Protect yourself from the flu: A new kind of ‘flu shot’

Feb. 06, 2013 @ 03:57 AM

Reports released earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta indicate that the flu season may be off to its latest start in nearly three decades.

According to the CDC, the first week of February revealed an increase in the number of samples testing positive for the virus —10.5 percent this week versus 7.6 percent the week before. Health officials are encouraging people to get their flu shot quickly, to help reduce their chances of getting sick this season.

All of this reminded me of a photograph that recently caught my eye. The image showed shot glasses filled with a dark purple liquid and had the caption “Flu Shots.” Certainly not an alcohol-based medicine, I later discovered that the substance was in fact elderberry syrup, and is used as an immune-system booster as well as a natural remedy for symptoms of the flu.

The ancient story of the elderberry tree stems from the early American settlers. They were encouraged to cultivate Elder trees in the New World because the trees had earned their nickname as the “complete medicine chests.” Each part of the tree could be used for a different medicinal purpose; the flowers, the bark, the root, the leaves and the dark purple berries. With limited space, time and resources, early settlers learned to appreciate the elderberry tree in an entirely new way.

The most common use for elderberry is as a preventative during cold and flu season. With its reputation for supporting healthy respiratory and immune systems, it is no surprise elderberry products have grown in popularity. Walk down the aisle of any health food store during cold and flu season, and elderberry syrup, extracts and capsules can be found. Elderberry syrup is a particular favorite, especially among children. Its sweet, rich, honey base tastes much better than conventional cold and flu medicines, without causing concern about side effects or harmful ingredients.

Packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A and bioflavonoids, elderberries are the number one go-to when feeling the first symptoms of the cold or flu. They have immune-system-boosting properties that help the body fight off infections before they have time to settle in. Perhaps this is where the Elder tree gets its name, as those who prevent illness early on often grow to be “elders!”

If the flu does make an ugly appearance, the chances of recovering are far greater with elderberry’s aid. In one clinical study published in the March 2004 issue of The Journal of International Medical Research, researchers found that when patients were given elderberry syrup, their symptoms subsided up to four days earlier than the control group given placebos. The ages of the patients ranged from 54 to 18, making elderberry syrup a great resource for college students living in close quarters.

Although elderberry syrup can be expensive, the great news is that it is easy enough to make in your own kitchen. With just a few ingredients, you can whip up a batch for yourself and your loved ones in an afternoon.

All you need to make your own elderberry syrup is:

• 1 ounce fresh or dried elderberries

• About 1 cup of honey (preferably locally-sourced, but any honey on hand will do)

• 2 cups water

• Other herbs you would like to include to add spice or extra immune-boosting properties, such as ginger, cloves, or cinnamon. (Optional)

1. Add the elderberries (and optional herbs, if you are using them) to the water. Bring to a boil stirring occasionally, and simmer until the liquid reduces by about half the original amount.

2. Once you have reduced the liquid, strain and pour the mixture into a measuring cup to see how much remains.

3. Add an equal amount of honey to the reduced liquid (For example, if you have 1 cup of liquid, add 1 cup of honey). Stir slowly until the honey mixes with the warm liquid.

4. Let the syrup cool, and pour it into a dark container. Label it and store in the refrigerator for up to three months.

5. Take one teaspoon a day to prevent sickness. Take two teaspoons two to three times a day when you feel a cold or flu coming on.

One bag of dried elderberries can provide you and your loved ones with delicious elderberry syrup for an entire winter. Once you taste it, you will never want to go back to conventional cold and flu syrups again!


Morgan Osburn is an adjunct professor of English Gardner-Webb University. She is a graduate of Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C. When she is not teaching, tutoring, or working at the bookstore in her community, she enjoys studying herbal medicine and remedies.