradition in Europe and elderberry is purifying the lungs and skin, promotes perspiration to lower fevers, soothes the nerves and works as a laxative. In a similar group that received a placebo only 16 percent improved in two days, and it took most of them six or more days to fell well again.

How does elderberry fight the colds & flu?

Compounds in elderberry bind viruses before they can penetrate the walls of cells, thereby inhibiting their ability to spread. Since elderberry is nontoxic when cooked, it is also even save for children. The hot tea from the flowers and or juice from the berries promotes sweating, preferable adding on lemon juice on honey and is also soothing for the upper respiratory infections, also considered to be anti-rheumatic, and detoxifying. In Canada, a quality elderberry syrup from the elder flowers from Sweden is available IKEA. A elderberry juice contains from Flora Distributors also contains Vitamin C and Echinacea, called Sambuguard, available in health food stores.

We have a large elderberry bush in our garden and have to watch for black bears who also like them and make each year our own elderberry juice which is mainly used in the fall and winter as prevention. Elderberry soup, adding on lemon juice, sliced apples and dumplings are one of our favourite menus. In ancient times, elderberry were believed to have special mystical properties, and it was considered good luck to plant it near your house to protect against disease and evil spirits.

Elderberries are also a good source of Vitamin A, B and C, and cooked berries can be used in pies and jams, as a lemonade. Applied externally as a poultice, useful for burns, rashes and minor skin problems. Sambucol stimulates the immune system and has shown activity in preliminary trials against other viruses, such as Epstein-bar, herpes and even HIV.

American Native Indians use the leaves and flowers in antiseptic wash for skin diseases and the berries to dye their hair black and dye the strands of grass they use in the basket designs. The leaves for pain relief and to promote healing of injuries. Others have used the teas of the leaves as diaphoretic, the inner bark as c cathartic, the flowers simmered in oil for sunburn, and steeped in water as a compress for headache. The flowers contain an oil that is used in perfume and cosmetics. Elderflower water can be used as wash for dry skin or as a cooling wash for the eyes. According to ancient recipe, washing your face with elderflower water in the morning and at night, and leaving it there to dry, will remove freckles and morphew (hardened) skin. Don't you agree that this is almost a miracle herb?

My own personal experience with Elderberry

While growing up as a child country style in Northern Germany, I was most of my time year round outside and many times developed fever, especially in the fall and winter. My mother used her own made-pure elderberry juice from the black ripe berries, added lemon juice and honey to it, heated it up and I had to drink 1 -2 cups before going to bed. Sometimes she put also a wet poultice around my neck, chest and legs. As a result I sweated it all out overnight and the next morning the fever was gone and therefore I never missed a day in school! The elderberry juice enhanced and boosted my immune system as well as the healing power of my body and I felt great and healthy again. In our family we used the same system and it always worked and never fail! MOTHER NATURE AT WORK!

The legend of the Elderberries

The elder tree bush was reputed to be the favourite of witches, who supposedly reside in it branches. In the Middle Ages, nearly everyone knew that cutting down an elder would incur the wrath of the witches who called it home. There are many tales of angry witches taking vengeance on babies who unwitting parents put them in a cradle of elder wood.


These are the six ways that elder fruit (berry) and flower contribute to health:

  • Elder acts as antiviral agent
  • Elder offers immunostimulant properties
  • Elder shortens influenza infections
  • Elder reduces fever
  • Elder strengthens the cardiovascular system
  • Elder stops gum inflammation.




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Petite Jean Wolverton, The Elderberry Tree, Garden City 1964
International Herb Association, Elder, International Herb Association 2012
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Hopman, Ellen Everts, Tree Medicine, Tree Magic, Phoenix Puiblishing, 1991