The People's Perspective on Medicine

Have You Tried Elderberry to Ease Your Cold Symptoms?

Elderberry rob. a homemade concentrate of berries and spices, is used as a type of hot toddy to ease cold symptoms. Have you tried it?
Sambucus berries. Common names include elder, elderberry, black european elder, European elderberry, European black elderberry. Black sambucus berries & leaves growing on tree or shrub. Fruit cluster

What is your favorite cold remedy? Sometimes people rely on drugstore products, but they may not be aware of the potential side effects from a multi-symptom cold product. We frequently prefer home remedies, such as chicken soup or thyme tea. A reader recently reminded us about elderberry, a botanical product that has been used for decades or longer.

Elderberry Rob for Cold Symptoms:

Q. Now that we are into cold season, it’s a pity that my favorite remedy isn’t better known. Elderberry rob is a traditional treatment for coughs and colds. To make this, elderberries are boiled with honey, cinnamon and allspice and the resulting syrup is strained and mixed with a little brandy as a preservative. A few spoonfuls of this mixed into hot water usually reduces cold symptoms very effectively.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) grows wild in many places in North America. I suspect that the homemade syrup probably retains more of the plant’s properties than most over-the-counter Sambucus preparations.

A. Elderberry juice preparations have long been used to treat respiratory infections.

Although it is not well studied, an analysis concluded that

“Supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms” (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Feb. 2019). 

An Australian study found that air travelers taking elderberry were less prone to colds and had milder symptoms (Nutrients, March 24, 2016). Some Sambucus compounds prevent viruses from replicating or attaching themselves to respiratory tract tissues (Virus Research, Nov. 2019). This research utilized an Asian species of Sambucus, while the clinical trial investigators used S. nigra, a European species. However, the American S. canadensis is similar.

Our reader is right that S. canadensis grows in many places, especially if they are a bit damp. Bushes in our yard bear lots of flowers that we collect and dry. In the winter, we use them to make a pleasant tea to calm a cough.

Whether making a rob as described or other any other preparation, be sure to use only ripe berries and do not include stems or leaves. Cyanide-related compounds in the stems can be toxic. You can learn more about this herb here

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Colds, Coughs & the Flu
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Download 8 pages of natural approaches to treating colds, including zinc, vitamin C and herbs. Recipes for ginger tea, hot toddies and a powerful chicken soup.

Colds, Coughs & the Flu
Citations
  • Hawkins J et al, "Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials." Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Feb. 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004
  • Tiralongo E et al, "Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial." Nutrients, March 24, 2016. DOI: 10.3390/nu8040182
  • Weng JR et al, "Antiviral activity of Sambucus FormosanaNakai ethanol extract and related phenolic acid constituents against human coronavirus NL63." Virus Research, Nov. 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.virusres.2019.197767
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