Elderberries Help Minimize Flu Symptoms

Folk medicines and herbal products have been used
for millennia to combat a whole range of ailments, at times to the
chagrin of modern scientists who have struggled to
explain their medicinal benefits.

However a recent study by a group of Chemical and
Biomolecular Engineering researchers from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of
Engineering and IT has determined exactly how a popular ancient
remedy, the elderberry fruit, can help the fight
against influenza.

Conducted by Professor Fariba Deghani, Dr Golnoosh
Torabian and Dr Peter Valtchev 
 as part of the ARC Training Centre for the Australian Food
Processing Industry that was established in the Faculty of Engineering and
IT, the study showed that compounds from elderberries
can directly inhibit the virus’s entry and replication
in human cells, and can help strengthen a person’s immune
response to the virus.

Although elderberry’s flu-fighting properties have long
been observed, the group performed a comprehensive examination of the
mechanism by which phytochemicals from elderberries combat influenza

“What our study has shown is that the common elderberry
has a potent direct antiviral effect against the flu
virus,” said Dr Golnoosh Torabian. 

“It inhibits the early stages
of an infection by blocking key viral proteins responsible
for both the viral attachment and entry into the host

The researchers used commercially farmed elderberries which
were turned into a juice serum and were applied to
cells before, during and after they had been infected with
the influenza virus. 

The phytochemicals
from the elderberry juice were shown to
be effective at stopping the virus infecting the cells,
however to the surprise of the researchers they were even more
effective at inhibiting viral propagation at later stages
of the influenza cycle when the
cells had already been infected with the virus.

“This observation was quite surprising and rather
significant because blocking the viral cycle at several stages has a higher
chance of inhibiting the viral infection,” explained Dr Peter Valtchev. 

“In addition to that, we identified that the
elderberry solution also stimulated the cells to release certain cytokines,
which are chemical messengers that the immune system uses for communication
between different cell types to coordinate a more efficient response against
the invading pathogen,” said Centre Director, Professor Fariba Deghani.

The team also found that the elderberry’s
antiviral activity can be attributed to its anthocyanidin compounds —
phytonutrients responsible for giving the fruit its vivid purple coloring.

Otherwise known as sambucus nigra, the black
elderberry is a small, antioxidant rich fruit common to Europe and North
America that is still commonly consumed as a jam or wine. For medicinal
benefits, elderberry extract is available commercially in tablet or syrup form.

The influenza virus is one of the leading causes of
mortality worldwide, affecting nearly 10 per-cent of the world population and
contributing to one million deaths annually.

The study, Anti-influenza activity of elderberry
(Sambucus nigra)
, was published in the Journal of Functional Foods.


Golnoosh Torabian, Peter Valtchev, Qayyum Adil,
Fariba Dehghani. Anti-influenza activity of elderberry (Sambucus nigra).
Journal of Functional Foods, 2019; 54: 353 DOI: 10.1016/j.jff.2019.01.031