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Grow the 'Berry a Day' that Keeps Influenza Away!
If Elberberry Extract Can Beat theFlu, Won't Home Grown Berries Be Even Better?

As you know, we're going to have to get by on about half the amount offlu vaccine we would normally use this season. I'm forgoing the shot Iusually get, and I hope that other healthy individuals out there aredoing the same, so that the truly vulnerable among us can all bevaccinated. But there are more ways than just vaccines to avoid theflu, and so we delve into the world of herbal medicine this week.

Many of you know the good Dr. Jim Duke: PhD in botany from theUniversity of North Carolina in 1961, retired from the USDA in 1995after a long career researching the medical uses of wild plants in over50 countries, recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus award from UNC in2001, author of the million-copy selling book The Green Pharmacy(Rodale; 1997), old friend from my days as editor-in-chief of ORGANICGARDENING magazine, and popular guest on You Bet Your Garden.

Last year, I edited a piece he was writing in which he explained thatan herbal extract of European black elderberries had just passed itssecond clinical trial against influenza. He was furious that a storyannouncing this on the Web MD site had said 'not to expect Grandma'selderberry wine and jelly to work as well'. "It might work better!,"Jim was fuming.  He has always felt that the whole plant part—inthis case an edible and tasty fruit—has much more healing potentialthan any isolated extract.

I agreed, but wanted to hear more about the extract. I didn't happen toHAVE an elderberrygrowing outside and another virus—the 'common cold'—was running throughmy kids' schools like wildfire. Here's what I learned:

The first study was performed in the late 1990s on people who hadrecently contracted the Type B strain of influenza. 93% of the folkswho were given the elderberry extract recovered from their symptoms injust two days, compared with six days of illness for the unluckymembers of the placebo group. A 2002 study performed at the Universityof Oslo in Norway found similar results with people infected with theType A strain—90% of the group that got the real herbal extractrecovered in two to three days; the unlucky ones who got the placebosuffered twice as long.

Dr. Erling Thom, who ran the 2nd study (presenting his findings at the15th Annual Conference on Antiviral Research in 2002) credited theextract's effects to immune system stimulating flavonoids andanti-inflammatory anthocyanins.

But Dr. Duke checked his old USDA database and found that elderberriesalso contain more than a dozen direct anti-viral compounds, any or allof which could account for the fruit's effectiveness. (We'll post hislist of the naturally occurring compounds in black elderberry withanti-flu effects on our website. It's pretty astounding—and I had tocut it, so it's really just SOME of them!)

Anyway, the name of the extract is Sambucol. (Spell out) It's acough-syrup like liquid, imported from Israel by the American herbalsupplier "Nature's Way". The directions say to take two teaspoons fourtimes a day to fight a viral infection and two teaspoons total a day toprevent one. That's right, prevent—although the studies were performedon people who were already sick, Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, thevirologist who developed the extract, says it should also help reducethe chance of becoming infected. And, since it's felt to act as a basicanti-viral—not just anti-flu—it should also have the potential to knockout the symptoms of other viruses, like the much milder 'common cold'as well.

But again, Dr. Duke feels strongly that whole plants contain morehealing potential than isolated extracts, and can't see why elderberrywine, jams, jellies and preserves wouldn't ward off influenza just aswell—or even better. The berries of European elderberry are delicious,and very suited to preserves and wine making. And it's VERY easy togrow. In fact, elders are beyond easy—most types spread aggressivelyand need to be controlled with deep edging or given a place where theycan freely roam.

The scientific name of the European black elderberry is Sambucus nigra;Sambucus for elderberry, nigra for black, referring to the deep darkreddish-purple color of the ripe berries. You can buy live plants orpropagate cuttings from somebody else's in the Spring. The shrubsproduce the most berries when they can cross-pollinate, so plant twodifferent varieties if you can. The more plants, the more pollination,the more berries. And the more plants to keep under control—but it maybe worth the maintenance: In European tradition, elder was known as"Nature's medicine chest."

A highly ornamental variety called "Black Beauty" that was introducedlast year is better behaved than most—topping out at eight to twelvefeet, depending on who you believe. (Prune ALL elders back hard in thewinter to keep them manageable and full.) Instead of the regular green,BB's leaves are a deep purple—like "Purple Ruffles" basil—the pinkflowers are said to be huge (and lemon-scented!), the berries arerecommended for wine making, and it should grow well almost everywhere.(Zone 4 all the way to 7 or 9, again, depending on…) We'll post linksto more "Black Beauty" info at the website. And there's no reason tobelieve that the fruits of the AMERICAN elderberry (S. Canadensis)aren't as useful; and several ornamental varieties of this nativespecies are available as well.

Oh—and never forget that frequent hand-washing is also a great way tododge the flu—especially once we enter the season when the virus isactively spreading.

More info about the "Black Beauty" variety of European blackelderberry:

Dr. Jim Duke's (Partial!) List of Naturally Occurring
Flu-Fighting Phytochemicals in Elderberry

Analgesics (pain relievers): caffeic acid; chlorogenic acid;ethyl-salicylate;
ferulic acid; menthol; myrcene; quercetin; ursolic acid.

Antibronchitics (relieve throat inflammation): menthol; linalool

Anti-inflammatories: (relieve swelling and inflammation, like aspirin,Advil, Naproxen, etc): alpha-amyrin; betulin; betulinic acid; caffeicacid; chlorogenic acid; cycloartenol; ferulic acid; hyperoside;kaempferol; lupeol; menthol; n-hentriacontane; oleanolic acid;quercetin; rutin; ursolic-acid.

Antitussive (cough suppressant): terpinen-4-ol

Antiviral: betulin; betulinic acid; caffeic acid; chlorogenic acid;cyanin; ferulic acid;
hyperoside; kaempferol; limonene; linalool; lupeol; oleanolic acid;quercetin; rutin; ursolic acid

Expectorants (loosen phlegm): astragalin; limonene; linalool; menthol

Immunostimulants (boost the immune system): astragalin; benzaldehyde;caffeic acid; chlorogenic acid; ferulic acid

For more information:

Here's the link to that (somewhat schizophrenic) story about Sambucolat Web MD:{5FE84E90-BC77-4056-A91C-9531713CA348
(Note: Both Dr. Duke and myself disagree strongly with the dismissiveway the whole fruit is referred to in this article, and with Dr. AndyWeil's endorsement of prescription anti-viral drugs, which have neverseemed to function better than placebos, at least in the research I'veseen. (Interestingly enough, this may be the first time I've everdisagreed with Dr. Weil; I've taken his clinical course in botany atColumbia University and consider him one of the finest doctors inAmerica.)

And here's the official Sambucol page at Nature's Way:

You Bet Your Garden   ©2004 Mike McGrath

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