Autumn is well and truly here, and the change of season has brought with it a characteristic influx of coughs, colds and flus. Whilst there are many different ways we can boost our immune system using Chinese medicine dietary approaches and herbal medicines, I wanted to write about a simple and delicious remedy that you can make yourself, incorporating both Chinese and Western herbs, for the prevention mild infections. Read on for my TCM inspired Elderberry syrup recipe, and I hope you’ll be inspired to make a batch or two for yourself!
Elderberry Syrup is a very popular remedy in Western herbal medicine, and there are many different variations possible. Elderberries are lauded as an excellent immune system booster, and are said to be helpful for reducing cold and flu symptoms, as well as a whole host of other benefits. The berries contain chemical compounds called anthocyanidins, which have powerful antioxidant effects and are known to have immunostimulant effects.
What does the research say?
In a research study on mice, elderberry extract was shown to stimulate the immune response and prevent viral infection in mice exposed to the influenza virus (1). In a cell culture experiment, elderberry liquid was shown to have antimicrobial activity against human pathogenic bacteria as well as the influenza virus (2). And in this interesting study, elderberry extract was randomly given to people on an intercontinental flight (surely a perfect breeding ground for all kinds of respiratory illnesses!). The researchers found that of those who became sick after the flight, those who had the elderberry extract had a significant reduction in cold duration and severity compared to those who had the placebo (3).
So it seems there really is something special about these delicious little berries - and it is no wonder that they have been used for centuries to make a cost-effective and beneficial remedy for respiratory illnesses. Elderberry syrup can be made with just the elderberries and nothing else - but traditionally they are combined with other herbs to create a synergistic effect.
Astragalus and Reishi - TCM Immune Boosting Herbs
In this recipe I combine Elderberry with Astragalus (Huang Qi) and Reishi (Ling Zhi) which are two famous and powerful immune boosting herbs in the Chinese medicine pharmacopoeia. Both are classed as ‘adaptogens’ by Western herbalists and they have very wide-ranging beneficial effects on the body. These herbs have a lot of research behind them, investigating their broad range of therapeutic effects. A summary of the research is beyond the scope of this article, however I will provide some references at the bottom of this article for those who are interested.
Astragalus is very strengthening and tonifying with immunomodulatory effects, and in Chinese medicine it is said to ‘secure the exterior’ to improve immunity and prevent infection (4, 5, 6). However, astragalus is contraindicated during acute infection, so this herb can only be used preventatively for colds and flus.
Reishi has been called ‘the mushroom of immortality’, a prized longevity herb and tonic. It has been shown to be an immune modulator and also a potent antioxidant that protects the body from disease, as well as improving strength, vitality and stamina (7, 8, 9).
Without further ado I present to you - my simple TCM inspired version - for immune boosting and prevention!
Elderberry-Astragalus-Reishi Super Immunity Syrup
¾ cup (70 grams) organic dried elderberries
½ cup (60 grams) organic astragalus
10 slices (20 grams) organic reishi
4 cups filtered water
Organic, raw, local honey
* Place all herbs and water in a large pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
* Simmer (uncovered) for around 40 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to below half.
* Let the mixture cool down, then mash the herbs with a potato masher and strain well through a sieve, really squeezing the berries to get out all the goodness. You should have around 1 cup of liquid - measure out how much you have exactly.
* Measure out the honey in a ratio of liquid:honey of 2:1. (So if you have 1 cup of liquid, you need ½ cup of honey)
* Pour the mixture back into a clean saucepan, add the honey and warm the mixture very, very gently, stirring continuously to dissolve the honey. Try not to warm the mixture any more than necessary so that you don’t destroy the beneficial enzymes in the honey.
* Pour the mixture into a sterilised bottle and place in the fridge.
Dosage is 1 tablespoon a day for adults, and 1 teaspoon a day for children.
This really is delicious and my kids absolutely love it! :-) Enjoy!
*Do not take this syrup during an acute infection*
If you take this elderberry syrup, take other immune boosting measures (such as described here and here) and you still fall prey to the dreaded lurgy, never fear. Book an appointment with me, or visit your local acupuncturist for an immune boosting treatment and prescription of a herbal remedy that is specific for you. As colds can manifest in different ways, it is better to make sure you are taking the right remedy.
Take care of yourself, keep warm and enjoy the magic of autumn!
1. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2012;76(9):1633-8. Epub 2012 Sep 7.
2. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Feb 25;11:16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-16
4. Fitoterapia. 2012 Dec;83(8):1514-22. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2012.08.019. Epub 2012 Sep 5.
5. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 136, Issue 3, 14 July 2011, Pages 457-464
6. International Immunopharmacology Volume 14, Issue 4, December 2012, Pages 463-470
7. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014 Feb; 13(1): 32–44.
8. Carbohydrate PolymersVolume 142, 20 May 2016, Pages 141-148E-Book: The Healing Power of
9. Medicinal Mushrooms: http://www.incapx.com/dox/medicinal-mushrooms.pdf
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