Life Extension Magazine®

Elderberry shown to reduce common cold episodes

Fight Back Against Colds and Flu

Elderberry extract has been shown in clinical trials to reduce common cold episode days and resolve cold/flu symptoms up to four days sooner compared to placebo

Scientifically reviewed by: Gary Gonzalez, MD, in February 2024. Written by: Sarah A. Lobisco, ND, IFMCP.

Black elderberry has been shown in clinical studies to lessen the duration and severity of colds and flu.1-7

In one study, people suffering from upper respiratory symptoms who used elderberry extract had symptoms resolve four days earlier than those taking a placebo.8

Another clinical trial found that those in the elderberry group had 57 cold episode days compared to 117 days in the placebo group.

Risks of Cold and Flu

Most adults have two to three colds a year. Symptoms typically last seven to ten days but can linger for up to two weeks.9,10

Every year, as much as 20% of the U.S. population will contract the flu.11-12 Hundreds of thousands of Americans are hospitalized and up to 52,000 flu-related deaths occur.13

Antiviral medications (like Xofluza®) may speed recovery from the flu, when taken within 48 hours after flu symptoms begin,2,14 but they are not prescribed for colds.9 Flu viruses are constantly changing making them more resistant to the antiviral drugs.15

That's where black elderberry comes in. An extract of this fruit has been shown to safely reduce the severity and speed the resolution of upper respiratory tract infections.1-7

Vital Immune Support

Black elderberries have historically been used for respiratory problems.2,4 Their extracts are used to stimulate immune function and reduce the impact of colds and flu.2-5,16

Elderberries contain plant pigments called flavonoids, including anthocyanins. Anthocyanins have immunomodulating, antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory effects.2,17 Standardized extracts of elderberries help preserve these active compounds, which are highly bioavailable (absorbable).17

Antiviral Effects

Extracts of elderberry and its flavonoids have demonstrated direct antiviral activity in cell cultures for both influenza A1,18 and B, the two main types that infect people.4,8

In one lab study, elderberry extract was shown to inhibit H1N1 (subtype of human influenza A). This study showed this virulent "swine flu" H1N1 virus was prevented from entering host cells in a dose dependent manner.

The highest elderberry doses were capable of blocking almost 100% of cells from infection. This compared favorably to the anti-influenza activities of the common antivirals oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and amantadine.18

Another cell study suggests antiviral mechanism of elderberry by blocking the function of viral glycoproteins (proteins on the surfaces of viruses that aid infection) from attaching to host cells. Isolated anthocyanins also blocked viral infectivity.8

In a dual, cell and animal trial, elderberry juice concentrate containing a high flavonoid content was shown to enhance immunity and display antiviral activity. In the cell study, the elderberry interfered with early stages of viral replication, viral attachment, and penetration into host cells.19

When the elderberry juice was given to rodents infected with human flu, it led to an increase in antibodies that specifically attacked and eliminated the virus.19

It also stimulated the production of secretory IgA, an antibody that provides mucosal support against viral and bacterial infections. By contrast, mice taking a placebo or antiviral oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) showed a suppression of antibodies.19

What You Need to Know

Elderberry Helps the Body Battle Colds and Flu

  • The average adult has two to three colds per year. Up to 20% of Americans contract the flu annually. The elderly and immune-compromised are at risk for severe complications.
  • Elderberries contain anthocyanins, compounds that have immunomodulating, antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Black elderberry extract has been shown to fight viruses and bolster immune defenses.
  • In clinical trials, elderberry extract safely decreased the duration and severity of colds and flu, resolving upper respiratory symptoms up to four days earlier than a placebo.

Treating Colds and Flu (Human Trials)

Human studies have validated the ability of elderberry to speed recovery and decrease the intensity of symptoms in colds and influenza.

One placebo-controlled clinical trial with 312 subjects assessed the impact of elderberry on cold duration, severity, and incidents during overseas air travel. Those in the treatment group took 600 mg of black elderberry extract for several days before travel and 900 mg daily during their trip.5

Overall, those in the elderberry group had a total of 57 cold episode days compared to 117 days in the placebo group. The elderberry group also experienced less than half the symptom severity of the placebo group.

This means individuals who took elderberry had less severe cold symptoms and recovered about two days faster.

In another study of people suffering from flu-like symptoms, those who used elderberry daily for five days had their symptoms resolve four days earlier than those taking a placebo.8

Systematic reviews provide further evidence for elderberry as a remedy for colds and influenza:

  • One meta-analysis found that standardized forms of elderberry were effective at reducing severity and duration of both cold and flu, regardless of vaccination status.2
  • A review of elderberry and elderflower (which comes from the same plant) found that they increased antibodies to influenza and decreased the intensity and duration of symptoms.6
  • In a 2021 review, elderberry was found to support the immune system without overstimulating it. One trial found that an elderberry-containing product lowered risk of influenza complications and adverse events when compared to oseltamivir.4
  • A meta-analysis of clinical trials showed that when black elderberry was taken within 48 hours of the onset of an acute respiratory infection, common symptoms such as fever, headache, and congestion were reduced by an average of 50% in as little as two days.3

Many studies report that doses of 600-900 mg daily were most effective during acute viral infections, while lower doses are sufficient for preventative support.4-6,18,19


When winter respiratory illnesses hit, flavonoid-rich elderberry can help people feel better faster while bolstering the immune response.

Clinical studies show that elderberry extract can decrease the severity and duration of colds and flu, especially when taken at the first sign of symptoms.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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  18. Roschek B, Jr., Fink RC, McMichael MD, et al. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61.
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