Everything you need to know about alcohol-free elderberry syrup for preventing colds and influenza
Elderberry is considered by many herbalists and satisfied users to be nature’s answer to Tamiflu, a drug that is commonly used to nip influenza in the bud. Elderberry works in a similar way by preventing the virus from adhering to human cells and multiplying. Traditionally, elderberry preparations are taken early enough to head off a massive viral invasion right from the start.
Sambucus nigra is the most researched medically potent species of elderberry, and it is so highly regarded in Europe that it has been called the “medicine chest of country people”. It grows wild in most of Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia.
Native Americans and the Pioneer settlers found elderberry useful, but historical accounts suggest that they may have not regarded the American species of elderberry as much as Europeans do their own. It’s possible that the European species may be a little more potent than the American species of elderberry. The jury is still out on that debate.
Some herbalists are leaning towards the same slant as Richo Czech of Horizon Herbs in Oregon, who says that the European native Sambucus nigra “…is the most tried-and-true species for medicinal use.” He also notes that the berries are about twice as big as the berries of other species.
If something should ever prevent me from making a cold and flu preventative from the traditional European Sambucus nigra species, I would gladly use elderberries from commercially available cultivars such as the York and Nova species. They are available from nurseries such as Henry Fields and Gurneys. (I would steer clear of other cultivars sold for ornamental landscaping use.) According to more than a few devotees, the York and Nova cultivars are said to work very well in warding off the common cold and influenza.
As a personal preference I am cultivating the European elderberry species Sambucus nigra from seed, and will continue to buy the dried European berries to make my preparations with until my little ’orchard’ becomes established. Herbalcom and Frontier Herbs are two of my favorite sources for the berries.
Interestingly, after years of searching, I have never found any commercial sources for elderberries from cultivars or American elderberries, only berries from the imported European Sambucus nigra species.
Elderberry has been proven effective against a wide range of influenza viruses including human, swine and avian strains
Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu made elderberries internationally famous through the well publicized research and laboratory studies conducted at the Hadassah Medical School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It was demonstrated that Sambucus nigra species of elderberry was effective against a wide range of influenza viruses including human, swine and avian strains. This led to the development of a popular elderberry syrup preparation called Sambucol. Even if the preparation is taken too late to act as a preventative, controlled clinical studies in 1995 also demonstrated that Sambucol could reduce the severity and duration of influenza by half.
At a press conference held January 19-20, 2006 at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, the results of exciting new research on the patented elderberry formula were presented. Speakers included the developer of Sambucol, Dr. Mumcuoglu and Professor Hannoun of the Pasteur Institute.
Imagine the excitement of hearing the announcement that the elderberry-based Sambucol was found to be at least 99% effective against the Avian Flu (H5N1) virus in cell cultures! Laboratory trials verifying this were held in a prominent research institute associated with the University of London. Retroscreen Virology, Ltd. concluded that the elderberry preparation “significantly neutralised the infectivity of the virus in cell cultures”.
Although elderberry is effective against the H5N1 viruses in a culture dish, without human 'guinea pigs' there is no way to conclude that it is as effective in humans, but all indications look good.
Science is beginning to realize what European country folks knew all along. Elderberry is good for preventing cold and influenza infections. According to many herbalists and satisfied users, traditional homemade elderberry tinctures and non-alcoholic syrups work just as well as Sambucol.
How well does a non-alcoholic elderberry preparation work?
The original and well-researched Sambucol formula was made with an alcohol-based extract with a bit of glucose added. Some modern-day herbalists speculate that only alcohol-based elderberry preparations will work. Others speculate that the application of heat could be detrimental to the effectiveness of elderberry.
I am happy to tell you this is not true. For over a decade, I have made and given away to family and friends, many gallons of a very potent non-alcoholic elderberry syrup made with heat. I make my decoction by gently simmering elderberries in water for hours over a medium-low fire. The result is a fine tasting juice and syrup that has worked splendidly against every challenge of cold and influenza viruses put to it. It works so well that every year friends and family (as well as their friends) always ask for more.
Apparently the same medicinal resins and other properties can be extracted in a long slow simmering process over low heat, as can be extracted with alcohol.
Before I share my recipe with you, I’d like to alert you to a few things you should know.
IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT ELDERBERRY AND PANDEMIC INFLUENZA
One of the things that make some influenza strains more deadly and worrisome than most ordinary strains is that they can cause a young healthy person’s immune to kick into overdrive. In this case, too much of a good thing can become deadly because of the overproduction of cytokines. Some cytokines promote mucous production. Unfortunately when too much mucous is produced, it can quickly become a life threatening situation because the patient can literally drown in his own fluids.
In recent years, some herbalists and pandemic flu speculators (affectionately known as flubies) have debated a valid question: Could the immunostimulant properties of elderberry worsen the cytokine storm associated with a deadly strain such as H5N1 and others?
On the other hand, elderberry also increases levels of the cytokine IL-10 which is a known immunosuppressant. This could very well ‘balance out’ the cytokines with immunostimulating effects. Another natural check and balance system at work?
Of additional interest is the fact that elderberry is useful for treating bacterial sinusitis because it reduces excessive mucus in the sinus cavities, promotes better drainage, and reduces nasal congestion and swelling of mucous membranes. In that light, it seems that elderberry would be beneficial during a mucous producing cytokine storm.
To date elderberry has not yet been tested in humans against the strain of the dreaded H5N1 avian influenza that has worried the medical community for the past few years. No one really knows what elderberry preparations will do in the face of an influenza induced cytokine storm.
Experts agree that limiting the initial viral load (such as with Tamiflu) seems to be one of the best ways to survive the more deadly influenza strains. It is commonly understood that if the viral load is dramatically reduced, especially in the beginning stages of infection, then the body’s response to it--the deadly cytokine storm--is reduced as well.
Elderberry is a time tested remedy with a great reputation for preventing and inhibiting ordinary influenza in humans, if taken promptly and regularly. It does the job so well, that my personal pandemic influenza plans include taking elderberry syrup as a preventative. If for some reason, I am stricken with a pandemic flu, I plan to continue taking elderberry, but at a higher and more frequent dosage.
I am not suggesting that anyone else do as I do, but that you should explore all your options, including professional medical help if confronted with the possibility of a life-threatening illness such as pandemic influenza.
Because this issue is so controversial in the face of certain deadly strains of influenza, I am monitoring several news portals very closely for any new findings that I need to know. If it is ever determined that elderberry is harmful to take during a full blown pandemic influenza infection, a change in my plans would be in order.
Go here for a list of up-to-the minute news and intelligent discussions about pandemic influenzas:
ALCOHOL-FREE ELDERBERRY SYRUP AND JUICE
The Dry Stuff
In some cases, herbs and other natural remedies are not substitutes for professional medical care. I urge you to seek the best professional medical resources available to help you make informed decisions in all health matters, especially concerning pandemic influenza.
This educational information is intended to increase your knowledge of traditional usage of plants. It is not meant to diagnose, prevent, prescribe or to administer in any manner to any physical ailments. In any matters related to your health, please contact a professional health practitioner.
Avoid any kind of elderberry preparation if you have a known allergy to plants in the honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae) family.
Don’t consume raw elderberries or uncooked elderberry juice, which may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal pain. It is understood that cooked elderberries are safe and completely free of any cyanide toxicity.
Don’t take elderberry if you are undergoing chemotherapy. Elderberry may increase the effects of some cancer chemotherapies, which may also increase adverse effects as well.
Patients using theophylline should consult with a medical professional before using elderberry preparations. The quercetin in elderberries may inhibit xanthine oxidase, and may also affect theophylline levels.
Elderberry may lower blood sugar levels. If you are a diabetic, monitoring and medication adjustments by a qualified health professional may be in order.
About sugar concentrations in elderberry syrup
A 65% or more sugar concentration in a water-based syrup is self-preserving, without the need for refrigeration. A lower sugar concentration may invite mold growth. For long term storage and extra insurance against harmful mold growth, I prefer to increase the sugar concentration to 70%.
A sugar-free, or lightly sweetened elderberry preparation can be made by simply omitting the sugar in the following recipe. If you omit the high sugar content, the final product must be frozen and used within six months, or else refrigerated and used within three days. Without alcohol or a high concentration of sugar as a preservative, the elderberry juice will likely promote the growth of molds that can cause spoilage.
An elderberry tincture made with alcohol works great, but it may not be suitable for work or school. Teachers and traffic cops may also agree. Alcohol-free elderberry juice and syrup to the rescue!
Why I don’t like to use honey or glycerin in making elderberry syrup
Because glycerin does not affect blood sugar levels like honey or sugar, it is sometimes used in making certain herbal extracts, such as echinacea. Unfortunately, glycerin is a very poor vehicle for extracting medicinal oils and resins in some herbs and berries, and elderberries are definitely resinous! Ask anyone who has ever made elderberry juice! When making juice from fresh elderberries, you will notice that utensils are soon coated with a dark and oily residue.
Honey is nice for flavoring, and it has enough sugars to preserve itself, but not enough for making a shelf stable grade of medicinal elderberry syrup.
How I use elderberry juice and syrup to ward off colds and influenza
I’ve found that the very best time to start treating a cold or flu virus with elderberry is at the very earliest stage, BEFORE the virus has presented itself in full-blown symptoms. As in “I think I might have been exposed but I’m not feeling bad yet”, or maybe “I think I may be coming down with something, but I’m not quite sure”. Elderberry works by preventing the virus from multiplying. Cold and flu viruses multiply so rapidly that it is critically important to begin treatment while they are few in number, and before they have a chance to mount a massive attack.
Although elderberry syrup can be taken alone, it is so highly concentrated (and quite sweet) that some people prefer to mix it with water or juice. Some of my favorite ways to take it is to stir a couple of tablespoons of elderberry syrup into a glass of red wine (delicious!), or grape juice, or into an old fashioned ‘shrub’ style drink (2 tablespoon elderberry syrup along with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar stirred into a glass of cold water). For more shrub ideas see http://purecajunsuns...summertime.html
The advantage of elderberry syrup is that it needs no refrigeration, so it’s ideal for work, school or travel.
DOSAGE GUIDELINES AND TIPS
Approximate guidelines are given here, not exact dosages. Doses may vary more or less, depending upon the level of risk, along with many other factors such as an individual’s immunity, weight, etc.
In the event of possible exposure to colds and flu, I would consider taking more frequent doses of sugar-free or lightly sweetened elderberry juice at home, reserving the self preserving, but sugar-laden syrup for situations when no refrigeration is available.
Individual doses of juice can be frozen and popped into a plastic covered cup or other tightly capped container and tucked into a lunchbox, book bag, purse or briefcase. (Warning: elderberry juice will stain! Make sure containers are leak proof.)
If I suspect that I have been caught ‘off guard’ without my elderberry preventative, and start feeling even the barest hint of “something coming on”, I immediately start taking elderberry at approximately the same doses given above, or perhaps more frequently if the situation warrants it. Sometimes I can ’feel’ it when I have not had enough (feeling more poorly). This is a clear signal for me to immediately ramp up the dosage and frequency a bit. If I get up during the night, I make sure to take another dose. Umm, please don’t go crazy and overdo it, or else you may find yourself dealing with a powerful diuretic and laxative action! Don’t ask me how I know.
If the risk of exposure to ordinary flu is high, I usually take one to two tablespoons of the sugar-free juice, or two tablespoons of elderberry syrup every four to six hours as a cold and flu preventative.
In my house, little kids take kid doses. For children under 12 years old, I use about half the adult dose. Toddlers get half of that. Keep elderberry syrup out of the reach of children because the little rascals may try to sneak extra ‘doses’ when you are not watching. Elderberry also makes a fine pancake syrup. Yum!
Pregnant or Nursing Mothers:
Some herbalists prefer not to give any herbs to someone who is pregnant or nursing. Other herbalists like myself feel that, if faced with a deadly pandemic influenza outbreak, the risk of dying from the virus far outweighs the risk of consuming a fruit product such as elderberry. However, pregnant women should not take large, frequent doses of elderberry or any herb, for that matter. Although I am not aware of any human contraindications in normal usage of elderberry syrup, I have read that insanely high concentrations of pure elderberry extract given to laboratory rodents have sometimes caused spontaneous abortion and birth defects.
If I were pregnant, I would only take elderberry only if I were at high risk of being infected by a particularly deadly strain of flu.
1. Elderberry stains. Everything. Just be careful and rinse off spills immediately.
2. The aroma of cooking elderberries is pretty stout and lingering. If you have a range hood exhaust fan, use it! Open the windows! (I cook my elderberries on my covered porch with an electric hotplate.) If you live in bear country, keep the shotgun handy. The aroma of elderberries is bearbait extraordinaire and may provoke home invasions. (The bears are berry crazy in the mountains where I am living now.)
3. Don’t use a metal cooking vessel to extract medicinal properties from herbs, roots or berries. A glass pot is best. An enamel coated metal pot is fine, as long as there are no chips exposing the metal.
4. Start off with cool water (not hot) and gradually bring to a low simmer over medium-low heat. (This little trick also brings out maximum flavor when cooking soups and stews.)
5. If you can, try to cook elderberries in larger rather than small amounts.
6. Regular canning jars and lids are perfect for storing elderberry syrup. Make sure to sanitize the jars and lids just before using. More on that later.
7. Keep everything clean, clean, clean. The last thing you want to see when you need elderberry is a jar of spoiled syrup!
THE RECIPE, FINALLY!
You will need a ratio of ¼ cup of dried elderberries for every two cups of water. You can make more than this amount, but try to maintain this ratio. To help promote maximum extraction, I like to soak the dried berries in water for a few hours first. Overnight in the refrigerator is even better.
Cover the pot loosely with a lid, enough to allow steam to escape, but not too rapidly. Gently simmer the water and berries together over medium-low heat until the liquid volume is reduced by about almost half of the original volume. For a large pot, this make take a few hours. Don’t allow the brew to come to a full rolling boil.
When elderberries are decocted in hot water, you may see a few very small ‘oil slicks’ form on the surface of the water. This is a good thing! The longer the berries cook (over low heat), the more medicinal resin is extracted. To increase the extraction process, stir and mash the berries against the side of the pot with a large spoon from time to time. Don’t try to skim it the oily stuff off, you want it to stay in the brew.
After a few hours, when the liquid in the pot has been reduced by about half of the original volume, allow to cool a little before straining the berries out.
Strain the berries through a colander, taking care to squeeze all the juice and goodness out of the berries. I don’t like to use cheesecloth or any other fabric for straining elderberries because the resins and other medicinal goodies will stick to the cloth.
At this point, if you have opted for the sugar-free preparation you will need to preserve the juice it by freezing it (use within six months), or you can refrigerate it if you can use it within 3 or 4 days.
To make a shelf-stable and self preserving 65% sugar syrup, add 2 1/8 cups of sugar to every cup of elderberry juice. Reheat and stir until all the sugar is completely dissolved.
Pour the hot syrup into hot canning jars that have been sanitized first by boiling in water for at least ten minutes. Jar lids need to be hot, as well. Simmer, do not boil the canning lids. Overheating the canning jar lids at a higher heat than a simmer (about 180*F. or so) may result in a seal failure. After pouring the hot syrup into the hot jars, wipe the jar rim with a clean damp paper towel to ensure nothing is there to interfere with sealing. Fill the jars to about ¼ - ½ inch from the top. Wipe the rim with a piece of a wet paper towel before positioning the lid. Screw on the band firmly and allow the jar to cool slowly. From time to time, you may hear ‘pings’ as the jars cool and a vacuum forms, pulling the lids down tighter.
For longer term storage, I prefer to bump up the sugar concentration a wee bit more to 70% . This translates into adding 2 ¾ cups sugar to every cup of elderberry juice. It may be overkill, but I have never seen a batch of elderberry syrup go bad at this rate.
Although elderberry syrup can last for years, I like to rotate my stock on a 6 month basis for maximum freshness. Store in a cool, dark location.
Copyright 2009 PureCajunSunshine / Mrs. Tightwad
This copyrighted material may be reprinted by you for noncommercial use, if the following credit is given: This article and recipe is an excerpt from Mrs. Tightwad's Handbook #2: HOW TO MAKE HOME REMEDIES THAT REALLY WORK. For more information, see the left sidebar on this site: http://purecajunsunshine.blogspot.com/
Edited by PureCajunSunshine, 15 May 2009 - 10:43 AM.