Updated: Jan 27
I think it is fair to say we are SO over hearing about transmissible illnesses. No one wants to talk about Covid-19 anymore. And the flu almost feels like an afterthought.
And yet, here we are. The flu still exists. And it sucks.
So, whether you want to do everything you can to prevent the flu, or you just want to know how to treat the flu naturally if you do get it, this is the article for you.
Way back in 2017-2018, we had the flu in our house 3 times in a 12-month period.
Needless to say, I did a thorough review of the literature to figure out the best way to prevent and treat the flu from ever showing its face in our home again.
At the time of writing, there are no published studies evaluating the use of elderberry and Covid-19.
I am not one to stand up and scream my opinion on hot topics... but if you want my opinion on the flu shot... keep reading.
I get the flu shot every year. My kids get the flu shot every year. My husband never got the flu shot until he had it twice within a year.
If there is a way to prevent getting the flu or lessen the symptoms if we do get the flu, you better believe I am going to get it. That’s my selfish reason for vaccinating.
My not selfish reason...? Herd immunity is the right thing to do to help our neighbors, coworkers, grocery store workers, and the rest of our community decrease the chance they get the flu as well.
A study from 2017 showed that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu-associated death in children by half (51%) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65%) among healthy children. Three out of four children who die from the flu are not vaccinated.
Elderberry and the Flu
Two words that should be glued together in your brain... flu and elderberry.
When my husband had the flu in 2017/2018, we didn’t initially realize it was the flu.... so he didn’t take Tamiflu or any alternative treatment. He was down for TWO solid weeks... like, sleep the entire day on Christmas, the week before, and the week after. When my son got the flu a few months later, I spotted it from a mile away, got a prescription for Tamiflu, took it to the pharmacy, and almost peed my pants when they told me it was going to cost $200. I was almost willing to shell out the $200 as I stood there with my credit card having flashbacks of my husband being down and out for TWO weeks... but decided to do some research into alternative ways to treat the flu to see if there were any other options.
At the time, I had no clue about the amazingness of elderberry.
This stuff is nature’s medicine! And it’s not just for those who want to believe it works. There is research showing its effectiveness.
How does Elderberry work?
It suppresses the virus from replicating... less virus = less symptoms (66% less) and shorter amount of time being sick (3-4 days to be exact).
It has an anti-inflammatory effect... also helping to decrease the amount and severity of symptoms (aches, pains, and fever).
It stimulates your immune system to battle the virus... greatly contributing to the decreased duration of symptoms (perhaps having the biggest impact!)
Elderberry vs Tamiflu
I am a nurse. And in my experience, many people who work in the medical field dismiss alternative forms of preventing and treating illnesses. Some health care providers laugh or roll their eyes when patients ask about alternative ways to stay or become healthy. Perhaps they just don’t know anything about alternative forms of medicine, so maybe that is their defense mechanism?
For me, as with all things in life, I am open-minded, and really lean on what has been scientifically proven to decide whether alternative or modern prevention/treatment is the best option for my family.
Of course, every situation is unique.
When determining whether alternative or modern medicine is the best option for you, you must consider your overall health and risks of anything you put in your body.
To provide a little perspective, let’s compare elderberry to Tamiflu.
Tamiflu shortens your flu symptoms by 1.5 days (compared to 3-4 days with elderberry).
Of course, Tamiflu has been tested much more rigorously than elderberry, has which allows it to have the stamp of approval from the FDA for treatment of the flu for children as young as 2 weeks old.
What Can You Treat With Elderberry?
Elderberry is pretty amazing if you ask me. It is a berry that is found in the wild that acts as an antiviral to prevent and treat
the flu (influenza virus),
herpes simplex virus type 1 (primarily cold sores on your mouth),
respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),
certain bacteria that can cause upper respiratory tract infections (aka the common cold).
What to Buy?
Of course, all of these studies are completed by testing standardized elderberry preparations – meaning preparations that have a particular concentration and composition of the berries.
This isn’t to say that homemade preparations won’t be effective... but, unless you are super scientific and know how to determine how many grams of elderberry you have per teaspoon, you can’t be sure that you have the correct concentration of elderberry to truly be effective.
So, what should you buy if you are buying a standardized elderberry syrup?
A few research studies chose a certain product, stating it was “high quality”. Assuming they did a good job vetting which preparations should be used, I just assume I use the same thing when treating my family.
Comes in liquid for the kiddos - Sambucol liquid extract
I have a hard time getting my kids to take this - even after mixing with applesauce or juice
Tablets for the adults - Sambucol tablets
I haven't tried the tablets, but the box says they are quick dissolving and taste good - so may work well for kiddos too
Based on our experience with icky flavors of the liquid and gummies, I would begin with the tablets for both kids and adults
For younger kids, try crushing and mixing into a small amount of applesauce, yogurt, ice cream, smoothie
My kids love the gummies and want to take more, if your kids are old enough for gummies, I'd get them a shot
How much: 4x/day (3.8 g/dose) - for treatment of the flu
NOTE this dose is for ADULTS! There should be instructions on all bottles for children of different ages.
Take within 12-24 hours of onset of symptoms to achieve the above results!
Prevention With Elderberry
Can or should you use elderberry for preventing the flu?
The short answer is sure!
I wasn't able to find any studies that tested if taking a specific amount of elderberry on a daily basis decreased the chance that people would get the flu. But theoretically, if you already have the elderberry in your system when you are exposed to the flu, it should help prevent the flu to binding to your cells and from replicating, just as it does if the flu is already present.
PLUS elderberry has anti-inflammatory properties AND stimulates your immune system - both of which are great whether you have the flu or not.
We just don't know how much to take on a regular basis to get these same effects.
Echinacea Hot Drink
One final recommendation for a natural treatment of the flu – because you never know when you are going to be unlucky enough to need this info.
Echinacea is an herb that, like other herbal supplements, can be found in many forms including teas, extracts, capsules, and more.
I found multiple convincing studies showing that an Echinacea Based Hot Drink (mixture of Echinacea extract + Elderberry extract) has a similar treatment effectiveness to Tamiflu.
Those treated with the Echinacea Hot Drink took slightly longer for their flu like symptoms to resolve (compared to Tamiflu), but symptoms were minimal by days 2-3 (similar to Tamiflu).
Echinacea reduced secondary bacterial infections (like pneumonia) even more than Tamiflu (6.5% of patients treated with Tamiflu had secondary illness vs just 2.5% of patients treated with Echinacea), and reduced the need for antibiotics similar to Tamiflu.
And the icing on the cake... there were no GI side effects with Echinacea, vs 10% of patients taking Tamiflu who have GI symptoms (that are sometimes severe enough to cause the patient to stop taking the Tamiflu).
What to buy?