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We’re all looking for the magic bullet to cure or prevent a cold or the flu. Herbs and medicine like echinacea and elderberries are often hyped as ways to keep from getting sick, especially in the winter. But do they work? While they certainly don’t replace a flu shot, studies have shown that they can be beneficial at protecting against the common flu and cold. While elderberries have been used in traditional medicine for years, modern science gives us some clues as to why.
“They are rich in flavonoids quercetin and anthocyanidins, which are rich in antioxidants that protect your cells from damaging free radicals,” explains Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN, chef, nutritionist, Reiki master, and founder of the Culinary Alchemy program. “Quercetin have properties that can protect against viruses, inflammation, and carcinogens. Anthocyanidins, a kind of plant pigment, are known for their anti-inflammatory benefits.”
Poon also notes that studies have linked elderberries specifically to reducing the upper respiratory symptoms from cold and flu as well as reducing cold duration and severity. Poon recommends elderberries as preventative medicine, citing them as a low-risk way to protect yourself. It is important to note, however, that no studies have been done on elderberries and COVID-19, and elderberries do not replace CDC-endorsed measures like wearing a mask or social distancing.
While there are lots of good reasons to consider adding elderberry to your diet, you are going to be hard-pressed to find them for sale in the produce section. Raw elderberries are toxic, so that’s actually a good thing. Instead, you’ll find elderberries in different supplements and syrup. Poon recommends syrups as an easy way to get elderberry benefits but cautions that not all syrups and pills are created equal.
“It is really important to do your research on any supplement, including elderberry syrups or capsules,” she says. When shopping either online or at your local health store, Poon has some tips for what to look out for: products that are certified organic, with transparent outsourcing practices, and that have third-party testing or certifications. She also recommends looking for supplements free from animal products, gluten, soy, and dairy.
While that may sound like a lot to look out for, Poon notes that it’s fairly easy to find high-quality elderberry syrups online. But if you want something now, there are also other immune-boosting foods you can find at your local grocery store. Poon recommends zinc and vitamin C during cold and flu season, which should be in any drugstore vitamin aisle. Taken alone or with elderberry supplements, these vitamins and minerals can provide a much-needed wellness boost during a time of the year when we’re all worried about catching colds and the flu.