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I Tried Taking Elderberry Daily and This Is What Happened

Photograph by Twenty20

This past fall was particularly brutal in terms of illness for my family. From October to December, my kids had back-to-back respiratory viruses. One week of snotty noses and up-all-night coughing swiftly followed by yet another. Oh my god, it was pure torture.

This kind of thing isn’t too unusual for us. My kids are school-age and schools are basically just giant petri dishes of germs. What was unusual, however, is that I somehow managed to catch each and every cold that made its way through our house. Usually, I just catch the occasional sniffle or nothing at all. I mean, I don’t have the immune system of a child. I’m a hearty, grown-ass woman.

Not this fall, though. This fall, I was a coughing, hacking, exhausted mess of a woman, and it was not OK. I wasn’t sure if it was my stress levels, lack of sleep or what, but after my third cold, I decided I was having none of it and really needed to do something to boost my immune system.

Although I consider myself “crunchy” and holistic in many ways, I am wary of out-there, "magic" health solutions that aren’t backed up by science. I’m sorry, but smothering essential oils all over myself isn’t going to do jack against a serious cold or flu. And it turns out that there isn’t much research to back up the use of essential oils or supposed immune-boosting herbs like echinacea.

However, it turns out that there is good research out there about the use elderberry supplements to boost your immune system. Elderberry comes from the flower of the same name, and can be purchased as a syrup, in dropper form, in pills or even gummies.

According to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, elderberry can reduce swelling in the nasal passages, and may have “anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-influenza and anticancer properties.” But perhaps even more convincing than that is a study published in Nutrients, which found that when patients took elderberry at the start of a cold, they had fewer symptoms and recovered two days sooner.

Whatever the case, it’s been a month now, and I stand by my trusty elderberry drops.

Want more? A study published in the Journal of International Medical Research found that taking elderberry within 48 hours of getting the flu can reduce your illness by as many as four days. Awesome, right?

The influenza study was something I experienced for myself a bunch of years ago when my family was hit with the flu. My kids and husband had taken elderberry but I hadn’t. (I always seem to think I’m tougher than I am!) My kids were only sick for two days, my husband didn’t get sick at all and I was sick for 10 horrible days.

So, at the beginning of December, after all the miserable colds, I ordered a nice new bottle of elderberry drops and started taking them daily. For a week or so, I took the “daily maintenance” amount (one dropper-full). Then, because it was bound to happen, my older child came down with a nasty cold a week before Christmas. At that point, I started taking the “intensive dose,” four dropper-fulls per day. I also made my little guy take some elderberry gummies.

I never came down with that nasty cold, and while my younger son caught it, he didn’t get it nearly as bad as his big brother did. Since then, we have been blessed with yet another cold—this one from my husband. It’s a minor-ish cold, but I did not get it and neither did anyone else in my house.

Maybe it’s just dumb luck. Maybe it’s because I’ve had my share of colds, and it’s just not my time for any more illness. Whatever the case, it’s been a month now, and I stand by my trusty elderberry drops. And goodness knows that if the flu comes knocking on our door next (which it very well might, given the season), everyone in my family will be pouring elderberry down their throats, including me.

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