If you’re eating healthy, getting enough z’s and skipping those late nights at the neighborhood watering hole, it’s easy enough to avoid getting sick. But even for those of us with the squeakiest-clean habits, sometimes the flu comes a-knockin’.
Instead of racing down to the health clinic for a flu shot, however, you might want to consider something more naturel this season.
Elderberries have been fighting flus since your great, great, great, great grandma was mixing up potions over the fire in her iron pot – and they’ve never really gone out of style. They get great press for their ability to heal wounds (when applied to the skin), relieve respiratory symptoms and hasten recovery from a bout with influenza or the common cold.
Here are some of the miracle-making properties in the elderberry plant:
Reduces swelling. When your face feels gigantic because of sinus pressure, elderberry can help reduce swelling in the mucous membranes.
Improves nasal congestion. Tannin and viburnic acid, properties present in elderberries, help improve breathing and provide relief from nasal congestion.
Supports the immune system. Antioxidants called flavanoids are also plentiful in elderberry, which help to stimulate the immune system.
Anti-inflammatory. Compounds called anthocyanins also lend elderberry its anti-inflammatory effect, which can help reduce the nasty aches, pains and fever that accompany the flu.
Not only does elderberry help ease symptoms quickly, but it can shorten the time you’re down for the count when you do get sick – a God-send for anyone with, well, a life. A small study published in the Journal of International Medical Research a few years ago found that 93 percent of patients given Sambucol, a black elderberry extract, were completely symptom-free within two days, and nearly 90 percent were completely cured within two to three days. Pass the juice!
But before you order a lifetime supply of elderberry extract, note that the plant doesn’t appear to ward off the flu – it just kicks the hell out of it after it’s already taken you down.
“Sambucol is for treatment, not for prevention,” Andrew Weil, MD, director of the program in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona, told WebMD. “It has an unknown mechanism of action. Research suggests it inactivates the flu virus, but we don’t know that for sure.”
And for your forest foragers out there, don’t go picking plants à la ”Into the Wild.” According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there are several species of elder, but Sambucus nigra, or European elder, is the one used for medicinal purposes. Dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus), on the other hand, can be toxic. Raw or unripe fruit – in addition to the leaves, seeds, and bark – can also be poisonous.
The best part? Sambucol doesn’t appear to create any negative interactions with other drugs, and it’s been shown to be safe for both kids and adults.
So quit your sniveling and sneezing if you do catch a flu this winter. Nature has your back, babe.
A Bay Area health nut with a passion for holistic nutrition, Mara is a writer, PR pro and marketing consultant. Her work has been featured on sites like Redbook, SF Weekly, Livestrong, Healthline, Natural News and Astrology.com. Passionate about healthy living, she shares recipes, nutrition advice, and mind-body musings on her website, MaraKTyler.com. You can also snag a copy of her e-book, Cheap & Simple Vegan Everyday Cookbook or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.