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Elderberries (Sambucus nigra)

I am aware that many are looking towards herbal medicine to protect against this Corona Virus, and there are also some concerns. I have been meaning to write this for some time but have been so busy dispensing herbs, that I have been delayed.

One of the concerns is about boosting the immune system, and then if the person does catch the virus, will this stimulate a cytokine storm?

When our immune system is faced with an invader such as a virus, a cascade of events is set in motion to protect the body. Many types of immune molecules are released, but sometimes the immune system goes into overdrive, and (imagine a snowstorm) a flurry of inflammatory molecules are released. This sets up a dangerous inflammatory response in our lungs. One of the dangers of this virus is inflammation in our lungs, and then scar tissue forming over the lung tissue. This is what causes the long-term damage. So, it is really important to avoid the cytokine storm.

There are many herbs which have anti-viral action: some with an affinity for the lungs, others calm the nerves and are also anti-viral, some herbs are mucous membrane anti-inflammatories, and others are immune tonics. Clearly, there are too many to list, and as a medical herbalist, I have many to choose from, but I wanted to mention a few major ones – with references, so that you can check yourself.

It is important to bear in mind that deaths being attributed to the coronavirus are more often than not caused by the complications of secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia. Thus, the hope is that a strong immune system should help, if you do catch this virus, to weather the illness more gently.

I would also like to tell you that many of my patients are telling me that they think they already had this virus back in December/January/February. I cannot say whether it was because they were taking herbs already, or for any other reason, but essentially, they experienced fatigue, sweating and raised temperature, laboured breathing – this can go on for several days, or weeks – and then they got better. Of course, now, if someone has these symptoms, we would go in with really strong herbs, but for them, it simply felt like a bad chest infection. It was discovered that in the Chinese provinces with the lowest infection rates, there was an 84-98% use of Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas, and the two main ingredients were Astragalus and Ginseng.

Astragalus, Liquorice, Echinacea, Elderberry

The Chinese Academy of Sciences screened over 200 botanical plants used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to find those with strong potency against the SARS coronavirus. Four botanicals stood out – being Liquorice, Astragalus, Echinacea and Elderberry.(1)

Looking at other studies, I have noticed that the Chinese seem to favour Liquorice and Astragalus – but these are within their formulations, and not used as stand alone herbs. However, as Western Medical Herbalists, we recognise that both have anti-viral properties, and with the experience of the Chinese, they appear to be very effective against this virus.(2)


Elderberry helps to prevent the entry of the virus into our cells, as well as boosting the immune system against the virus. The MSc thesis which I looked at had reviewed 21 papers, and found that the 6 most useful papers describe how the immunomodulatory effects of the berry stimulate the immune system without exacerbating a cytokine storm, and might dampen one.(3)

In addition to its antiviral properties, elderberry is also effective against pathogenic bacteria. Under laboratory conditions at Justus Liebig University in Germany, elderberry was shown to be very effective against several bacteria that are responsible for pneumonia during flu-like infections, and against Influenza A and B viruses in particular.(4),(5)


This spice (and not necessarily the curcumin, but the whole spice), inhibits the entry of the virus into our lung cells, and the replication of the virus within. It is an immune booster, as well as an anti-inflammatory herb, inhibiting fibrosis (the scar tissue over the lungs).(6),(7),(8)

Olive Leaf

Olive Leaf is well known as an anti-viral, immune boosting herb. The findings of this study show that olive leaf extract prevents the entry of the virus into our cells, probably by changing the properties of the membrane of the virus, so that it cannot attach or enter.(9)


The article below shows that Echinacea is extremely effective against viruses (including Corona Virus), and that it is the aerial parts which are especially effective. The herb seems to be most effective before the virus enters the cells. Even more valuable is that Echinacea was able to partially or completely reverse the cytokine storm. More than that, Echinacea was effective against the pneumonia bacteria that often follow the viral infection, again reversing the inflammatory reaction and disabling the bacteria itself.(10)

(1)^ Li SY, Chen C, Zhang HQ, et al. Identification of natural compounds with antiviral activities against SARS-associated coronavirus. Antiviral Res. 2005;67(1):18–23. doi:10.1016/j.antiviral.2005.02.007

(2)^ Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD. Can Natural Botanical Herbs and Supplements Impact Coronavirus? A Scientific Look at Botanical Plants and Supplements Against Coronavirus. Progressive Radio Network (United States), March 10, 2020 (Under heading Licorice Root (Glycyrrhizin Acid))

(3)^Wermig-Morgan, Julia. (2020). Elderberry is anti-bacterial, anti-viral and modulates the immune system: anti-bacterial, anti-viral and immunomodulatory non-clinical (in- vitro) effects of elderberry fruit and flowers (Sambucus nigra): a systematic review. Thesis for MSc in Evidence-Based Health Medicine, University of Oxford

(4)^ Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD. Can Natural Botanical Herbs and Supplements Impact Coronavirus? A Scientific Look at Botanical Plants and Supplements Against Coronavirus. Progressive Radio Network (United States), March 10, 2020 (under heading Elderberry (Sambucus nigra))

(5)^ Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, et al. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11:16. Published 2011 Feb 25. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-16

(6)^ Galuh Mega Kurnia. Studying the benefits of turmeric and curcuma, UNAIR expert: They improve immune system. Unair News website (Indonesia), March 20, 2020

(7)^ SignPath Pharma to Focus on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) by Developing Treatment for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). BioSpace website, March 17, 2020

(8)^ Praditya D, Kirchhoff L, Brüning J, Rachmawati H, Steinmann J, Steinmann E. Anti- infective Properties of the Golden Spice Curcumin. Front Microbiol. 2019;10:912. Published 2019 May 3. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.00912

(9)^ Ali Akbar Nekooeian; Afagh Moatari; Mohammad Motamedifard. The Antiinfluenza Virus Activity of Hydroalcoholic Extract of Olive Leaves. Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 2, 3, 2006, 163-168. Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences website.

(10)^ Hudson, James B. Applications of the Phytomedicine Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) in Infectious Diseases. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology Hindawi Publishing Corporation Volume 2012, Article ID 769896. doi:10.1155/2012/769896