Elderberry Extract: Nature’s “Tamiflu”

The most important weapon against influenza that you can add to your herbal arsenal is elderberry extract.

Whether you are concerned with the seasonal flu or the potential of a deadly strain of influenza becoming pandemic, elderberry extract is a vital addition to your vault of flu remedies.

Unlike the highly touted flu shot, black elderberry has actually been conclusively proven to be effective.  It is one of the few natural remedies that has been written up in the medical journals.  The studies I’m listing here are based on black elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L) - name brand Sambucol.

According to PubMed:

Sambucus nigra L. products – Sambucol – are based on a standardized black elderberry extract. They are natural remedies with antiviral properties, especially against different strains of influenza virus. Sambucol was shown to be effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, Sambucol reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days.

The Journal of International Medical Research concurs that elderberry extract is a proven treatment, referencing a different study:

Elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and herpes simplex. We investigated the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry syrup for treating influenza A and B infections. Sixty patients (aged 18 – 54 years) suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 h or less were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study during the influenza season of 1999 – 2000 in Norway. Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days  earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in  those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.

 An Ancient Panacea

The medicinal use of the elderberry is nothing new.  Mentioned in ancient medicinal texts, the humble black elderberry has been used as a multi-purpose treatment for centuries.  In 400 BC, Hippocrates referred to the elderberry bush as his “medicine chest” because of its varied uses, and it was mentioned several times in the writings of Pliny the Elder when he recorded  the practices of the ancient Romans.

To learn more about the historical uses of all components of the elderberry bush, check out this detailed article on Botanical.com.

 How It Works

Scientists have isolated the active compound in the elderberry.  It is called Antivirin and is found in proteins of the black elderberry.  The compound prevents the flu virus from invading the membranes of  healthy cells.

The main flavonoids present in elderberries are the anthocyanins cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-sambubioside,  and are detectable in plasma after oral intake of elderberry extract. A possible mechanism of action of elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza is that the flavonoids stimulate the immune system by enhancing production of cytokines by monocytes.  In addition, elderberry has been shown to inhibit the  haemagglutination of the influenza virus and thus prevent the adhesion of the virus to the cell receptors.  Anthocyanins also have an antiinflammatory effect comparable to that of acetylsalicylic acid;  this could explain the pronounced effect on aches, pain and fever seen in the group treated with elderberry syrup. (source)


Avian Flu

This is especially important with something like the Avian flu, which, according to the CDC, has a mortality rate of 60% in the 600 cases reported worldwide.   At this point the Avian flu is rarely transmissible to, or between, humans.  The fear is that a mutation of the virus could change that, instigating a deadly pandemic.  (Alarmingly, the Avian virus has been successfully mutated by scientists, causing public outcry that this “research” could be weaponized in the future, but that’s a different article.)

Since the first avian influenza outbreak, in 1997, there has been concern that the influenza A (H5N1) virus might either mutate and adapt to allow efficient transmission during the infection of mammals or reassort its gene segments with human influenza viruses during the coinfection of a single host, resulting in a new virus that would be both highly lethal and transmissible from person to person. Such events are believed to have preceded the influenza pandemics of 1918, 1957, and 1968. Several lines of evidence indicate that the currently circulating influenza A (H5N1) viruses have in fact evolved to more virulent forms since 1997, with a higher mortality among human cases, different antigenic properties, a different internal gene constellation,and an expanded host range.  (source)

According to a study by Zacay-Rones in 1995, black elderberry was proven to be effective against the Avian flu, specifically Panama B strain.

A standardized elderberry extract, Sambucol (SAM), reduced hemagglutination and inhibited replication of human influenza viruses type A/Shangdong 9/93 (H3N2), A/Beijing 32/92 (H3N2), A/Texas 36/91 (H1N1), A/Singapore 6/86 (H1N1), type B/Panama 45/90, B/Yamagata 16/88, B/Ann Arbor 1/86, and of animal strains from Northern European swine and turkeys, A/Sw/Ger 2/81, A/Tur/Ger 3/91, and A/Sw/Ger 8533/91 in Madin-Darby canine kidney cells. A placebo-controlled, double blind study was carried out on a group of individuals living in an agricultural community (kibbutz) during an outbreak of influenza B/Panama in 1993. Fever, feeling of improvement, and complete cure were recorded during 6 days. Sera obtained in the acute and convalescent phases were tested for the presence of antibodies to influenza A, B, respiratory syncytial, and adenoviruses. Convalescent phase serologies showed higher mean and mean geometric hemagglutination inhibition (HI) titers to influenza B in the group treated with SAM than in the control group. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the SAM-treated group within 2 days, whereas in the control group 91.7% of the patients showed an improvement within 6 days (p < 0.001). A complete cure was achieved within 2 to 3 days in nearly 90% of the SAM-treated group and within at least 6 days in the placebo group (p < 0.001). No satisfactory medication to cure influenza type A and B is available. Considering the efficacy of the extract in vitro on all strains of influenza virus tested, the clinical results, its low cost, and absence of side-effects, this preparation could offer a possibility for safe treatment for influenza A and B. (source)


Sambucol has been shown to reduce the symptoms and the duration of flu sufferers.  It has been tested on both Influenza A and Influenza B strains.  In one study it was noted that subjects taking Sambucol instead of a placebo took fewer over the counter medications to relieve symptoms like fever, aches and congestion.

Thom’s findings were presented at the 15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research in 2002. The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of International Medical Research.

The study involved 60 patients who had been suffering with flu symptoms for 48 hours or less; 90% were infected with the A strain of the virus, 10% were infected with type B. Half the group took 15 milliliters of Sambucol or and the other group took a placebo four times a day for five days.

Patients in the Sambucol group had “pronounced improvements” in flu symptoms after three days: Nearly 90% of patients had complete cure within two to three days. Also, the Sambucol group had no drowsiness, the downside of many flu treatments.

The placebo group didn’t recover until at least day six; they also took more painkillers and nasal sprays. (source)

Sambucol will not prevent the flu, but will shorten the duration and severity of the flu.

How to Take Elderberry Extract

In the Israeli study, mentioned above, each day  children were given 1/2 tablespoon of Sambucol extract four times per day, and adults were given 1 tablespoons four times per day.  It’s important to note that the only form of elderberry extract that has been used in studies is Sambucol, which is based on a standardized black elderberry extract.

(NOTE:  I’m not affiliated with the company Sambucol in any way.  I am recommending this product because our family uses it, it is standardized and it is the product used in all of the studies referenced in this article.  I receive no commission or payment of any type from this company.)

There are a few different ways you can take the pleasant tasting liquid:

  • Right out of the spoon
  • Mixed with hot water and honey for a tea
  • Mixed with sparkling water and served over ice for a refreshing “soda pop”-like beverage

 Store your elderberry extract in a cool dry place – we keep our bottle in the refrigerator.

Unlike chemical medications, there have been no reported side effects from Sambucol.  Although you should always check with your physician before taking this or any other remedy.  It is safe for children over 2 and the elderly.  No studies have been done regarding the safety of Sambucol during pregnancy or breastfeeding.  There are no reported contraindications for those taking other medications, or those who suffer from asthma or high blood pressure.

Research is ongoing regarding the use of Sambucol for the treatment of allergies, cancer, inflammatory disorders and HIV.

Listen in Tuesday, January 22 at 2 pm as Daisy speaks with Joyce Pierce of Preparedness Radio Network about what we can do to prevent the flu and what remedies we can use to lessen the effects of it. 

About the author:

Please feel free to share any information from this site in part or in full, giving credit to the author and including a link to this website and the following bio.

Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor.  Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at daisy@theorganicprepper.ca

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22 Comments  to  Elderberry Extract: Nature’s “Tamiflu”

  1. Sharon says:

    Just wondering how one would use the actual plant? Also, where can the Sambucol Elderberry Extract be found?

  2. Zarla says:

    I make a syrup from the berries, amazing flavour & full of goodness.also,I make flavoured vinegar too. We drink this with hot water.a wonderful plant indeed.fyi, I have been told that all woody parts are poisonous.I wouldn’t use the bark, but could be wrong.

  3. Lisa says:

    Where I live, these grow very fast and very well. I’ve got one in my yard. 12 feet in one year and loaded with berries! I actually pick the berries and then cook them, strain them (so many seeds), then simmer down with cane sugar or honey to make a syrup. It’s time-consuming but we get bottles and bottles of this just in time for cold season every year. And that’s from one plant!

  4. toni says:

    My husband grew up on elderberry preserves. He hadn’t had it for years and remembered after I bought some sambucol tonight, as he is coming down with something.

  5. Steve says:

    Hi, iam thinking of using this black elderberry extract to make liposomal encapsulated sambucol using non gmo lecithin and ultrasonic machine same as I make the liposomal encapulated vitamin C,just wondering if anyone else has tried this.

  6. Isadora says:

    Thank you for this informative post! Elderberry is very common in Central Europe (where I live) and used in many traditional recipes. It’s good to remember how healthy it is! And I again I’m awed how effective and great some things from Mother Nature are, even more so than what’s produced in some pharma labs…

  7. ER RN says:

    parents are bringing their children into the ER from oversedation from this. Please use your brains and dont dose your kids with things off of the internet people

    • Rachel says:

      Above statement is absolutely NOT true. This medicine has been around for years and isn’t something simply touted over the internet. Tamiflu rep perhaps?

      • jen says:

        I wish i could “like” your comment.

        It’s like overdosing on strawberries

        • Lori says:

          They would have to have their kids drinking bottles of it everyday for that kind of effects. BUT I have overdosed on strawberries….many trips to the bathroom. But I asked for it.

  8. Chelsea Randolph says:

    We have been making our own elderberry syrup because ut is so much cheaper than buying sambucol. It is like a miracle at stopping colds/flue/sore throats in their tracks. I take 1 tbsp twice daily for prevention and 1tbsp every 3-4 hours at the first sign of illness until 1-2 days after symptoms are gone. My 2 year old girl takes it the same way but 1 tsp. Neither of us (including my mother who takes in the same fashion when she feels one of her sinus infections coming on) have had cold or flu symptoms that lasted more than one day. We use this recipe from Real Food RN: http://www.realfoodrn.com/homemade-elderberry-syrup/

  9. TLR says:

    I recently started using this, and find it effective for relieving symptoms of what would appear to be a seasonal cold. My question is for someone like Chelsea, who is taking this routinely “for prevention” and yet still ends up getting some sort of cold/flu regardless and subsequently increasing your dosage. Given what you’ve stated, would it be logical to assume that “for prevention” is unnecessary, and that the real benefit is gained only when you come down with (cold/flu)?

  10. john ennis says:

    On the Doctor OZ show today he mentioned that black elderberry syrup can help with mucus. Iam border line C.O.P.D. with asthma, my problem with breathing is compounded with excessive mucus. Besides my inhalers I take both mucinex and mucinex d to try and loosen my constant nasal congestion as well as three times daily use a nasal rinse. Has anyone used the elderberry syrup and had success with chronic mucus ? Thank you

  11. Agnes Poncardas says:

    For prevention can I take sambucol indefinitely.

  12. Tom says:

    Where do you get elderberries? Where do they grow and not grow? I live in Tennessee and I don’t see any.

  13. RJ says:

    Can this be used daily as a preventative or is it more beneficial as a treatment for flu/cold? i am planning on making my own, however i am not sure if i should use and give to kids daily or just when we feel like we are getting sick.

    thanks so much for the information.

    • Daisy Luther says:

      RJ ~

      It’s my understanding that this is NOT a preventative, but is to be used after someone begins to have symptoms.


  14. Lori says:

    I use 1 TB daily in a smoothie of spinach, grapefruit juice, carrots, bananas, blueberries and 1/2avacado organic raw honey. ice. DELISH

  15. ana says:

    i was advised to use elderberry syrup 1 tsp 2 times a day to bolster immune system and for flu prevention. so far so good but there is always tomorrow!

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