Elderberry for the Cold and Flu

Elderberries. Nicole Faton/Moment Open/Getty Images

What Is Elderberry:

Elderberry is a supplement used in teas, liquid extracts or capsules as a natural or herbal remedy for a variety of symptoms.

Elderberry comes from the cooked black or blue berries of the European Elder tree. Although other varieties of the Elder tree exist and grow throughout the world, the European Elder is most often used in supplements.

Elderberry For Flu and Cold Symptoms:

Traditionally, elderberry has been used to treat symptoms of the flu, colds, sinus infections, fevers, constipation, coughs, pain, swelling, skin problems and infections.

Current scientific research on the efficacy of elderberry for cold and flu symptoms has been inconclusive. Some small studies have shown a possible benefit when used for the flu, but more research is needed and the evidence was not strong enough to recommend use of the supplement.

Side Effects:

Just because a product is labeled as natural or herbal does not mean it is safe and without side effects.

If you are using berries from the Elder tree, only ripe blue/black berries are edible and they must be cooked. Unripe or uncooked elderberries can cause nausea, severe diarrhea and vomiting because they are toxic.

The elder flower may be a diuretic, so be sure to talk to your health care provider before you take it, especially if you have kidney problems or are taking other medications that may cause frequent urination. This includes elder flower contained in commercially produced supplements.

Bottom Line:

There is no conclusive evidence that elderberry is effective in preventing or treating the flu, common cold or any other illness. Although it has been used as an herbal medical treatment for years, the studies done on it have not shown any true benefit.

If you choose to take any herbal or natural supplement, talk with your health care provider about everything you use to manage your health.

Herbs and supplements can interact with other medications you are taking and each other, so it is important to discuss all of it with your health care team.

More about other natural and herbal cold and flu remedies:


"European Elder" Herbs at a Glance Apr 2012. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services. 21 Jul 13.

"The Flu, the Common Cold, and Complementary Health Approaches" National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Apr 13. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services. 21 Jul 13.

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