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Influenza - Elderberry Is A Flu Virus's Worst Nightmare

Elderberry Is A Flu Virus's Worst Nightmare

The black elder tree, also called the elderberry tree, has a rich, longstanding history in folklore. According to Earl Mindell in his Herb Bible, during the Middle Ages, the English believed that it was the favorite tree of witches, who would take respite among its branches. To disturb such a tree would mean to incur the witch's wrath. Also, the tree was said to have mystical abilities, and to have one on your property meant good luck.

Maybe those who lived in antiquity somehow understood that the tree indeed offers something nearly "magical." Its berries, in particular, have been found to contain compounds that can keep flu viruses from infecting cells.

Gypsies, notes Mindell, traditionally have used the berry from the black elder tree (Sambucus nigra) as a popular remedy for flu and colds. Drunk as a hot tea, it promotes sweating and helps soothe upper respiratory infections. Elderberries offer good levels of vitamins A, B and C, and they have long been used as a savory fruit in jams and pies.

Dr. Madeleine Mumcuouglu, ph.D., a virologist based in Israel, is credited for discovering how elderberry inhibits flu viruses. The flu is triggered by any one of a family of viruses known as the myxoviruses influenzae, and there are three types -- A, B and C -- of which A and B are the most common, with the type A virus being the most prevelant in nature and most resilient. A virus cannot replicate itself. It must invade living cells, which alters the function of the cells. The mechanism whereby a virus actually enters the cell is through tiny spikes (known as hemagglutinin) on the surface of the virus that punctures the wall of the cell. Dr. Mumcuoglu explains, "That means that if you can stop the virus from entering the cell, you've defeated the disease."

In the laboratory, Dr. Mumcuoglu discovered that the active ingredients in elderberries "disarm" the hemagglutinin by binding to them, which effectively prevents the piercing of the cellular membranes. "The viral spikes are covered with an enzyme called neuraminidase. This enzyme acts to break down the cell wall. Bioflavonoids, also present in high concentration in elderberries, may inhibit the action of this enzyme," she writes.

Through her research, the virologist contends that flu vaccines often are ineffective and frequently cause undesirable side effects. In addition, mutative flu viruses, particularly those of the type A category, where new strains appear each year, are very difficult to combat through a vaccine. And B viruses seemingly are unaffected by flu shots. "The two existing anti-flu medications, Amantadine and Rimantadine, were shown to be mainly effective in the prevention of influenza A only. They do not have any activity against influenza B viruses."

However, clinical trials with elderberry extract syrup has had some very positive results. Among those results, tests were done to determine the presence of flu antibodies in humans, and "it was found that the level of antibodies was higher in patients receiving the elderberry extract versus those receiving the placebo, indicating an enhanced immune system response in those patients," Dr. Mumcuoglu reports.

The tree also yields other healing aspects, according to C.J. puotinen, author of Herbs to Help You Breathe Freely. Flowers from the black elder tree contain tannins that have been shown to help dry up excess mucus, and have been shown to have expectorant properties.

And, according to Humbart Santillo, B.S., M.H., author of Natural Healing with Herbs, "in large doses, elder can act as a purgative and diuretic. Elder is used for urinary complaints, edema and rheumatic problems. The tea of the flowers is used as a diaphoretic to break fevers. Elder flowers are used in salves for skin diseases."

Used with permission from Whole Foods Magazine

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