Being sick with a viral cold or flu or a dreaded upper respiratory infection can leave you feeling awful. You want to get better fast—but sometimes your options are limited. After all, there’s not much you can do to shorten the duration of a cold or the flu, right? Wrong! Believe it or not, there’s an amazing natural known as black elderberry—and elderberry benefits include boosting your immune system and displaying anti-viral activity. That’s right; elderberry can actually decrease the severity and length of both colds and the flu!
This information may shock you. After all, you’ve likely spent your entire life hearing that nothing can help relieve your cold and flu symptoms (except maybe Tamiflu for early onset flu symptoms, but this medication can deliver a host of side effects that you may want to avoid). But I’m not done delivering surprises. Elderberry actually tastes great! It’s so tasty, in fact, that many people make their own elderberry syrups.
So, you’re likely now wondering what, exactly, elderberry is, how it works, and how you can stock up on some for the next time you or someone in your family isn’t feeling so well. In this article, we’ll discuss all of these and more—include the top elderberry benefits so you know exactly when to use this powerful natural remedy.
What Is Elderberry?
Elderberry is the fruit that grows on the black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) tree, which is native to Europe. The fruit is a purple-black color—somewhat resembling blueberries—and typically measure 3 to 5 mm in diameter. These berries have been consumed throughout Europe and North America for hundreds of years for their medicinal properties, most often via a syrup made from cooked elderberries. 
It’s important to note that while ripe, cooked elderberries are perfectly safe to eat, uncooked elderberries are actually poisonous. Consuming uncooked elderberries could result in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, so if you happen across a black elderberry tree, make sure you cook the berries before consuming them.
That said, most people will consume elderberry in one of two forms: as a premade syrup or as a supplement. But it’s important to note that not all elderberry syrups and supplements are the same. Try to make sure your syrup or supplement doesn’t include additives. The truth here is that elderberry tastes great on its own (making it a great option for kids!), so there’s really no need for many ingredients. The simpler, the better.
If you’re interested in making your own syrup, I like this recipe. It’s quick, easy, and tastes great!
Keep in mind that in order for elderberry to work optimally, you must begin taking it at the start of an illness. (You may also choose to take smaller amounts each day during flu season as a preventative measure.) We’ll discuss more about how elderberry works to fight illness in the section below on elderberry benefits.
5 Elderberry Benefits
Here are five of my favorite elderberry benefits.
1. Fights upper respiratory infections
If you find yourself fighting an upper respiratory infection and you want to shorten your time feeling ill, it may be helpful to start taking elderberry extract. Why? Well, a 2019 meta-analysis of 180 participants revealed that supplementing with elderberry extract at the onset of upper respiratory symptoms significantly reduced the participants symptom duration. 
2. Fights cold and flu symptoms
Elderberry benefits also include improving cold and flu symptoms. If fact, black elderberry extract is known to be effective in vitro against 10 different strains of the influenza virus! In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, black elderberry extract actually reduced the duration of flu symptoms by three to four days, compared to those taking a placebo. Additionally, subjects in the elderberry group displayed higher antibody levels to the influenza virus than in the control group. 
3. Boosts the immune system
Elderberry works by increasing your inflammatory cytokine production (think of cytokines as the “communicators” in your body that inform your immune system of a virus or illness). By increasing your cytokine production, elderberry actually activates a healthy immune system. In fact, in the same study referenced immediately above, elderberry extract actually increased inflammatory cytokine production by 45 times compared to other cytokine activators!
4. Contains health-promoting antioxidants
The elderberry plant contains flavonoids, which display high antioxidant activity that helps to fight both pathogens and allergens. These flavonoids also help to protect the health of your cells. And numerous studies have shown that consuming foods high in flavonoids could help to fight and even prevent many chronic diseases, including heart disease. 
5. Contains anti-viral properties that fight infections
Studies have shown that elderberry extract not only fights viruses but also bacteria. In fact, a 2011 study revealed that elderberry extract on both influenza strains A and B, as well as the Gram-positive bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes and Streptococci and the Gram-negative bacterium Branhamella catarrhalis. As a result, the researchers concluded that elderberry benefits could extend to fighting both viral and bacterial infections.
- Black elderberry is one of nature’s most powerful and potent natural remedies for both viral and bacterial illnesses.
- There are many elderberry benefits, including reducing the duration and severity of upper respiratory infections, cold and flu symptoms, boosting your immune system, and fighting numerous diseases.
- Look for elderberry syrups or supplements that contain little to no additives. You can also make your own syrup, but be sure to use cooked elderberries to prevent toxin exposure.