2 ingredients you need to survive flu season
By Dr. Sarika Arora, MD
If you’re like a lot of my patients, you’ve used over-the-counter cold remedies
and cough syrups and found they just don’t work. Maybe you’ll get temporary relief
of your congestion or cough for a few hours. But often you feel “dopey” and lethargic.
And if it’s the flu, rather than a cold, you may not even get that much relief.
This cold and flu season might be a good time to explore two natural remedies —
elderberry and manuka honey. Both help reduce symptoms while supporting your
natural immune defenses — and they don’t create brain fog.
What are elderberries — and how do they help with colds and flu?
Elderberry is a family of flowering trees that produce red, blue or black berries
in the fall. They have been used to make medicines for thousands of years in Europe
and North America.
Modern pharmacology has found that black elderberry contains a natural product,
- prevents infection with several strains of influenza, including H1N1 (swine flu)
- reduces the duration of colds (as well as decreasing the overall symptoms)
- fights viral infections
as effectively as the well-studied antiviral medication Tamiflu.
You can find elderberry extract in natural food stores, but be sure to look for
a reputable source. You can boil down dried or fresh, ripe elderberries to make
your own. But be careful when making your own: unripe berries can be toxic.
Although elderberry extract by itself helps fight flu symptoms, I recommend pairing
it with manuka honey for extra power against colds and flu.
How manuka honey helps with cold and flu
Honey derived from the manuka shrub native to Australia and New Zealand is special.
Unlike honey from clover or wildflowers, manuka honey contains a compound called
methylglyoxal (MGO) that appears to increase its ability to inhibit bacterial and
viral reproduction. In effect, we’re letting the bees extract the active ingredient
One study that focused on the influenza virus shows that not only did manuka honey
inhibit viral replication by itself, it also had a synergistic effect when used
with an antiviral medication. Meaning, the two together were considerably more effective
than either one by itself.
Combining elderberry with manuka honey offers a much greater effect on cold and
flu viruses than either one by itself. All without the dizziness and lethargy that
many standard over-the-counter cold remedies produce.
It takes a little extra effort to get the healing benefits of manuka and elderberries
— but here’s how
You can find a lot of elderberry-and-honey syrups from online sellers, but finding
one made with manuka honey can be challenging. Manuka is native only to Australia
and New Zealand, so a lot of “manuka” honey sold on the world market has little
or no actual manuka in it — and therefore very little or no MGO. Because the supply
is so limited, it’s easy to see why you may have to beware of phony manuka honey.
This means that if you want the power of manuka honey combined with elderberry extract,
you may have to make your own.
Genuine, unadulterated manuka honey comes from several companies that pack and label
their products in New Zealand, where manuka is a dominant species. Look for the
“Unique Manuka Factor” or UMF certification on the label and verify that the company
is out of New Zealand to ensure you’re getting the real thing. Manuka comes in several
grades ranging from 5 to 20, based on the amount of MGO in the honey. Grade 20 manuka
has the most MGO, and grade 5 has the least. As you might expect, the higher-grade
honey is more expensive.
To make a concentrated decoction of elderberries for cold and flu symptoms, try
the following recipe:
Elderberry syrup and manuka honey recipe
- 1 oz dried elderberries
- Pinch of cayenne
- 3 C cold water
- Manuka honey
- Juice of 1 lemon
1. Combine elderberries and cayenne with water.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until liquid is reduced
3. Let cool enough that you can work with it.
4. Strain liquid and press elderberries to remove as much liquid as possible.
5. Add manuka honey to taste.
6. Add juice of one lemon.
7. Store in refrigerator.
8. Take 1 Tbsp or more as often as needed at the onset of sore throat or upper respiratory
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