The best medicine for the flu is prevention. In our house, that doesn’t mean a flu shot. It means we cook up a batch of homemade elderberry syrup each Autumn to get through the cold and flu season.
Our family rarely gets sick, but one Christmas our extended family was all hit with the flu (thanks to my SIL who started a new job at a family practice office at the height of cold and flu season!), and it was rough.
The flu is terrible!
Besides the unfortunate timing of getting sick on Christmas Eve and suffering through Christmas festivities while traveling away from home and being pregnant, the effects of the flu lingered for weeks.
What About The Flu Shot?
Mainstream doctors and the media will tell you that the flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu. I’m not convinced.
The CDC’s own studies show that in a good year, when the flu vaccine is well-matched with the most circulating viruses, the flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu illness by 40 to 60 percent.
In 2016-17, the vaccine’s effectiveness for the dominant influenza A (H3N2) was 43 percent. Back in 2014-15, the vaccine’s effectiveness was a dismal 19 percent. The outlook for 2017 already has experts worried.
Besides the fact that it may not work, the flu vaccine is filled with substances never meant to enter our bodies.
I spend hours upon hours cooking well-balanced, organic meals for my children and do my best to make sure we are taking care of their bodies- why would I willingly inject them with formaldehyde to “prevent” the flu?
If you have never read a vaccine insert before, it’s pretty eye-opening. Each doctor’s office usually stocks one or two formulations of the flu shot so you’ll need to ask which one your doctor has and check the CDC’s list to view the insert. Here’s the insert for the version formulated for children this year.
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Prevent The Flu Naturally With Elderberry Syrup
The year after we suffered through Christmas with the flu, I went on the offensive to prevent us from getting sick the next year. One of the natural remedies I kept hearing about was elderberry syrup.
I bought an expensive bottle of Nature’s Way Elderberry Syrup, and our whole family started taking it.
What’s special about elderberries?
- They’re high in vitamin A & vitamin C, both important in keeping the immune system strong;
- They contain flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties;
- They’re known to be anti-inflammatory;
- They may help treat cold and flu symptoms by reducing congestion and possibly making you sweat more.
In a nutshell, elderberry syrup strengthens the immune system via:
- enhanced cytokine production
- delivering antioxidant flavonoids
- viral suppression
Making Homemade Elderberry Syrup
When I went to Whole Foods to find elderberry syrup for the first time, I was shocked at the price.
It is easy and much less expensive to make your own elderberry syrup at home with three simple ingredients: dried elderberries, honey and water.
I start with a simple recipe, but you can add in the optional spices for more flavor and immune-boosting properties.
About the ingredients
Elderberries: You can purchase organic dried elderberries online from Amazon or Mountain Rose Herbs, but the most economical way is through a Frontier Co-Op if you have one locally. I have also seen them at our local natural grocery store.
Honey: I typically use a raw, unfiltered local-ish honey from Costco for all of my baking. Raw, unfiltered, truly local honey has immune-boosting properties against seasonal allergies and it’s what I prefer to use in my elderberry syrup. I usually buy this at a local farmer’s market. It’s more than double the price of the Costco honey, but worth it when I’m focusing on the immune system.
Since the honey I used was more expensive, I contemplated just using less. We don’t eat much sugar, and I didn’t think losing out on some of the sweetness would matter to us. After some research, I determined that you need more than a one-to-one ratio of honey-to-elderberries was necessary for the honey to act as a preservative and keep the finished product fresh for several months.
Water: Tap water is full of stuff we shouldn’t be drinking including chlorine, fluoride and metals. We have a reserve osmosis filter, and you should definitely use filtered water for making elderberry syrup.
1 cups dried elderberries
8 cups filtered water
1.5 cups raw, local honey
Optional: Cinnamon stick, cloves, fresh ginger
Note: You can make more or less than this, but I tend to prefer to make bigger batches. The exact amounts aren’t critical. You’ll just want to maintain a ratio of about 2 cups of water for every 1/4 cup of elderberries along with more than a 1-1 ratio of honey to elderberries. I usually aim for almost double the amount of honey than elderberries.
Place dried elderberries, filtered water and optional spices in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on medium-low for 30 minutes to an hour. Mash the elderberries to release any remaining juice. Strain the mixture into a glass bowl using a fine mesh strainer.
When the liquid has come to room temperature, gently stir in the raw honey and mix thoroughly. Pour into small jars, label and store in the refrigerator for several months.
Some Useful Notes
Elderberries stain. Be sure to keep your prepared elderberry syrup in the refrigerator or it will ferment (ask me how I know!). Mason jars or amber bottles are great for storing your prepared syrup, just be sure to wash and sanitize them to prevent mold growth and spoilage.
Using Elderberry Syrup for Flu Prevention
Elderberry is a powerful herb. Do your own research.
For my family, we follow our local herbalist’s advice on dosing, which is “big people=big spoon, little people=little spoon.”
Many people swear by taking a dose of elderberry daily, but I have read some information to caution against stimulating the immune system too much.
Moderation is a good guideline for just about anything, so stick with giving it when we feel sickness coming on. If we get sick, we will give a dose of elderberry syrup every few hours until symptoms subside.
A Word of Caution
If you have an autoimmune disease, a child on the autism spectrum or a compromised immune system, elderberry might not be a good choice.
Consult your doctor and do your own research as there may be some evidence that elderberry does more harm than good for an out-of-balance immune system. Modern Alternative Mama has a great post with detailed research into this here.