Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Herbal Medicine: The Elder Queen

Black Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis
©William Needham, The Hiker's Notebook

No doubt you've heard about how "the flu is worse than it has ever been" and "holy crapballs, you better give us your money and get a flu shot that contains mercury (Thimerosal preservative), could very well make you wretchedly sick (though they insist it doesn't), give you Guillain-Barr√© Syndrome (verified by the CDC) or narcolepsy (thanks swine flu jab)!!!!"

I have no doubt vaccines, like most things, started with good intentions.  Obviously nobody wants their children or themselves to die of any disease.  That would be heart breaking and earth shattering for anyone.  But far too many people have experienced first hand that permanently impairing their child's development or their own personal health--mental, physical, or both--for life is a cruel, debilitating, expensive and avoidable consequence in the case of vaccine induced "injuries."  Hence the turn around in the status quo attitude about vaccinations as they are presently administered.  This shift has led to the awful backlash from the vaccine industry labeling anyone who refuses a vaccination as a "threat to society," "dangerous" and a "child abuser" among other ridiculous, bullying, false accusations.

So what if you don't want a shot and you get the influenza virus this year?  Or let's say you do get the shot and you still contract the flu...are you helpless?  At the mercy of fate?  Is there anything you can do?  Is there anything that can shorten the life of the virus?

Smile and rejoice, because the answer is a delicious YES!  Elderberry, the tasty fruit of the Elder Tree, Sambucus nigra, has been proven to kill the virus by disabling its ability to attach and replicate itself in cells, thus shortening the span of the illness drastically.  When I say drastically, I mean the duration is cut more than 50% if you begin taking it at the first sign of symptoms.  So we are talking 2-3 days of misery instead of 7 or more!!!  That deserves a little dance, don't you think?  Our American variety is Sambucus canadensis and is interchangeable, if not a little more medicinal than the European Sambucus nigra.  There is also a blue variety in the Pacific Northwest/West, Sambucus caerulea that may be used as well.

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea
©2005 Walter Siegmund

Scientific studies seem to not have explored taking Elderberry every day as a preventative, but tradition in Folk Medicine holds that you may do so effectively.  1 tsp. of Elderberry syrup a day is regarded as the generally effective preventative dose for an adult.  Some people make Elderberry jelly and put it on their toast at breakfast.

Elderberry is antiviral, active against the influenza viruses (flu), rhinoviruses (colds) and herpes simplex viruses (cold sores and their below-the-belt equivalent).  The berries of the black variety are a dark purple, indicating their high anthocyanin level.  Anthocyanins are pigments that are antioxidants, and Elderberries far surpass the antioxidant capacity of blueberries, cranberries and most other fruits!  The seeds are slightly toxic but are rendered safe during cooking.  The flowers have no toxicity in any stage.  People make Elderberry pies and jams.  Jellies, wines and syrups are also made.  All of these have the medicinal properties of the berries.

The flowers are also antiviral and they have the benefit of being diaphoretic, which means they will produce or break a fever, as necessary.  You may be familiar with the liqueur St~Germain...it's made with Elder flowers!

Elder Flowers
©J.M.Garg

Elderberry syrup is safe to take during pregnancy, is safe for babies (baby doses) and the elderly.  In fact, the lore of the Elder Tree is that it is ruled by the Elder Mother, who guards the gates of Life and Death.  She is the Queen who reigns over the Underworld.  When you think about the flu, those particularly vulnerable to die from the illness are babies, the elderly and the infirmed.  Typically it is not the flu, but its secondary infection friend, pneumonia, that kills in these cases.  The Elder Mother offers her medicinal protection against the primary illness to these fragile people with her berries and flowers.

The bark of the Elder Tree is mildly toxic.  Please do not use it internally as medicine.  It once was a common practice to make a flute from the hollow branches, though making children's cradles out of the Elder Tree was considered foolish, because it was believed that the Elder Mother would steal your baby's life away in the night for cutting down her tree.  There is a variety of Elder, Red Elder (Sambucus racemosa) that is toxic with red berries.  Red Elder is not safe for use of any kind--flute, syrup or otherwise.

There are many versions of Elderberry syrup on the market today which you can find at any health food store.  Store bought syrups taste fair, but they are delicious if you make them at home with cinnamon, ginger and honey.  At the store you can also find tinctures of Elderberries, Elder Flowers, and teas.  Jams are sold, wines, and liqueurs, though they are harder to find.

Every year when my daughter has started with a runny nose, I have given her Elderberry syrup.  So far, both times it has happened, the runny nose was gone within 24-48 hours and no other symptoms developed.  When she was under one I would take Elderberry syrup as a preventative through the winter and she would get it through my milk.

A guideline for dosing of syrup when you have contracted a cold or the flu is 1 Tbs for a teenager/adult, every 2-3 hours for the first two days, and then cut back to 1 tsp 3-5 times a day until symptoms are gone.  For children ages 2-10 would be around 1 tsp. 3-4 times a day at onset, then cut back to 1/2 tsp. 3-4 times a day, the more frequent dosing for older children.  You can also follow the dosing on the bottle (which tends to be around 1 tsp., 3-5 times a day) but I think it best to take higher doses for the first couple of days as the virus has had plenty of time to incubate and take hold before symptoms appeared, unbeknownst to you. Mothers of newborn babes can take the syrup at adult dosing levels and the babies will receive it through her breast milk.  It is a safe and effective form of administration.  Babies around 12-23 mos. can have 1/4 tsp 2-3 times a day.

Keep in mind dosing can be flexible, especially for older children and adults.  A slice of Elderberry pie is obviously much more than the equivalent of a few teaspoons of syrup a day and is completely safe to eat.

It is important to remember that children under 1 are not supposed to have honey.

I also recommend the homeopathic Oscillococcinum.  One year I had that but not Elderberry syrup on hand and it was very successful at alleviating symptoms.  There is also a coupon on their website! Yeahhh rock on.

I hope this flu season is now a little less scary for you.  If you'd like to learn about more antivirals, how to make syrup, or make it formulated to alleviate a variety of cold and flu symptoms, please sign up for the Cold & Flu Herbal Care Intensive that I am teaching at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, Ohio!  You can read more details under the post Herbal Medicine Courses for Winter/Spring Semester 2013.

This information is not intended to be a replacement for advice from a licensed medical professional.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


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