Elderberry For Flu 2024: Does It Work & Other Things To Know

Elderberry For Flu
How to use elderberry to prevent and treat flu. Photo: Dragana Nastyaofly/Shutterstock

Each article is created without any external influence. When you use our provided links to buy products, we receive a commission as an affiliate. To understand how we generate revenue, please read our advertising disclaimer.

Amid the cold and flu season, it’s helpful to know about natural remedies. Vitamins like zinc[1] and vitamin C[2] have their place in helping to protect and support the immune system. However,  natural foods and supplements, such as elderberries, can alleviate colds and flu. 

Elderberry[3] is a dark purple berry that grows in shady, moist areas on various continents. Elderberry may improve the symptoms of the common cold or flu symptoms by strengthening the immune system but should be used with caution in patients suffering from COVID-19. 

Using elderberry for flu may reduce the severity and length[4] of the flu and associated symptoms.  Elderberry supplementation may also potentially aid in reducing the severity and length of influenza and the common cold with minimal side effects, particularly during air travel.[5]

Elderberry & Flu: Can The Former Treat The Latter?

Yes. Clinical studies show that influenza patients can reduce the duration[4] of the flu by taking elderberry. Common flu symptoms,[6] such as cough, nasal congestion, and sore throat can also be treated effectively with elderberry.

However, there is not sufficient evidence that elderberry can prevent the flu or related symptoms. Rather, it may help treat an existing flu.

Elderberry For Flu – Does It Work?

does elderberry help with flu?
Consume elderberry syrup during cold and flu season. Photo: Madeleine Steinbach/Shutterstock

Elderberry is believed to improve immune support to help fight the flu and possibly reduce the duration[7] of symptoms, but it does not prevent respiratory illnesses. Recent studies have shown no difference[8] in the severity or duration of flu symptoms in patients given elderberry or a placebo. 

Inhibits Pathogens

Anthocyanins,[7] a type of flavonoid in elderberries, reduces inflammation. These compounds inhibit pathogens[9] by blocking the flu virus from attaching to healthy cells, preventing infection. Additionally, elderberry may play a role in the interaction of the immune system with pathogens using peptic polysaccharides[10] found in the S. nigra fruit. 

Reduce Symptoms Of Flu And Length Of Flu

Other studies show that elderberry is more effective[4] than placebo for shortening flu duration. Similarly, elderberries may reduce symptoms[6] and length[5] of the common cold; elderberries can soothe cough, congestion, and sore throats. Flu symptoms such as fever, body aches, and mucus discharge can also improve[4] by taking elderberry. 

Stimulate The Immune System

Elderberry can stimulate immune system activity by increasing cytokines[11] — proteins that help immune cells communicate with each other. Studies demonstrate a positive correlation[7] between elderberries and cytokines. Not enough evidence supports theories that elderberries overstimulate the immune system and create a cytokine storm which would be important in treating patients for COVID-19.

Contain Antiviral Nutrients

Elderberry’s phytotherapeutic[12] and antiviral[9] properties may contribute to its effectiveness in treating flu. Its phytonutrients include potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin C. However, additional studies are needed[7] to yield more conclusive findings.

While elderberry is likely safe for most individuals, be aware of possible contraindications. It may not be a suitable replacement[8] for other flu or viral treatments such as Tamiflu. 

Do Elderberries Offer Other Health Benefits?

Yes. Elderberry is found in the cold and flu aisle. Known for minimizing the effects of upper respiratory symptoms, elderberry has other uses in traditional medicine. 

Treat Constipation

Elderberry can help alleviate constipation.[13] For good gut health, consider elderberry. Although safe for chronic constipation,[14] elderberry should be avoided when taking other laxatives. 

If you develop diarrhea, your doctor can advise you on how to get rid of diarrhea — they may suggest a change in diet, a digestive supplement, or a gut health drink

Reduce Inflammation One of the many benefits of berries, including elderberries, is that they are high in antioxidants.[15] Antioxidants are compounds that repair cell damage and reduce inflammation.[16] Reducing inflammation is the foundation of health[17] — managing diabetes, healing from cancer, and preventing neurological disorders all require reducing inflammation. 

Enhance Exercise Performance

Black elderberry can also be taken proactively for good health. Elderberry is a rich source of polyphenols,[18] including flavonoids, vitamin C, and folate, which can improve exercise performance[19] by increasing blood flow, reducing blood pressure, and improving heart function. Better and more consistent workouts can improve various aspects of health and longevity.[20]

Low In Sugar

Elderberries are lower in sugar than some other fruits. Animal studies suggest that elderberries may not pose[21] the same health consequences as high-glycemic fruits. Consume elderberries to provide nutrients without excess sugar that can lead to weight gain.[22]

Precautions To Keep In Mind

Precautions To Keep In Mind
Raw elderberries can be toxic. Photo: Nastyaofly/Shutterstock


Raw elderberries and other parts of the tree can be toxic.[23] Consuming large quantities of raw elderberry may cause serious illness.


While elderberry can be beneficial for colds and flu, this does not include COVID-19.[23] Elderberry is also not a suitable replacement for a flu vaccine but can be taken safely in addition.[4]

Cooking And Dosage

Buying elderberry syrup from a pharmacy or cooking[4] elderberries yourself can remove the toxins. Adults can safely take[4] a maximum of 10-15 grams of elderberry three times per day. Always consult a doctor first or follow the dosing instructions on the label.

Products And Supplements

Exercise caution when purchasing elderberry supplements. Dietary supplements[24] are not FDA-approved for the treatment or prevention of illness. Although supplements may be effective, they lack regulation standards for safety and efficacy.

Elderberry supplements are found in many forms: gummies, syrups, combination herbal supplements, lozenges, tinctures, and teas. Consuming elderberry as food can also take many forms: cooked berries, syrups, jams, sauces, and wines.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

The is no research on elderberry[25] effects on pregnant and breastfeeding women. If pregnant or breastfeeding, elderberry may not be suitable for you. 

Ask your doctor if elderberry is right for you. They may recommend that you consume elderberry as food or take an elderberry supplement. If elderberry or elderberry supplements are not right for you, your doctor may suggest other fruit and vegetable supplements with similar health benefits.


At the correct dosage, elderberry is a safe and natural remedy to treat colds and flu. While studies[7] are uncertain if elderberry can prevent[7] the flu, sufficient evidence suggests that it can lessen the duration of the flu and reduce flu symptoms. Specifically, the elderberry group reported significantly better symptom[6] outcomes than the placebo. 

Additionally, elderberry contains antioxidants that may improve exercise performance, reduced inflammation, and constipation. While elderberry is generally safe for most individuals, it should not be taken without the approval of a qualified medical professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does elderberry help with colds?

Yes. Elderberry can reduce the duration and severity of colds.

Is elderberry good if you’re already sick?

Yes. Elderberry may help lessen the intensity and length of symptoms and may help the cold or flu virus pass quickly.

Does elderberry break up mucus?

Yes. Studies suggest that cold and flu symptoms such as mucus discharge, cough, fever, and body aches can be reduced by taking elderberry extra

Who should not take elderberry?

The effects of elderberry fruit on pregnant and breastfeeding women are not known.

Is elderberry safe to take with other supplements?

Elderberry is likely safe to consume if you are taking other medications or supplements. However, you should always consult your doctor to ensure there are no contraindications.

+ 25 Sources

EHproject has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We work mostly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure accurate information. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  1. Min Xian Wang, Shwe Sin Win and Pang, J. (2020). Zinc Supplementation Reduces Common Cold Duration among Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials with Micronutrients Supplementation. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, [online] 103(1), pp.86–99. doi:https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.19-0718.
  2. Harri Hemilä and Chalker, E. (2023). Vitamin C reduces the severity of common colds: a meta-analysis. BMC Public Health, [online] 23(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-17229-8.
  3. Usda.gov. (2024). American Black Elderberry. [online] Available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/sambucus_nigra_l.shtml#:~:text=American%20black%20elderberry%20is%20usually,%2C%20Alaska%20and%20Hawai’i.
  4. Mohaddese Mahboubi (2020). Sambucus nigra (black elder) as alternative treatment for cold and flu. Advances in Traditional Medicine, [online] 21(3), pp.405–414. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s13596-020-00469-z.
  5. Tiralongo, E., Wee, S. and Rodney Arthur Lea (2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients, [online] 8(4), pp.182–182. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8040182.
  6. Hawkins, J., Baker, C., Cherry, L. and Dunne, E. (2019). Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, [online] 42, pp.361–365. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004.
  7. L. Susan Wieland, Piechotta, V., Feinberg, T., Ludeman, E., Hutton, B., Kanji, S., Seely, D. and Garritty, C. (2021). Elderberry for prevention and treatment of viral respiratory illnesses: a systematic review. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, [online] 21(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-021-03283-5.
  8. Macknin, M.L., Wolski, K., Negrey, J. and Mace, S.E. (2020). Elderberry Extract Outpatient Influenza Treatment for Emergency Room Patients Ages 5 and Above: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of General Internal Medicine, [online] 35(11), pp.3271–3277. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-020-06170-w.
  9. Mirela Lăcrămioara Mocanu and Amariei, S. (2022). Elderberries—A Source of Bioactive Compounds with Antiviral Action. Plants, [online] 11(6), pp.740–740. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/plants11060740.
  10. Stich, L., Plattner, S., McDougall, G.J., Austin, C. and Steinkasserer, A. (2022). Polysaccharides from European Black Elderberry Extract Enhance Dendritic Cell Mediated T Cell Immune Responses. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, [online] 23(7), pp.3949–3949. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23073949.
  11. S. Asgary and Alireza Pouramini (2022). The pros and cons of using elderberry (Sambucus nigra) for prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Advanced Biomedical Research, [online] 11(1), pp.96–96. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/abr.abr_146_21.
  12. Kena Premshankar Anshuman (2023). Phytochemicals: an immune booster against the pathogens. Elsevier eBooks, [online] pp.501–509. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-443-19143-5.00009-8.
  13. Karolina Młynarczyk, Dorota Walkowiak-Tomczak and Łysiak, G.P. (2018). Bioactive properties of Sambucus nigra L. as a functional ingredient for food and pharmaceutical industry. Journal of Functional Foods, [online] 40, pp.377–390. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2017.11.025.
  14. Paulo Dornelles Picon, Rafael, Andry Fiterman Costa, Guilherme Becker Sander, Karine Medeiros Amaral, Ana Lúcia Aboy and Amélia Teresinha Henriques (2010). Randomized clinical trial of a phytotherapic compound containing Pimpinella anisum, Foeniculum vulgare, Sambucus nigra, and Cassia augustifolia for chronic constipation. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, [online] 10(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-10-17.
  15. Ahmed Galal Osman, Bharathi Avula, Kumar Katragunta, Ali, Z., Chittiboyina, A.G. and Khan, I.A. (2023). Elderberry Extracts: Characterization of the Polyphenolic Chemical Composition, Quality Consistency, Safety, Adulteration, and Attenuation of Oxidative Stress- and Inflammation-Induced Health Disorders. Molecules, [online] 28(7), pp.3148–3148. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules28073148.
  16. Ferreira, S.S., Martins-Gomes, C., Nunes, F.M. and Silva, A.M. (2022). Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) extracts promote anti-inflammatory and cellular antioxidant activity. Food Chemistry: X, [online] 15, pp.100437–100437. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fochx.2022.100437.
  17. Furman, D., Campisi, J., Verdin, E., Carrera-Bastos, P., Targ, S., Franceschi, C., Ferrucci, L., Gilroy, D.W., Fasano, A., Miller, G.W., Miller, A.H., Mantovani, A., Weyand, C.M., Nir Barzilai, Goronzy, J.J., Rando, T.A., Effros, R.B., Lucía, A., Kleinstreuer, N. and Slavich, G.M. (2019). Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span. Nature Medicine, [online] 25(12), pp.1822–1832. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0.
  18. Zhang, H. and Tsao, R. (2016). Dietary polyphenols, oxidative stress and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Current Opinion in Food Science, [online] 8, pp.33–42. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cofs.2016.02.002.
  19. Kashi, D., Akbar Shabir, Mariasole Da Boit, Bailey, S.J. and Higgins, M.F. (2019). The Efficacy of Administering Fruit-Derived Polyphenols to Improve Health Biomarkers, Exercise Performance and Related Physiological Responses. Nutrients, [online] 11(10), pp.2389–2389. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102389.
  20. CDC (2023). Benefits of Physical Activity . [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm.
  21. Salvador, Â.C., Ewelina Król, Virgínia Carvalho Lemos, Sónia A.O. Santos, Fernanda, Carina Pedrosa Costa, Almeida, A., Dawid Szczepankiewicz, Bartosz Kulczyński, Zbigniew Krejpcio, Armando and RochaS.M. (2016). Effect of Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) Extract Supplementation in STZ-Induced Diabetic Rats Fed with a High-Fat Diet. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, [online] 18(1), pp.13–13. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18010013.
  22. Faruque, S., Tong, J., Vuk Lacmanovic, Agbonghae, C., Minaya, D.M. and Czaja, K. (2019). The Dose Makes the Poison: Sugar and Obesity in the United States – a Review. Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences, [online] 69(3), pp.219–233. doi:https://doi.org/10.31883/pjfns/110735.
  23. NCCIH. (2020). Elderberry. [online] Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/elderberry#:~:text=What%20Do%20We%20Know%20About,toxin%20may%20cause%20serious%20illness.
  24. Office (2023). Facts about Dietary Supplements. [online] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/rumor-control/facts-about-dietary-supplements#:~:text=Fact%3A%20Vitamins%2C%20minerals%2C%20herbs,subject%20to%20regulation%20as%20drugs.
  25. ‌Holst, L., Havnen, G.C. and Nordeng, H. (2014). Echinacea and elderberry—should they be used against upper respiratory tract infections during pregnancy? Frontiers in Pharmacology, [online] 5. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2014.00031.


A health coach specializing in Integrative Nutrition, I approach wellness with a holistic and functional medicine perspective. As a writer, I simplify intricate topics such as nutrition, gut and hormone health, mental well-being, and spiritual health,… See More