I will start right now by saying that I am just about the last person who believes in junk science, especially when it comes to treating medical conditions in my kids. I am not one to want to overdo it with medications, but when me or my kids are sick with something serious like the flu or pneumonia, I’m not going to turn to essential oils or some homemade blended herbal milkshake mumbo-jumbo to treat them.
Gimme all the anti-virals, antibiotics, and whatever else my pediatrician prescribes to make my precious babies well. After all, doctors have much more schooling and experience than any of us, and they generally base their recommendations on science and carefully-controlled studies published in reputable medical journals.
However, none of that means that alternative or holistic medicine doesn’t have its place. Certain treatments that are less than mainstream also have scientific backing behind them, and can be quite effective—especially when used in tandem with more traditional medicine.
Elderberry is an awesome example of that. You’ve probably seen it sold at the health food stores or even your local drug store. It either comes in gummy or pill form, tinctures, or in the form of that thick purple-reddish syrup you see marketed for kids or adults. Elderberry (elder) is actually a flower — you can grow it yourself, though you should not eat it raw because it is poisonous unless cooked properly!
Ready for the mega-cool part? There is legit evidence—as in, reported in reputable medical journals—that it can successfully treat cold and flu symptoms. And all of this with fewer side-effects than certain other anti-viral drugs.
“Some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, including the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion,” writes The University of Maryland Medical Center. “Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-influenza, and anticancer properties.”
That’s sounds pretty fantastic, if you ask me. Now let’s look at the science that backs this up.
One study, reported in the Journal of International Medical Research, found that patients given oral elderberry syrup within 48 hours of Influenza A and B infection recovered up to 4 days faster than those given a placebo. Another study, published in Nutrients, looked at the effects of elderberry on the common cold in patients who were traveling by air. Participants who took elderberry recovered from their colds 2 days faster and had fewer symptoms than those who did not take elderberry.
And finally, another study, presented in Phytochemistry, found that elderberry kills H1N1 in test tubes. And though more research needs to be done to see if that same result would happen in humans, this is a very encouraging study.
Pretty incredible, right? I think we can all agree that it would be fantastic if more research was done here. But the research is there, and it’s promising indeed.
Although none of us should base our medical recommendations on anecdotal evidence (“Oh, it worked for so-and-so, so it must work!”), there are a ton of people I know who had very positive experiences with it. And based on an experience I had, I’m personally convinced of the purple magic emanating from the flower of elder.
In the spring of 2014, my kids caught a nasty flu. My oldest had it first, and then my youngest caught it within a day or so. I remembered hearing about the wonders of elderberry, and so—along with consulting my pediatrician and starting my kids’ asthma medications pronto—I made them take elderberry as soon as their symptoms started. I also made my husband take it as a preventative because he seemed to be catching everything the kids brought home at that point.
You might notice that I didn’t take any elderberry. Yep, I thought I was invincible. Plus, we were running low on elderberry at that point, and we were too exhausted to make another trip to the drug store, especially because we weren’t convinced yet that this purple elixir really even worked.
Well. My kids were each sick for two days flat, and then back to their old, bouncing-off-the-walls selves. My husband didn’t get sick at all. But me? I was bedridden for a week with the worst illness I’d had since I was a kid. I thought I was going to die, and couldn’t get out of bed for days. Total and complete shit-show.
And yeah, my little “case-study” certainly isn’t proof alone that elderberry works miracles. But given the fact that my kids and husband took elderberry and were hardly phased by the flu, whereas I was out cold for a week… I’m a believer now, especially coupled with the medically-backed research I’ve seen.
Luckily, our family hasn’t gotten the flu since then (fingers tightly crossed, especially after this bitch of a flu season). But in addition to getting our yearly flu shot, and visiting the doctors when we have concerns, I keep a fresh bottle of elderberry syrup in my medicine cabinet every cold and flu season, because this shit works.
Of course, as with any medicine or herb, you must consult your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you or your child. Elderberry is contraindicated in a small number of circumstances, so please be smart and speak to your doctor before taking it.