MILWAUKEE -- Elderberry syrup is sold all over southeast Wisconsin. You can buy home-made versions of the holistic liquid on Facebook, or find it at a chiropractor’s office, health food stores, or online.
Lisa Teubel of Burlington said elderberry syrup, made of elderberries, sugar and pectin, is a staple in her house during cold and flu season. The homeopathic plant grows in her backyard and she swears by its immune boosting powers.
“I work in a hospital and I haven't been sick in five years,” said Teubel.
Elderberry has to be cooked. Research shows the raw berry can make you nauseous, but the I-team discovered, that's not the biggest danger the natural plant poses.
“Certain parts of the plant itself, so the leaves and the stems, can actually have a cyanide like effect,” said Dr. Sarah Pierce, Medical Director of Integrative Medicine for Aurora.
Dr. Pierce stresses a home-made version can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.
“It's very important that you are using just the fruit, she continued.
Some people might confuse elderberry with other poisonous plants. There’s a plant called Pokeweed, for instance, that looks similar and can be deadly.
“I think that you have to be able to confidently identify elderberry,” said Dr. Pierce.
Distinguishing the plant is not difficult for Lisa Teubel. Her family has been making the syrup for four generations.
“I also harvest the berries right away and throw away the stems. I know exactly what I'm doing,” said Teubel.
Dr. Pierce is a fan of the health remedy.
“Yes. I have used it and my kids take it as well,” Pierce said. Although it’s not FDA approved, one study she looked at shows taking it every four hours for several days cuts flu like symptoms in half.
She recommends the supplement to her patients who are suffering from cold or flu like symptoms. She urges people to talk with their doctor, however, before taking it.
There is some concern, she said, that elderberry may interact with medications that suppress the immune system.
“Cancer patients and transplant patients are often people who are taking those types of medications and they should not use elderberry without talking with their doctor first,” Pierce continued. She said people still need to get a flu shot, however.
“I think elderberry has its role, but the flu shot, that is the only thing that will prevent influenza,” Pierce explains.
Teubel, doesn't skip out on the flu shot. She believes there's healing power behind these berries, rooted in her family line.
“Remedies that our grandmothers had and these recipes, they work,” Teubel said.
If you do buy elderberry syrup online or in a health food store, Dr. Pierce said to look for the following:
1.) The product should be labeled with the name “elderberry” and the scientific name too which is “Sambucus Nigra.”
2.) It should have an expiration date and the manufacturer and lot number should be on the product.
3.) The nutritional label should give the dose or the amount of fruit in each pill or liquid.