You’ve heard about elderberry’s health benefits, and some of your friends swear by its use during cold and flu season. But should you give it to your kids? Learn about the researched health effects of elderberry products, plus safety, dosing, and more. So you can decide if this popular supplement is right for your family.
When cold and flu season arrives, some families stock up on elderberry products as a way to protect themselves from all the icky germs getting passed around.
So does it work? Is it safe for kids? And how do you use it, anyway? Here’s the scoop on this dark purple fruit.
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry is a shiny purple berry from the European elder tree. These berries have been used for generations as a traditional medicine to treat a wide variety of illnesses. And they’ve been getting a lot of attention in recent years as an evidence-based treatment for certain health conditions.
Elderberry and COVID-19
As the spread of coronavirus increases, a lot of us are looking to solutions that may help protect us. You might be wondering, ‘Can elderberry help fight off COVID-19?’
The answer is that we don’t know. Since the coronavirus is new, there just isn’t adequate research to conclude if elderberry might have protective effects. Preliminary research suggests that elderberry MAY have some positive effects in the early stages of COVID-19 infection. But it could potentially be harmful as the infection progresses, since elderberry could cause the immune system to react too strongly.
Please talk to your doctor about using this supplement, and know that the only proven way of preventing COVID-19 infection is avoiding contact with others who may be infected.
Researched Health Benefits of Elderberry
Elderberry remedies aren’t just popular because they’re “natural.” A few peer-reviewed studies support the use of this antioxidant-rich berry to improve our health in various ways. For example, elderberry may improve heart health and reduce the risk of cancer, because of its high antioxidant content.
For a lot of parents with young kids, the most compelling use of elderberry is to ease and/or prevent colds and flu. So let’s look at what the research says about elderberry and acute illness:
- In this study, air travelers who took elderberry extract before their flight experienced fewer and less severe colds than travelers who took a placebo.
- This study found that people with the flu experienced shorter illness and less severe symptoms by taking elderberry syrup four times a day, starting at the beginning of their illness.
- Researchers from the University of Sidney found that elderberry blocks proteins in the flu virus from attaching to host cells. This could explain why it seems to fight flu.
These studies are exciting, but the field of elderberry research is still new! We’re looking forward to learning more about the health effects of this plant.
Is it Safe for Kids?
The short answer is “Yes.” Elderberry is a fruit that has a long history of safe consumption. Still, there are a few things to consider when you’re thinking of giving this supplement to kids.
- Most research into elderberry has focused on health effects in adults. There’s not a 100% guarantee that it doesn’t have side effects in kids that we just don’t know about yet.
- Certain parts of the elderberry plant (like the back and berries) are toxic if they’re eaten raw or not prepared correctly. Choosing commercially-prepared elderberry products is one way of avoiding the risk of improperly-prepared fruit.
- This article from WebMD warns that people with autoimmune disorders should avoid elderberry, because elderberry can boost immune function (therefore worsening autoimmune issues.)
- If you’re using commercial elderberry products, make sure to follow the recommended dosing instructions on the package.
Ways of Taking Elderberry
Elderberry products are available in syrups, gummies, lozenges, and capsules.
You can give your kids a small daily dose of elderberry during cold and flu season to strengthen their immune system. Or you can use it only during an acute illness like cold and flu.
Some people like to make their own syrup from the dried berries, but these homemade syrups are typically less concentrated than commercial elderberry products. They might be less effective at preventing colds and flu.
Finally, remember that elderberry is a tool, but not a miracle cure. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and washing hands after school are all smart ways of combating colds and flu this season, too.
Where Can I Buy Elderberry?
You can find elderberry products in the supplement aisle at most natural foods stores. More and more large-chain supermarkets are also carrying elderberry products. You can also order them online–Vitacost has a good selection.
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I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie