COVID-19 surprised us, caught us off guard. Many wonder how best to prevent or support our immune systems through this crisis we are in. Not just for COVID but we still get colds and influenzas too. What helps?
Herbal teas nourish and provide many health benefits. Warm liquids are recommended to keep our mucous membranes healthy and resistant. I keep many dried plants as part of my home medicine chest, But, with any herb, it’s wise to know how to properly ID them in the wild, and know how to use them; what form is best.
One of my most popular blog posts talked about the value of elderberry. Family and friends frequently ask me about this woody shrub. With the COVID-19 flu virus causing unprecedented changes to our lives, I thought it worthwhile to look at the differences between elderberry and echinacea both used to support our immune systems during cold and flu season. I added echinacea here because folks wonder about that herb’s health benefits. Today, we’ll review elderberry. In Part 2, we’ll look at echinacea and then compare the two.
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry: Sambucus nigra, also known as European Elder. Elder has a rich history. One of its name origins is Aeld, which meant fire. The pith in young branches is soft and easily pushes out. A hollow tube remains which was used to stoke the kitchen fires. In ancient times pipes were made of elder wood, hence the common name, pipe tree. The hollow reed was fashioned into instruments and of course pea shooters.
Where Found: common to Europe and Northern Africa; now found all over the United States; in fact, it was thought this was the tree Judas chose to hang from. A fungus occurs on the elder, Hirroneola auricular Judaea, so named from the above historical story or myth. Elder is considered a small tree about 10-12’ high or a shrub. It is commonly found along wood edges, along with wood stands in fields, along banks and fences. This plant is also nitrogen loving and in the Honeysuckle family. It flowers from May- June. Fruit ripens in August. Virginia Tech has a great ID page and plant facts. Elder also has a similar looking plant called Pokeweed which I wrote about a while ago to help folks tell the difference between Elderberry and Pokeweed.
Parts Used: bark, leaves, flowers, and berries. Do not eat the bark, leaves raw. The dried flowers dried or fresh or dried berries are often taken in tea form.
Actions: The flowers and berries are ideal for colds and flu, even sinusitis or any inflammation of the upper respiratory tract.
“What our study has shown us is that the common elderberry has a potent direct antiviral effect against the flu virus,” said Dr. Golnoosh Torabian. It inhibits the early stages of infection by blocking key viral proteins responsible for both the viral attachment and entry into the host cells.” Does it work against COVID-19? That’s still in debate. But since our immune system can be attacked by these types of viruses, research is on.
James Duke, Ph.D., who wrote, Herb-a-Day studied the studies conducted on herbs. He recommended the elderberry for the flu. and his research states that this plant was used by many Native American tribes.
Sambucol, Sambucus, two popular names for commercial products fly off the shelves of health or natural supplement departments. I have heard many stories of folks getting through a winter with no or few respiratory ailments hitting their households when combining elderberry with good winter health practices. If a cold should hit, elderberry syrup supplements are often the herb of choice. Research studies are being conducted by notable University’s Complementary and Alternative Medical Departments including the NIH. The German Commission E recommends elderberry and elderflower preparations for colds and flu even bronchitis.
- 870 mg of vitamin A
- 406 mg of potassium
- 52.2 mg of vitamin C
- 9 mg of folate
- 55 mg of calcium
- 2.32 mg of iron
Elderberries are also an excellent source of fiber, containing 10.2 g of dietary fiber per cup.
How used: Edler flowers can be brewed and taken as a tea. Elderberry syrup and lozenges are part of my home medicine chest. I usually use elderberry during the winter or if I am traveling to keep my immune system strong. In fact, there is some research that indicates it’s beneficial to take when flying. There are many products that are available for children too. In view of the recent flu outbreaks, I thought it important to get info out about this wonderful plant. The berries have a long “food as medicine” history and can be found recipes including wine, jams, vinegar, and more.
Nature has so many remedies for us. Doug Tallamy, a podcast guest on my show: Holistic Nature of Us, reminds us: our personal land can play a huge part in supporting wildlife. And Elderberry is a host plant for a variety of butterflies and moths.
Elder, referenced by Shakespeare and Pliny, holds a place of connection whether superstition, hedgerows, or poetry capturing us with its many uses and meanings.
Have you made elderberry vinegar or jam? Next week we’ll talk about echinacea and then compare the actions and uses of both plants. We enjoy hearing from you. Any comments or suggestions are always appreciated.