Elderberry has been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat different ailments including the flu, cardiovascular conditions and poor immune system function. You may find elderberry supplements at local health food stores or shop online with reliable herbal providers. If you are seeking to treat a virus, you may consider using elderberry tincture or syrup instead of capsules, since they contain a higher dosage of the plant's medicinal ingredients. As a preventative measure for the flu and as an immune enhancer, elderberry capsules work well and are a convenient way of getting the benefits of this herb.
Elderberry is a small shrub that is part of the honeysuckle family. It has hard wood with a thin gray bark. The shrub is deciduous with coarsely toothed leaves and white, lacy flowers that bloom at the top in late spring. The fruits are small berries that droop in clusters and ripen in the summer and early fall. Elderberry grows well in climate zones 3 and 4, and in moist soils typically found close to rivers, lakes and swamps.
Properties and Constituents
Elderberry is a good source of calcium and of vitamin C, which is known to be effective in fighting viral infections.
The oxidation of LDL cholesterol produced by the liver is a contributing factor to heart attacks. The anthocyanins present in elderberry reduce the adhesion of this cholesterol to blood vessel walls, helping reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The fruits are also a potent source of antioxidants, which protect cells in the body, impairing the ability of viruses from causing illness.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, elderberry leaves, seeds, bark and unripe fruit contain a potentially toxic constituent called cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin.
Elderberry supplements usually use only the fruit of the plant as the medicinal agent. They come in the form of lozenges, syrups, tinctures and capsules. Dosage for each varies and it is important to follow the labeling of the specific supplement you are purchasing. Typically if you are using elderberry supplements as an immune enhancer, one tablespoon a day of elderberry tincture diluted in filtered water is enough. If you are treating a viral infection you should increase this dosage to three tablespoons per day, spaced out in an interval of six hours.
Making your own supplements
If you want to wild-harvest elderberry or buy the dried berries in bulk, you may consider making your own elderberry tincture. You will need a jar that's just big enough to fit all your berries, leaving no empty space. Add vodka to the jar of berries, soaking them well and letting any air bubbles out before closing the jar. Place a sheet of wax paper under the lid before you close it. Make sure you label your jar to read "elderberry tincture" and note the date. You can add other information to your label, such as where you got the berries and what kind of alcohol you used.
Let the elderberries macerate in the vodka for four weeks, shaking the jar periodically. Strain out the berries with a muslin cloth and keep your tincture in a cool space out of direct sunlight.
You can also make your own syrup by using honey instead if vodka and keeping the syrup in the refrigerator.
Safety and Contraindications
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, elderberry should be avoided if you are taking any diuretic drugs, since its diuretic properties may increase the effects of the medication.
Elderberry also stimulates the immune system and may interact with immuno-suppressant medication.
Other interactions that elderberry can have with drugs are reducing the levels of theophylline, the active ingredient in asthma medicine; lowering blood sugar levels (avoid taking it alongside diabetic medicine); and being a mild laxative that should be avoided when taking other types of laxatives.