From Lab or Home Kitchen, Elderberry has a Place in the Medicine Cabinet

    From village medical practitioners in centuries past to today's commercial laboratories, elderberry is part of a long heritage of healing. As a traditional cure for colds and influenza, it goes back to ancient Greek and Roman times. It's long been a mainstay in homemade remedies. 

    But elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is also a keystone ingredient in modern commercially produced medicinal products, such as extracts and cough syrups. While there are certainly differences between a home remedy and one destined for a store shelf, both deserve a place in your family’s medicine cabinet. 

    Flavonoids, a powerful ingredient

    Whether a home remedy or a finished product, what makes elderberry such an effective curative are its flavonoids. Flavonoids are the compounds involved in the plant's secondary metabolism. A plant has two kinds of metabolic processes: primary, which involves development and growth, and secondary, which involves functions that support the plant, but are not directly necessary for its basic survival. Color and defensive mechanisms, for instance, are part of the plant's secondary metabolism. 

    That rich, dark red color of elderberries is due to flavonoids. But these compounds do far more than meets the eye. Research found that flavonoids bond to viruses to prevent the virus from infecting new cells, including H1N1 (Human Influenza). Studies also show that flavonoids can also kill a range of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  

    Home-based healing

    There are countless recipes available for using elderberries in home remedies. Preparing such a remedy can be a fun, enlightening activity for the whole family. It gives a sense of connection to the long tradition of natural therapies, when many ailments were tackled in the confines of one's own kitchen. For children, cooking up a real curative can be a powerful lesson in taking care of health.

    Elderberry syrup, often made with dried, organic elderberries, is one such popular home remedy. Cooked up in a stockpot on the stove, it often includes other healing ingredients as well, such as fresh ginger or cinnamon stick, and a sweetener such as honey or sugar. Strained into a bottle and kept in the refrigerator, or mixed with alcohol and made into a potent tincture, it may be a family's go-to insurance against winter colds or coughs

    Serious medicine

    But if there is a serious illness to contend with, modern, commercially made preparations may be more effective. Such products are created according to strict standards that ensure consistency and govern shelf life. Researchers found that the composition of elderberry, and the strength of its curative elements, can change greatly from plant to plant. Moreover, those crucial flavonoids may lose their therapeutic value after a period of time–which is why commercially made elderberry products have specific instructions on storage and use.  

    It's the power of elderberry that has turned it into an effective commercial medicinal product, subject to stringent monitoring at every stage, as well as ongoing scientific research, academic papers, and strict regulations. The commercial, standardized elderberry extract Rubini, for instance, is the result of decades of development and testing. Studies have also begun to point to elderberry as a promising therapy against HIV. 

    Laboratory discovery or stovetop remedy, we have the wisdom of ancient physicians and the kitchens of old Europe to thank. Elderberry may be part of a remarkable healing heritage, but we're just beginning to tap into its potential. WF

    Carl Thompson, Research Writer at BerryPharma

    Carl Thompson has been a freelance health and medical journalist for more than three decades. He specializes in natural alternatives to the synthetic products of the pharmaceutical industry, and is a research writer for BerryPharma®, an Italian company that produces standardized berry extracts for medicinal uses. His work has appeared widely in both consumer and professional health trade publications internationally. His most recent book is "Inflammation: A Closer Look at What Drug Companies Do Not Want You to Know," about a drug-free approach to managing arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. Follow him on twitter at @theberryroom.

    NOTE: The statements presented in this podcast should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before adding a dietary supplement to (or removing one from) your daily regimen. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product.


    Posted on, 2/28/14