Elderberry Extract for the Flu: Nature’s “Tamiflu”

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

By Daisy Luther

The most important weapon against influenza that you can add to your herbal arsenal is elderberry extract.

Whether you are concerned with the seasonal flu or the potential of a deadly strain of influenza becoming pandemic, elderberry extract is a vital addition to your vault of flu remedies.

Unlike the highly touted flu shot, black elderberry has actually been conclusively proven to be effective.  The use of elderberry extract for the flu is one of the few natural remedies that has been written up in the medical journals.  The studies I’m listing here are based on black elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L) – name brand Sambucol.

According to PubMed:

Sambucus nigra L. products – Sambucol – are based on a standardized black elderberry extract. They are natural remedies with antiviral properties, especially against different strains of influenza virus. Sambucol was shown to be effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, Sambucol reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days.

The Journal of International Medical Research concurs that elderberry extract is a proven treatment, referencing a different study:

Elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and herpes simplex. We investigated the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry syrup for treating influenza A and B infections. Sixty patients (aged 18 – 54 years) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 h or less were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study during the influenza season of 1999 – 2000 in Norway. Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days  earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in  those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.


 An Ancient Panacea

The medicinal use of the elderberry is nothing new.  Mentioned in ancient medicinal texts, the humble black elderberry has been used as a multi-purpose treatment for centuries.  In 400 BC, Hippocrates referred to the elderberry bush as his “medicine chest” because of its varied uses, and it was mentioned several times in the writings of Pliny the Elder when he recorded  the practices of the ancient Romans.

To learn more about the historical uses of all components of the elderberry bush, check out this detailed article on Botanical.com.

 How It Works

Scientists have isolated the active compound in the elderberry.  It is called Antivirin and is found in proteins of the black elderberry.  The compound prevents the flu virus from invading the membranes of  healthy cells.

The main flavonoids present in elderberries are the anthocyanins cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-sambubioside,  and are detectable in plasma after oral intake of elderberry extract. A possible mechanism of action of elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza is that the flavonoids stimulate the immune system by enhancing production of cytokines by monocytes.  In addition, elderberry has been shown to inhibit the  haemagglutination of the influenza virus and thus prevent the adhesion of the virus to the cell receptors.  Anthocyanins also have an antiinflammatory effect comparable to that of acetylsalicylic acid;  this could explain the pronounced effect on aches, pain and fever seen in the group treated with elderberry syrup. (source)

Avian Flu

This is especially important with something like the Avian flu, which, according to the CDC, has a mortality rate of 60% in the 600 cases reported worldwide.   At this point the Avian flu is rarely transmissible to, or between, humans.  The fear is that a mutation of the virus could change that, instigating a deadly pandemic.  (Alarmingly, the Avian virus has been successfully mutated by scientists, causing public outcry that this “research” could be weaponized in the future, but that’s a different article.)

Since the first avian influenza outbreak, in 1997, there has been concern that the influenza A (H5N1) virus might either mutate and adapt to allow efficient transmission during the infection of mammals or reassort its gene segments with human influenza viruses during the coinfection of a single host, resulting in a new virus that would be both highly lethal and transmissible from person to person. Such events are believed to have preceded the influenza pandemics of 1918, 1957, and 1968. Several lines of evidence indicate that the currently circulating influenza A (H5N1) viruses have in fact evolved to more virulent forms since 1997, with a higher mortality among human cases, different antigenic properties, a different internal gene constellation,and an expanded host range.  (source)

According to a study by Zacay-Rones in 1995, black elderberry was proven to be effective against the Avian flu, specifically Panama B strain.

A standardized elderberry extract, Sambucol (SAM), reduced hemagglutination and inhibited replication of human influenza viruses type A/Shangdong 9/93 (H3N2), A/Beijing 32/92 (H3N2), A/Texas 36/91 (H1N1), A/Singapore 6/86 (H1N1), type B/Panama 45/90, B/Yamagata 16/88, B/Ann Arbor 1/86, and of animal strains from Northern European swine and turkeys, A/Sw/Ger 2/81, A/Tur/Ger 3/91, and A/Sw/Ger 8533/91 in Madin-Darby canine kidney cells. A placebo-controlled, double blind study was carried out on a group of individuals living in an agricultural community (kibbutz) during an outbreak of influenza B/Panama in 1993. Fever, feeling of improvement, and complete cure were recorded during 6 days. Sera obtained in the acute and convalescent phases were tested for the presence of antibodies to influenza A, B, respiratory syncytial, and adenoviruses. Convalescent phase serologies showed higher mean and mean geometric hemagglutination inhibition (HI) titers to influenza B in the group treated with SAM than in the control group. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the SAM-treated group within 2 days, whereas in the control group 91.7% of the patients showed an improvement within 6 days (p < 0.001). A complete cure was achieved within 2 to 3 days in nearly 90% of the SAM-treated group and within at least 6 days in the placebo group (p < 0.001). No satisfactory medication to cure influenza type A and B is available. Considering the efficacy of the extract in vitro on all strains of influenza virus tested, the clinical results, its low cost, and absence of side-effects, this preparation could offer a possibility for safe treatment for influenza A and B. (source)


Sambucol has been shown to reduce the symptoms and the duration of flu sufferers.  It has been tested on both Influenza A and Influenza B strains.  In one study, it was noted that subjects taking Sambucol instead of a placebo took fewer over the counter medications to relieve symptoms like fever, aches, and congestion.

Thom’s findings were presented at the 15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research in 2002. The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of International Medical Research.

The study involved 60 patients who had been suffering with flu symptoms for 48 hours or less; 90% were infected with the A strain of the virus, 10% were infected with type B. Half the group took 15 milliliters of Sambucol or and the other group took a placebo four times a day for five days.

Patients in the Sambucol group had “pronounced improvements” in flu symptoms after three days: Nearly 90% of patients had complete cure within two to three days. Also, the Sambucol group had no drowsiness, the downside of many flu treatments.

The placebo group didn’t recover until at least day six; they also took more painkillers and nasal sprays. (source)

Sambucol will not prevent the flu, but will shorten the duration and severity of the flu.

How to Take Elderberry Extract for the Flu

In the Israeli study, mentioned above, each day  children were given 1/2 tablespoon of Sambucol extract four times per day, and adults were given 1 tablespoons four times per day.  It’s important to note that the only form of elderberry extract that has been used in studies is Sambucol, which is based on a standardized black elderberry extract.

There are a few different ways you can take the pleasant tasting liquid:

  • Right out of the spoon
  • Mixed with hot water and honey for a tea
  • Mixed with sparkling water and served over ice for a refreshing “soda pop”-like beverage

 Store your elderberry extract in a cool dry place – we keep our bottle in the refrigerator.

Unlike chemical medications, there have been no reported side effects from Sambucol.  Although you should always check with your physician before taking this or any other remedy.  It is safe for children over 2 and the elderly.  No studies have been done regarding the safety of Sambucol during pregnancy or breastfeeding.  There are no reported contraindications for those taking other medications, or those who suffer from asthma or high blood pressure.

Research is ongoing regarding the use of Sambucol for the treatment of allergies, cancer, inflammatory disorders and HIV.


Sambucol Original Liquid Black Elderberry 7.8 fl.oz

Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies

Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections

Frontier Natural Products Whole Elder-European Berries — 16 oz

Farm Fresh Sun Dried Elderberries – Organic Pesticide Free Sun Dried Elderberries (16 oz (1 lb))

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Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • I make a syrup from the berries, amazing flavour & full of goodness.also,I make flavoured vinegar too. We drink this with hot water.a wonderful plant indeed.fyi, I have been told that all woody parts are poisonous.I wouldn’t use the bark, but could be wrong.

  • Where I live, these grow very fast and very well. I’ve got one in my yard. 12 feet in one year and loaded with berries! I actually pick the berries and then cook them, strain them (so many seeds), then simmer down with cane sugar or honey to make a syrup. It’s time-consuming but we get bottles and bottles of this just in time for cold season every year. And that’s from one plant!

  • My husband grew up on elderberry preserves. He hadn’t had it for years and remembered after I bought some sambucol tonight, as he is coming down with something.

  • Hi, iam thinking of using this black elderberry extract to make liposomal encapsulated sambucol using non gmo lecithin and ultrasonic machine same as I make the liposomal encapulated vitamin C,just wondering if anyone else has tried this.

  • Thank you for this informative post! Elderberry is very common in Central Europe (where I live) and used in many traditional recipes. It’s good to remember how healthy it is! And I again I’m awed how effective and great some things from Mother Nature are, even more so than what’s produced in some pharma labs…

  • parents are bringing their children into the ER from oversedation from this. Please use your brains and dont dose your kids with things off of the internet people

    • Above statement is absolutely NOT true. This medicine has been around for years and isn’t something simply touted over the internet. Tamiflu rep perhaps?

        • They would have to have their kids drinking bottles of it everyday for that kind of effects. BUT I have overdosed on strawberries….many trips to the bathroom. But I asked for it.

      • are you really a medical professional? Is that website by a recognized author or just some guy/girl making a website from his/her basement to influence you with words? I have researched this from medical literature and studies are INCONCLUSIVE. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Nobody knows the side effect profile of this extract. If you overdose water you could die, did you know that? You think your herbs are all safe, in moderate amounts may be but not in excess. Instead of ridiculing someones education, be a nurse and see it from there perspective and not an arrogant ill-informed douche.

  • We have been making our own elderberry syrup because ut is so much cheaper than buying sambucol. It is like a miracle at stopping colds/flue/sore throats in their tracks. I take 1 tbsp twice daily for prevention and 1tbsp every 3-4 hours at the first sign of illness until 1-2 days after symptoms are gone. My 2 year old girl takes it the same way but 1 tsp. Neither of us (including my mother who takes in the same fashion when she feels one of her sinus infections coming on) have had cold or flu symptoms that lasted more than one day. We use this recipe from Real Food RN: http://www.realfoodrn.com/homemade-elderberry-syrup/

  • I recently started using this, and find it effective for relieving symptoms of what would appear to be a seasonal cold. My question is for someone like Chelsea, who is taking this routinely “for prevention” and yet still ends up getting some sort of cold/flu regardless and subsequently increasing your dosage. Given what you’ve stated, would it be logical to assume that “for prevention” is unnecessary, and that the real benefit is gained only when you come down with (cold/flu)?

  • On the Doctor OZ show today he mentioned that black elderberry syrup can help with mucus. Iam border line C.O.P.D. with asthma, my problem with breathing is compounded with excessive mucus. Besides my inhalers I take both mucinex and mucinex d to try and loosen my constant nasal congestion as well as three times daily use a nasal rinse. Has anyone used the elderberry syrup and had success with chronic mucus ? Thank you

    • John, try Quercetin with bromaline.
      I have mild asthma symptoms and allergies
      And this stuff is amazing! Works much like
      A claritin. Research. ….

  • Can this be used daily as a preventative or is it more beneficial as a treatment for flu/cold? i am planning on making my own, however i am not sure if i should use and give to kids daily or just when we feel like we are getting sick.

    thanks so much for the information.

    • RJ ~

      It’s my understanding that this is NOT a preventative, but is to be used after someone begins to have symptoms.


  • I use 1 TB daily in a smoothie of spinach, grapefruit juice, carrots, bananas, blueberries and 1/2avacado organic raw honey. ice. DELISH

  • i was advised to use elderberry syrup 1 tsp 2 times a day to bolster immune system and for flu prevention. so far so good but there is always tomorrow!

  • While I’m sure elderberry actually works, I can’t take it. I have an autoimmune disease and take various meds to suppress my immune system. I’ve done some reading on elderberry and discovered I should not take it.

    So, please be sure to check if you rely on medications for a chronic condition before you take it.

    • Hi…I had severe ulcerative colitis. Took digestacure and I healed myself. Go to http://www.digestacure.com and read their page, and read the book they offer online. They are making incredible headway with autoimmune diseases. Getting rid of my colitis gave me a new life. I’m not a rep for them, have no reason to tell you about this product (which is simply a nutrient extracted from aloe vera). All natural, and it works. You don’t have to be a slave to autoimmune disorders.

  • Another great plant to look into is “aronia melanocarpa” or black chokeberry. There is some excellent peer reviewed, scientific studies out there showing the benefits of this plant/bush and it grows wild in most places and can also be purchased thru a well stocked nursery.

  • Daisy, in answer to your request for a link.

    Check out WebMD on elderberry. I have rheumatoid arthritis and my immune system is suppressed on purpose. Without the meds I take for it I cannot live a normal life.
    Since Elderberry increases the immune system I should not take it.
    This also means I can’t take flu shots, etc and am very susceptible to other things like viruses and such. When the flu is going around, I just stay home and unfortunately have to avoid my own grandchildren when they have a cold!

  • A note of agreement with you about your article on elderberry extract. My spouse and I have been taking elderberry extract for about ten years and in that time we have never had the flu and, I don’t know how this is tied to common cold, but between us have only had three colds. This stuff is amazing and even if it is ‘all in the head’, it is worth every penny. I keep thinking of the loss of productivity, both personal and business, that I could have had but didn’t.

  • I first learned about elderberry by watching “The Walking Dead” – that is what they used for flu/colds so I decided to see if there was anything to it. Found all the online research and immediately ordered Sambucol tablets. Historically, I have had bronchitis twice a year every year for about 10 years. Now, I start Sambucol as soon as I feel the least bit scratchy throat or stuffiness and I have not had bronchitis since I started it! Everyone I work with has been sick this year (colds or flu or bronchitis). Again, I take Sambucol at the first tiny symptom and I have had NO problems. Went on a cruise the end of November. They were dousing everyone with Anitbacterial gel all over the ship (which I refused), but I did take my Sambucol two of the seven days. The 3 people in my party all used the gel, and they all got sick shortly after we got home, but I had no problems. I am a firm believer in Sambucol!!!!!

  • I drink a tea made by pouring about a pint of boiling water into a jar with a couple of tablespoons of dried elderberry. Let it steep at least 15 minutes, then use what you need and let the remainder just sit in the jar (or add cold water, which produces tea as well, just takes some hours). You can re-use the same dried elderberry twice, then boil it directly in water to get the last bit out of the berries. When the tea starts looking very pale, it’s time to use another two tablespoons.

    I drink a 16 ounce glass, half tea half apple juice (for flavor!), once or twice, sometimtes three times a day. I used to get flu once a year, but since starting this regimen I haven’t gotten it in nearly six years — except once, I got what I THINK was flu. It was so mild — none of the respiratory symtoms — that I cannot be sure. I have also stopped having another regular viral infection, and it also seems to curb/prevent non-viral infections. I started sending the dried berries to two friends about three years ago, and they have had the same experience. No colds, no flu, other conditions improved. I wouldn’t use the syrup — unnecessarily expensive and perhaps too strong. I would make the tea and mix it with good apple cider (especially for kids!). The statement in the article that it does not prevent flu is certainly wrong in our three cases. We do not constitute a double blind study, of course, but our experience is not insignificant.

  • I make an elderberry syrup from dried elderberries. Delicious and prevents colds and flu. I think I found the recipe on Wellness Momma. Take a TBS a day, more if you feel something coming on.

  • Hi all, I grow elderberry plants and harvest the berries in the late summer when they are dark in color. I freeze them in plastic bags. They are easier to deal with frozen. I pick the berries off of the stems when they are frozen. I make a juice with vodka, let it sit for a couple of months, strain the berries and bottle it. I also make a juice by simmering them in water and add honey or other herbs. They are easy to grow and love being around water. I take a cutting off a plant or cut a new shout, place it in water until roots start to grow. I put the cutting in soil around my pond or a small stream and they grow. They will also grow pretty much anywhere. Great for colds and flu.

  • I have fought off many colds and flus using this. It works so well. I’ve woken with that horrid getting sick with a cold feeling in my head and chest, taken Sambucol, and by the next evening I’m symptom free. People I’ve told about this were kind of skeptical at first, then raved about how good it worked for keeping away bronchitis and stopping colds before they got worse. I always have at least two bottles in my pantry and opened bottles keep for months in the frig.

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