OGDEN -- Flu season is upon us, and while washing your hands and getting the vaccine are important preventions, a Weber State University botanist recommends an additional way to defend yourself from getting sick.
Stephen L. Clark, a WSU professor of botany, said he learned the power of elderberry during one of his many trips to remote areas of the world.
"I study how people use plants and have spent time on five different continents," Clark said. "I've been to some of the most remote places, living among these people and learning their way of life. During one of these trips, I learned about European elderberry and the effects it has on influenza A, B and avian influenza."
A word of caution: Eaten raw, the berries can be poisonous. However, in syrup or lozenge form, elderberry is safe to use.
Researchers from Hadassah University in Jerusalem have found the elderberry plant to activate the immune system to not only guard against the flu virus, but ease the symptoms if you do get it.
According to elderberries.com, the plant produces small, dark berries that grow in clusters. The berries contain powerful antioxidants called flavonoids that help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
"They haven't found any side effects or interactions so far," Clark said. "It's really quite safe and can be purchased at health food stores and even local drug stores."
Clark said elderberry is common to the Intermountain West region, so he wanted to know more.
"The product did exceptionally well in preventing the flu, but if people did get sick, it also cut down the illness by nearly half," he said. "The fruit from the plant contains chemicals that are effective against these particular influenza strains."
Clark said he wondered about local elderberry, so he personally started using extracts and says that, so far, it has worked.
He also got some students to use it, and they swear by it, he said.
"There hasn't been any research on our local elderberry, but it seems to have the same effect as the European elderberry," Clark said. "A chemist here at the school has agreed to get together to compare the two, so we can see the similarities."
Clark said while the evidence is exciting, he recommends getting vaccinated.
"I would still get the vaccine. It's just an added protection," he said. "There are quite a few plants out there that live up to their claims as far as treating illnesses, and next semester I will be teaching a course about these alternative medicines.
"There's also a lot of crap out there, too, so you have to be careful. I do think conventional medicine and alternative medicine can work very, very well together at times."