Elderberry: A Natural Alternative to Cold and Flu Medications

Gena Cohen

After being sick countless times, especially this year, I didn’t want to take anymore unnatural medications. Not only because the flavors are terrible, but because the medications I usually take only blanket over the ailments. I decided that instead of wallowing in the last stages of my cold I would look up natural medicines. Most medications like Dayquil or Nyquil don’t cure you of your ailments they only relieve them, unlike the elderberry.

I have never personally made or taken elderberry, but it has shown up as a remedy in many alternative medical books and guides such as Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs book, where it gives instructions on how to make an immune boosting cold and flu remedy syrup.

After doing some research on the elderberry I found that it was native to North America and has been used by the Native Americans for centuries. According to the USDA’s plant guide, “The elderberry has been a valuable plant to the Native Americans and each piece has its own purpose.”

It grows in mountainous regions, forests, canyons, streambanks and slopes. It tends to like sunlight and damp soil and is a shrub, so it can be found in a forests understory. Growing up to 13 feet tall you can find it easily in the summer and early autumn. The flowers bloom from May to October with white to cream petals while the berries grow from July to October. They are round in shape and look like little black pellets, but are really a dark blue or purple color.

When the elderberry flowers are in bloom they can be used to make medicines in teas, washes, and poultices. In the USDA’s online Plant Guide the benefits of elderberry tea can be used to help, “fevers, colds, headaches, TB, bladder or kidney infections and eye twitching. It can also be used for the complexion or beauty products. As a wash, it can help with sprains and bruises and in poultices its leaves can be used as a relief to inflammation, soreness, joint pains, and bee stings.”

Even the branches of this plant have a purpose and within the culture of Native Americans the USDA’s Plant Guide says that, “they were used to make the shafts of arrows, flutes, whistles, and tinder for fires.”

The berries are one of the strongest parts of the plant in aiding with illnesses. It should not be consumed raw, but when cooked down it can be made into syrups, teas and tonics. In Miriam Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs book, “The berry can be used to cure or speed up the effects of colds and flus, improve heart health and help with urinary or bladder infections.”

It would be great to go foraging for elderberries myself and make my own syrup, but it typically doesn’t grow in Savannah. Instead, I found that pre-made medicines can be purchased online or at health food stores such as Whole Foods. So, next time you get sick go buy some elderberry products because they’re all natural, the way medicine was intended to be.