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What you should know about elderberry remedies

Families commonly ask about ways to help keep their children well and ward off infections such as the flu. Many parents are looking for natural remedies and some may even grow their own elderberry to use as medication. Unfortunately, many products are often unregulated, lack safety and efficacy information and can be unsafe when given with other medications. The use of elderberry has become more popular as a natural remedy, but here’s some things to keep in mind when considering elderberry for your child.

What is elderberry?

Elderberry is dark purple berry that comes from European elderberry or black elder trees. Throughout history, many parts of the elderberry have been thought to treat colds and flu. Most recently, it’s been promoted as a natural treatment for cold, flu and even COVID-19. The berry contains Vitamin C and fiber.

How does it help?

The National Institutes of Health says there is no published research to prove that elderberry can ward off COVID-19 or and it is not proven to help with any other health purpose. More research is needed.

Is it safe?

Unfortunately, elderberry is not always safe. If not made and cooked properly, elderberry may be harmful. Elder tree contains a cyanide-producing chemical in the leaves and other plant parts and in the unripe green fruit. Because of this, making your own or purchasing other homemade products containing elderberry is worrisome.

Even purchased products from the store can be unsafe. Because they are unregulated, they may contain extra ingredients. For example, elderberry products may also contain echinacea. This combination can impact how our liver breaks down medications and can lead to troublesome drug interactions.  

Elderberry should not be used in kids who have certain medical conditions such as those who are immunocompromised, have autoimmune diseases or are taking certain medications. Please check with your child’s health care provider before giving elderberry or other herbal products.

What are some natural ways to help prevent infections?

There are safe and natural ways to treat a child’s cold symptoms. These include getting plenty of rest, drinking warm liquids for sore throats, using a humidifier or warm shower to loosen mucus or giving a teaspoon of honey for cough in children over the age of 1.

The best ways to prevent infections are the measures we are all practicing during the pandemic including good hand washing, social distancing, wearing masks, staying home when ill and getting routine health care and immunizations, including the yearly flu shot.

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Clinical Pharmacy Specialist