Fending Off the Common Cold with Black Elderberry

By Dr. Kevin Curran

We all know there’s no cure for the common cold. But the question remains…is there a natural way to treat the symptoms of a cold. Plant-based, natural remedies for cold or flu infections are popular because they tend to be less invasive and yield fewer side effects than pharmaceutical drugs. Black elderberry is one of these popular natural therapies. However, just because a remedy is popular, that doesn’t always mean it’s an effective approach. In this article, we explore the biology behind the proposed health benefits of black elderberry.

What is black elderberry?

Black elderberry is a shrubby tree native to the temperate regions of Europe. Black elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, has become widely used as a medicinal plant. This deciduous tree grows up to 30 feet in height and produces clusters of small, white flowers. These flowers generate green berries, which turn black at the end of summer.

The use of elderberry by humans is not a new concept. Archaeologists discovered that early humans buried their dead with elderberry branches. In North America, early settlers have been using black elderberry for the past 10,000 years. Native Americans ate the berries for food but they were also aware of the healing properties of the plant. They consumed the berries, leaves and flowers as a means to defend against rheumatism and viral infections.

Lately there’s been a resurgence in interest the health benefits of this medicinal plant. Fortunately this resurgence of interest has been accompanied by quality clinical and laboratory studies. These studies explore the capacity for black elderberry to strengthen our immune system and, thereby, minimize the negative effects of a cold or flu.

Below, we’ll explore some of this published work and, in doing so, we will explain how elderberries can help us stay healthy.

Black Elderberry for Fighting Colds : Chinese Medicine Living

Clinical tests probe the ability of black elderberry to treat colds or flu infections.

There are two notable clinical studies that both demonstrate the ability of black elderberry to reduce the symptoms associated with a cold or flu (Zakay-Rones, 1995; Zakay-Rones, 2004). One of these clinical trials, performed in Norway, tested 60 patients of varying ages. All of these test subjects had just begun to feel the effect of a flu (extreme fatigue, high fever, aching body, congestion). These recently ill patients were given 15 mls. of black elderberry syrup for a duration of 5 days. A similar control group was given a placebo treatment. The scientists found that patients who received elderberry treatment became healthy approximately 4 days earlier then the control group. The authors conclude black elderberry treatment is an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.

In summary, these clinical trials demonstrate the capacity for black elderberry to reduce the time duration of a flu.

How does black elderberry strengthen our immune system?

The primary job of our immune system is to attack and kill invading pathogens. In regards to a cold or flu, these invading pathogens tend to be either a bacteria or a virus. When our bodies fight a sickness - our immune system shifts into battle mode. Specialized immune cells are sent out to destroy the pathogens that have caused our sickness. Laboratory studies have explored the benefits of black elderberry syrup for colds. These studies have concluded that black elderberry strengthens our body by regulating our cytokine levels and by delivering antioxidants. We will explain all this biology below.

Anti-oxidants prevent cellular damage

First of all… what are anti-oxidants? Anti-oxidants are small molecules that defend our cells from free radicals. Free radicals are small, charged molecules that can bang around the inside of our body and cause inflammation and cellular damage. This is why you want to eat foods that are full of anti-oxidants.

Plants are a rich source of antioxidants. Turmeric, for example, the tropical plant used as a curry spice, is enriched with a powerful antioxidant called curcumin. Curcumin is a potent bio-active compound that fights free radicals. This antioxidant capacity makes turmeric a natural remedy for inflammation related health issues, such as arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Black elderberry is another plant that is enriched with antioxidants. In particular, black elderberries contain molecules called flavonoids. Flavonoids are a class of antioxidants often found in leafy plants and dark colored fruits. Multiple studies demonstrate that flavonoids in black elderberries protect cells from oxidative stress. In these experiments, living cells are exposed to damaging, oxidizing free radicals such as hydrogen peroxide, AAPH and α-tocopheroxyl. The authors then present data showing that the presence of flavonoids protects these cells from this free radical damage (Abuja 1998).

In summary, taking black elderberry delivers antioxidant flavonoids to our body. These flavonoids help protect our body from the damaging effect of free radicals.

Black elderberry controls our cytokine levels

Cytokines are small molecules that are incredibly important for our immune system. These small molecules move throughout our body and act as chemical messengers. Cytokines send signals that tell our body to either increase or decrease the intensity of an immune response. When cytokine signaling is functioning properly, our body will only mount an aggressive immune response when necessary. In contrast, if there is no threat to our body, then we want our cytokines to tell our immune system to take the foot off the gas. If our immune system is overactive, our body will experience chronic inflammation and tissue damage. We need our cytokines to help us mount an appropriate response to an infection.

Multiple laboratory studies reveal that a treatment of black elderberry can increase and regulate the cytokine levels in our immune system (Middleton, 1992). One especially convincing report by Barak et al., demonstrates that black elderberry extract activates a series of cytokines that are critical to our immune system (IL-6, IL-1 and TNF-α).

In summary, taking black elderberry when we’re sick can modulate our cytokine levels. Properly regulated cytokine levels leads to an appropriate immune system response.

When taken together, the clinical and laboratory studies discussed in this article certainly suggest that using black elderberry is a reasonable course of action. Our body is bolstered by the cytokines and antioxidants derived from the black elderberry tree. So, next time you feel a cold or flu sneaking into your body, consider lending your body a hand with this medicinal plant.

Black Elderberry for Fighting Colds : Chinese Medicine Living

Citations:

Abuja, Peter M., Michael Murkovic, and Werner Pfannhauser. “Antioxidant and prooxidant activities of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract in low-density lipoprotein oxidation.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 46.10 (1998): 4091-4096.

Barak, Vivian, Tal Halperin, and Inna Kalickman. “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.” Eur Cytokine Netw 12.2 (2001): 290-296.

Middleton, Elliott, and Chithan Kandaswami. “Effects of flavonoids on immune and inflammatory cell functions.” Biochemical pharmacology 43.6 (1992): 1167-1179.

Zakay-Rones, Zichria, et al. “Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1.4 (1995): 361-369.

Zakay-Rones, Z., et al. “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” Journal of International Medical Research 32.2 (2004): 132-140.

Image Credits

Featured image - www.tophealthremedies
Black Elderberry closeup - www.gartenjournal.net
Black Elderberry Bush - science.halleyhosting.com

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Sang Ji Sheng – with Many Health Benefits

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Sang Ji Sheng (桑寄生) or Taxilli twig is also known as mulberry mistletoe. It has long been characterized by increasing lifespan and preserving health in many medical classics. The health benefits include lowering blood pressure, treating an abnormal heart rhythm, increasing coronary blood flow, improving coronary circulation, enhancing cardiac contractility, reducing myocardial oxygen consumption, inhibiting platelet aggregation, preventing thrombosis, promoting microcirculation, suppressing tumor growth, curing hepatitis, and so on.

TCM classifies Sang Ji Sheng as bitter and sweet in taste and neutral in nature. Medicinally, only the dried aerial parts of the plant are used. They are usually collected in winter and spring with the big stems removed and the smaller parts cut into sections and dried. Sang Ji Sheng is used in TCM remedies for nourishing liver and kidney, building strong bones and muscles, expelling wind-dampness and preventing abortion. It is also used in resolving health problems such as aching lumbus and knees, weak physique, hemiplegia, rheumatic pain, light headedness, threatened abortion, uterine bleeding, and blood in stool.
Sang Ji Sheng with its neutral nature is commonly used with few restrictions. Since it is a parasitic plant and lives on other woody trees, there can be slight toxicity derived from the host plant. Therefore, the recommended dosage is from 20 to 25 grams in making a decoction. When slight symptoms of adverse effects are found such as dizziness, headache or upset stomach, the whole batch of herb should be discarded. However, adverse effects are not commonly known because Sheng Ji Sheng tea is a very common street food found in many corner stores in China. The Sang Ji Sheng tea with egg dessert is an all-time favourite snack for many.

Sang Ji Sheng Recipe : Chinese Medicine Livingthis lovely image by Vicky Chan

The easiest way to get the health benefits of Sang Ji Sheng is to cook it into a tea. It is a very inexpensive herb and you can buy it in most Chinese herbal shops. You can get 500 gm in a box for less than the price of a small box of tea bags. Make sure you rinse the herb thoroughly first (or even a quick blanching) before boiling it for 45 minutes to make tea. You can add milk and sugar to serve just like making English tea and it is very delicious. I will highly recommend you to try this and treat you guests with this new healthy tea for a change.

The following recipe, Sang Ji Sheng tea with egg dessert, is not only a healthy snack, it is also good for improving complexion and promoting better skin because Sang Ji Sheng is anti-inflammatory and promotes blood circulation. You will be healthier and prettier eating this on a regular basis.

Sang Ji Sheng Recipe : Chinese Medicine Livingthis lovely image by Vicky Chan

Sang Ji Sheng Tea and Egg Dessert

Ingredients (2 servings)

•    Sang Ji Sheng – 50 gm
•    Egg – two
•    Red dates – 10
•    Lotus seeds – (optional) a handful
•    Organic cane sugar – to taste

Directions

1.  Bring 5 cups of water in a pot to a boil and put herb (sang ji sheng) in to cook for half a minute. Remove from heat, discard the water and rinse the herb for a few times to get rid of dirt.

2.  Put herb back into the pot with 5 to 6 cups of fresh water. If lotus seed is used, the herb should be put in a soup bag so that it is easier to discard it at the end.

3.  Rinse eggs, red dates and add to the pot. Bring water to a medium boil for 10 minutes. Remove eggs, put in cold water bath to remove the shell and put eggs back into the cooking. Continue cooking for another 35 minutes to about 2 cups of tea left.

4.  Pick out dates and eggs and add to serving bowls.  Filter tea and add to the bowls. Add sugar to taste and serve.

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Sang Ji Sheng – with Many Health Benefits : Chinese Medicine Living


Natural Remedies for Varicose Veins

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac

Varicose veins are unsightly, sometimes painful, swollen, knotted veins, usually in the legs. They are the result of poor circulation and weakened elasticity in the walls of the veins (that carry blood back to the heart). There are many factors that can contribute to varicose veins, like heredity, standing for long periods, lack of exercise, being overweight, pregnancy and poor nutrition can all contribute to varicose veins.

Dietary Factors

One of the most important things to eat to improve varicose veins is to eat more fiber. When we strain or hold our breath when we pass stool it puts added pressure on the veins in the rectum which can lead to hemorrhoids (just vericose veins in your anus). If you want to have stools that flow freely, then more fiber in your diet is the way to do it.

Adding vitamin C, vitamin E and garlic to your diet to help combat varicose veins.

Another consideration is to always try to avoid processed foods. The biggest baddies (the 4 evils) are processed oil, sugar, flour and rice. Always seek out the healthy, unprocessed alternative to each. Cold pressed oils, eating fruits like blueberries (which will also add fiber and antioxidants) instead of sugary snacks, whole wheat, spelt and other whole grain flours, and brown or wild rice will improve your nutrition and add fiber to your diet.

Add Foods Containing Rutin to Your Diet

The best foods to combat varicose veins are ones that contain rutin. Rutin is part of a large family of riboflavanoids which have multiple effects on the body, the most important of which is to reduce the fragility and permeability of capillaries which reduces your risk of developing new varicose veins.

Rutin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, vaso protective (protects the blood vessels) and anti-thrombotic (protects from blood clots) properties. Pretty awesome!

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Natural Sources of Rutin

• Buckwheat

• Apple (especially the skin, so try to buy organic to avoid pesticides)

• Cherries

• Grapes

• Blackberries

• Apricot

To avoid or improve varicose veins, one should eat a diet high in fiber, vitamin E, vitamin C and rutin (a riboflavonoid found in buckwheat and the pith of citrus fruits). Also, use garlic as a supplement and/or use it in cooking.

Supplements

One of the best supplements you can take for varicose veins is horse chestnut. It has the specific action of strengthening the walls of blood vesels.

What Can I Do?

• Exercise gently

• Do not sit with legs crossed

• Avoid standing for long periods

• Rest with legs raised

• Sleep with legs slightly elevated

• Inverted yoga postures are beneficial

• Don't take hot baths

Beneficial Aromatherapy Oils

Cypress, geranium, rose, yarrow, Virginian cedarwood, clary sage, frankincense, myrrh

Notes

Cypress and rose are extremely helpful to tone blood vessels and reduce dilation

Massage Oil/Cream Recipe for Vericose Veins

Make up a massage oil or cream containing 7-10 drops each of geranium (or 5 drops of rose), yarrow and cypress oil in 2fl oz/50ml calendula oil or cream and rub gently into the area around or above the veins. DO NOT apply pressure directly to them or below them, and work up the legs towards the heart. Elevate your legs after the massage. Repeat this massage daily.

To Help Swelling

To help reduce swelling, apply local cold compresses soaked in witch hazel.

Improving the Circulatory System

Take warm (not hot) baths with 8-10 drops of a circulatory stimulant such as rosemary or juniper can help improve the condition of the circulatory system as a whole.

Leg Exercises for Varicose Veins

A list of beneficial leg exercises for varicose veins