There are endless cough and cold remedies on the market, but still no cure. So it makes sense to look to our ancestors for a little medicinal guidance. After all, ancient wellness boosters like turmeric and bone broth have proven invaluable when it comes to immunity support. Thankfully, there is an old-school remedy that just might help treat flu-like symptoms like coughs, sore throats, and congestion—elderberries. These powerful berries are packed with illness-combating antioxidants and have even been shown to shorten the duration of a cold. The catch? They’re also technically a wee bit poisonous. The good news is that there are many ways to maximize the benefits of elderberries without nasty side effects. Here’s how to get the most from these natural cold-fighters.
What Are Elderberries?
Once used by ancient Egyptians to treat burns and improve skin, elderberries have been an ancient medicinal favorite for centuries. The most common type of elderberry, the black elder, is native to Europe and found in Asia, Africa, the U.S., and Canada as well. Elderberries are in the honeysuckle plant family and grow in small, blackish-purple bunches. They can only be eaten when cooked, because raw elderberries (and the tree’s bark) contain a cyanide-producing chemical.
Elderberries, along with other parts of the elderberry tree, have a long history of medicinal uses. The flowers have been used to reduce pain and swelling, while the poisonous bark was sometimes used as both a natural laxative and aid to induce vomiting. But it’s the berries that are often touted as having the strongest immunity-boosting properties, particularly when it comes to treating the common cold, sore throats, and coughs. One research review concluded that in terms of antioxidative, antiviral, and antiinflammatory effects, elderberry shows promise. In a study of 60 people with flu-like symptoms, those who took 15 milliliters of elderberry syrup four times a day had improved symptoms four days earlier than those who took a placebo.
Curious about this small but mighty berry? Let’s take a closer look.
What does elderberry taste like?
As mentioned, elderberries must be cooked first before they can be eaten to avoid toxicity. The berries are substantially tart with earthy undertones and pair well with spices or natural sweeteners like honey.
What do elderberries look like?
Elderberries are found in umbrella-shaped clusters on shrubs that can grow as tall as 15 feet. They’re dark purple and about ⅛-inch in diameter.
Where can you buy elderberries?
You’re unlikely to find fresh or even frozen elderberries at your local market. Some people plant their own elderberry shrubs, but an alternative solution is to shop dried elderberries from online retailers.
Do elderberries cause side effects?
Uncooked elderberries will definitely cause side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, the toxic component—cyanide-inducing glycoside—can easily be deactivated with heat. Therefore, elderberries should be either boiled for about 20 minutes or baked for 30 minutes or more in an oven of 350 degrees or higher before use.
Best Elderberry Products
Stock up on these wellness must-haves.
These tasty berry gummies help create a solid defense against the common cold and other bugs thanks to real fruit and echinacea, plus vitamin C and zinc.
Take a teaspoon of this herbal supplement the next time you’re feeling a little run down. The potent formula combines Certified Organic elderberries, echinacea, and Vermont raw honey, along with ginger and cayenne for circulatory support.
Free of preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup, this medicinal liquid gives your immunity a boost with black elderberries and vitamin C.
Help soothe a sore throat with our elderberry lozenges, which also deliver zinc, 103 milligrams of vitamin C, and naturally occurring flavonoids to set you on the road to wellness.
Combining immunity-supporting echinacea with cold-fighting elderberry, this healing herbal tea is the perfect get-well-soon companion.
Soothing Elderberry Recipes
Throw your immunity into overdrive with these elderberry-infused recipes.
Switch things up with this healing switchel, aka a drink made with vinegar. It combines four ingredients—elderberry syrup, apple cider vinegar, ginger, and water—which are then steeped overnight.
This homemade remedy to treat coughs and colds comes courtesy of Wellness Mama, who incorporates additional antimicrobial ingredients like cinnamon and raw honey.
Get an immunity boost while enjoying your favorite toast or PB and J sandwich with this very berry jelly from Simply Recipes. You’ll find it similar to a concord grape jelly, but the flavor is slightly more tart than sweet.