Do Elderberries make COVID-19 worse?
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I heard that Elderberry makes COVID-19 worse…should I stop taking it?
The short answer is this: we don’t know if Elderberry products make COVID-19 worse or not, because it’s never been actually tested before!
And frankly, I think it’s a tiny bit irresponsible to make these wide claims to “always” or “never” take something when there’s really no data to back it up. Much better to find out why some people have started making this recommendation, and then you can make the best decision for yourself.
So let me give you the info.
As best I can determine, the original recommendation to avoid Elderberry came from a letter published on 03/16/20 in The Lancet medical journal. Only…
…the letter never even mentioned elderberry.
The scientist who wrote the letter was discussing the role of “cytokine storm” that has been observed in end-stage COVID-19 patients. He then went on to offer some treatment suggestions that may be helpful in treating this condition for these patients.
His primary hypothesis seems to be that suppressing the immune system might be helpful in treating these patients, because cytokines are one of many players in your immune system.
The problem is that during a Cytokine Storm, these cytokines go waaay overboard attacking the invading microbe. In our case, the invading microbe would be coronavirus. And in the process of attacking the coronavirus, the cytokines also attack the surrounding healthy tissue.
This can obviously be a big problem, especially when the attack is happening in the lungs. That’s what happens in COVID-19, and seems to be part of the reason why the most critically ill require a ventilator to survive…their own immune system is attacking their lungs.
(Don’t freak out, though! Remember that only about 1% of people who contract COVID-19 ever get to this severity level…and of those, the vast majority are older than 60 years old with one or more chronic health problems. This is very unlikely to happen to you or your kids!)
That’s half the explanation.
The other half of the explanation is that there’s more research available showing that one of the ways that elderberry works is by activating the immune system and increasing cytokine production.
Normally, that’s a good thing! Because we want elderberry to activate our immune system, and cytokines are typically a helpful part of our immune system.
Now here’s what I think happened: somebody, somewhere, took these two pieces of information, put them together, and developed the hypothesis that elderberry could stimulate a cytokine storm. And if that were true, then it would make COVID-19 worse instead of better.
The problem with that hypothesis is simply that…it’s only a hypothesis.
There’s no direct, proven link demonstrating the elderberry will worsen COVID-19 symptoms, or that it will cause a cytokine storm at all.
So it’s really only a theoretical risk.
Personally, I believe that the benefits of using a naturally occuring herb with a long history of use far outweighs the potential risk of making a COVID-19 infection worse IF my family ever became infected.
Other people believe that it’s better to avoid elderberry altogether at this time, just to be extra cautious.
The truth is, neither side has any proof.
So until we have clear data one way or the other, the best thing to do is to weigh the pros and cons for yourself, and make the best decision for your family.
Now, if you DO decide that you would like to continue taking elderberry in your family (or even if you decide to give it a try after the COVID-19 crisis passes), here’s a bonus gift for you!!
(Psst…Ready to clear up even more confusing COVID-19 claims? Check out: COVID-19 FAQ: What Mamas Need to Know)
All About Making Elderberry Gummies!
Where to Source Elderberries
- Wildcrafted Elderberries: Otherwise known as foraging, or picking your own! This has become a new hobby for my family every summer. I look for elderberry blossoms while I’m out and about during May and June, then come July we stop by to pick the berries. I cook the elderberry juice (with added herbs) the same day, then freeze it for when we need it.
- The Farm Life Elderberry Kit: Farmer Ashely provides a well researched DIY kit containing elderberries plus herbs that have been specially selected to supplement the elderberries and support your immune system. All you need to add is water and honey, follow the instructions on the bag, and you’ll have 40-oz of Elderberry syrup that can be taken “as is” or easily turned into gummies.
- Organic, Dried Elderberries: An even more affordable option is to get your own dried elderberries and use “as is”, or mix in your own herbs to supplement the immune benefits. Frontier and Starwest are two reputable brands that professional herbalists use and can be easily (and affordably) be found on Amazon. You can also check Mountain Rose Herbs, another excellent online source.
- “Done for you” Options: Sometimes, it’s hard to find elderberries…especially when it gets late in the winter (or there’s a crazy pandemic going on…). In that case, buying pre-made elderberry products can be a blessing! My friend, Perry, runs Purely Elderberry and Wellness, and offers elderberry syrup, elderberry tea, and DIY elderberry kits (her website is coming soon, but for now you can order by DM-ing her on Instagram!). And there’s always the option of running to Walmart and getting a commercial elderberry product…my fav is the melt-away tabs because they have the least added sugar. I usually avoid commercial elderberry syrups and gummies because I don’t usually like the types of sugar they choose to include.
A Note About Using Raw Honey
Using Raw Honey to make Elderberry Gummies (and Elderberry Syrup) is considered “Best Practice” because it has additional health benefits that can support your immune system and may amplify the immune boosting properties of the elderberries.
BUT…if you use Raw Honey, be careful not to overheat it! When Raw Honey is heated over 95 degrees, then the beneficial enzymes are destroyed. That means if you cook it too hot, then you might as well have used a less expensive, pasteurized honey.
That being said, sometimes I’m in too much of a hurry to worry about preserving the raw honey benefits! On those occasions, I’ll just use whatever honey I have (raw or otherwise) and throw it in without regard to the temperature. Occasionally, I’ll even use maple syrup, if I don’t have honey available.
You don’t always have to do things “perfectly”…just get them done! After all, that’s more important, am I right?
But if you DO want a good source of Manuka Honey (widely considered the most beneficial of all raw honeys), you can also order Manuka Honey at The Farm Life. It’s consider the most beneficial because it has additional antibacterial properties that most raw honeys do not. And if you order it with Farmer Ashley’s DIY Elderberry Kit, that adds up to free shipping!
- Grass-Fed/Pasture-Raised Gelatin: Always my first choice. Check prices for different brands on Amazon, because you might be able to find less expensive one that is still good quality, but this is a brand that I have personally used.
- Knox Brand Unflavored Gelatin: Pretty sure Knox doesn’t have the same high standards for their gelatin sources…but it’s often very easy to find at the grocery story or your local Wal-mart. Plus, you can buy it in much smaller quantities.
Best Gummy Molds:
- Anything silicon: Doesn’t matter if it says it’s a chocolate mold, a soap mold, an ice cube tray, or anything in between…if it’s made of flexible, food-grade silicon then it should work. Ideally you want to choose molds that limit the number of “nooks & crannies”, because they will make it hard to get a clean release of your Homemade Gummy. Smooth surfaces work best. These are similar to some of the favorites that I use: Sea Shells, Hearts, Sticks, and a Variety pack (and it even includes one gummy bear mold, which is not my fav because they rarely pop out cleanly…but it’s fun once in a while for the nostalgia!)
- Cake pan: Who needs cutesy shapes? The fastest way to make Homemade Gummies is to pour your hot, liquid mix into a square cake pan . When it’s firm, you can slice it up into whatever sized squares you desire.
Tools that Make the Process Easier:
- Hand Held Stick Blender: This is the best way to make sure you don’t bite into any annoying gelatin clumps in your finished gummies. While gelatin clumps won’t hurt anything, they don’t taste good. And if there’s too many of them, then the rest of your gummies might not be as firm as you’d prefer. Much better to use this tool and get a perfectly smooth gummy! (Plus, you can also use it to make Date Paste!)
- Laser Temperature Gun: This is an easy (and fun!) way to quickly check the temperature of your liquid gelatin, especially if you are adding Raw Honey and you don’t want to destroy the heat-sensitive enzymes. It’s also useful for deep frying, and playing “chase the laser” with your dog or cat.
Elderberry Gummy Recipe
- Stick Blender (or whisk…but stick blender works best!)
- 3-quart Pot
- Silicone candy mold OR Square glass baking pan
- 1 3/4 cups Elderberry Juice
- 1/4 cup Honey Raw honey is ideal, but don't heat it over 95 degrees
- 4 Tbsp Gelatin, plain
- Heat elderberry juice to steaming.
- Sprinkle gelatin over top of juice, then puree with stick blender.
- If using raw honey, let liquid gelatin mixture cool down to 95 degrees before adding raw honey to preserve it's health benefits. Mix well! (If using pasteurized honey or another sweetener, you can add it before the gelatin.
- Pour into mold of choice, either silicone candy molds OR square glass baking pan.
- Wait until Elderberry Gummies are fully gelled. You can place in the fridge or freezer to speed up the process.
- Remove from molds. If using a baking pan, slice into 1-tsp (recommended "dose" for kids), or 1-Tbsp (recommended "dose" for adults).
- Store gummies in refrigerator. General recommendation is to take 1 per day when healthy, or every 2-4 hours (as needed) when actively sick to support your immune system.
Continue the Conversation!
Leave a comment below to ask a question or post a picture of your Homemade Elderberry Gummies!