The Tiny Berry That Can Help Fight Cancer, Flu, and More!


I've long been a fan of multipurpose products; why spend precious resources on something that only serves one purpose, when you have the option of using something that has multiple benefits?

Enter the humble elderberry. A large shrub native to North America and Europe, the tiny black berries of Sambucus Nigra are powerfully antiviral and rich in anthocyanins, some of the worlds most potent antioxidants. Antioxidants have been found to protect healthy cells while making cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.(1)

Elderberry is especially popular during cold and flu season, as elderberry inactivates virus cells making it a valuable tool in preventing and healing different influenza strains as well as colds.

But that's not all elderberry can do. In 2001 researchers at Hadassah Oncology Lab in Israel found elderberry to be a potent immune stimulator stating it "could also have an immunoprotective and immunostimulatory effect when admitted to cancer or AIDS patients in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments."(2)

In 2011 researchers found elderberry extract also has the ability to fight gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.(3) And in 2016, Australian researchers, in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving international airline travelers, found duration of colds in the elderberry group were at least 2 days shorter than in the placebo group. (4)

Two days may not seem significant, but when you're laid low by a nasty upper respiratory virus, shortening the duration of illness by two days feels miraculous!

As a folk remedy, elderberry is thought to ease back pain; prevent cardiovascular disease by reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol; reduce inflammation in the urinary tract and bladder; is good for nerve disorders; and can treat chest and nasal congestion, constipation, yeast infections, and asthma.

Talk about a multitasker!

Now that fall and winter are upon us, and with it an increase in cold and flu bugs, I keep a steady supply of elderberry syrup on hand. I like knowing that my family and I are consuming a safe, natural, nutrient-dense product that can prevent viruses and shorten their duration and help our immune systems fight cancer.

While elderberry extract and syrup can be purchased online or in your local health food store, I like to make my own. Not only is it easy to make and much more affordable than purchasing, but then I know exactly what ingredients are in the final product.

I've tried a few different recipes over the years, but this is the one I like best:

Elderberry Syrup

2 cups dried, organic elderberries
4 cups filtered water
1 large knob of organic, fresh ginger, coursely chopped
1 organic cinnamon stick
1 packed cup pitted organic dates, or 1 cup local raw honey added after syrup has cooled and been strained*

*If you follow a ketogenic or low-carbohydrate lifestyle, you can substitute the honey or the dates for 1/2 to 1 cup powdered erythritol.

Place all ingredients (except honey, if using) in a saucepan and bring to boil, then immediately reduce heat to lowest setting. With lid on saucepan, leave to simmer at least one hour. My syrup usually simmers at least two hours.

Once syrup has simmered, remove from heat and allow to cool. I then use my immersion blender to mash up the stewed fruit, though this step is not mandatory.

Strain the liquid with a mesh strainer. In the photos you'll see I use a weight to press as much liquid from the fruit as possible. Then I put the solids in butter muslin or a clean tea towel, and squeeze out all the remaining liquid. Notice in the photos, I squeezed out nearly 1 extra cup of syrup! Now is the time to add honey, if you choose. The left over solids can be composted, though I feed them to my chickens who heartily enjoy them.

Store syrup in a glass jar in the refrigerator, and take 1 Tablespoon daily. If you feel a cold coming on, increase to 1 T every 1 to 2 hours throughout the day.

One caution: Elderberries must be cooked to be consumed; they contain a substance similar to cyanide and can be toxic if eaten raw.

Wishing you well,


(1) Antioxidants and Other Nutrients Do Not Interfere With Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy and Can Increase Kill and Increase Survival, Parts 1 and 2, Drs. Simone, Alternative Therapies, Jan/Feb 2007, Vol 13, #1, and March/April 2007, Vol 13, #2.

(2) The effect of Sambucol, a Black Elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory Cytokines, European Cytokine Network, 2001 April-June;12(2): 290-6.

(3) Inhibitory Activity of a standardized Elderberry Extract against clinically relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011 Feb 25.

(4) Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2016 Apr; 8(4): 182.