If you’re concerned about swine flu but don’t want to take an anti-viral, you could consider a natural alternative.
As the children go back to school, the authorities are preparing for an upsurge in cases of swine flu.
Even here, in a country that has only had about a thousand cases, we are keeping an eye on things. Me too, since I have a: an auto-immune disease and b: an ongoing respiratory problem (wheezing and coughing for nine weeks now, and counting).
But also, being a fan of helping yourself whenever possible, I prefer to make use of natural remedies if I can.
There is a natural flu treatment all around us at the moment – elderberries. These are the jet-black, juicy berries of sambucus nigra (nigra because the berries are black), and it has powerful, proven anti-viral action. Some studies show it reducing flu symptoms from around seven days to two.
You can buy elderberry extract, under the name of Sambucol, in most herbalist or heath-food stores. But the best way to take it at home is as a tincture, which you can make easily enough yourself.
First, go pick your elderberries – preferably from somewhere that isn’t on the side of a road, or where it gets sprayed with pesticides. The bog-standard normal green bush is the one – the plant we all grew up with, with the flowers that smell like cat pee.
I cut the whole heads off and bring them in, then pull the berries off with my fingers. What you want are the black, ripe berries – reject any red or green ones – and do your level best to get all the little bits of stalk off.
The next step is to dry the berries. This is easy enough to do on kitchen paper in the sun, or in a low oven with the door open. Each time I use the oven, after switching it off when the meal is ready, I pop an oven tray in, with drying herbs or elderberries, and jam the door slightly open with a wooden spoon – herbs and berries dry quite nicely in the heat of a cooling oven. Cover the berries if you can, with something like cheesecloth, as they are attractive to flies.
Next, buy a bottle of the strongest drinking alcohol you can find – really strong vodka, for instance. You want something about 80 proof if possible. I use farm calvados, as this adds a nice apple flavour. The reason you use alcohol is that it ‘draws’ the essential oils out of the plant much better than using the berries fresh or dry (to make tea, for instance). Don’t use alcohol that is designed for rubbing on yourself, or burning, etc.
Once your berries are dry, take a clean, sterilised jar, and fill it one-third full with berries, then top up the other two thirds with alcohol. Put it somewhere where you can pick it up and give it a shake each day. In 7-10 days, it should be ready, but there is no harm in leaving it longer. If you make several jars and only drain off one at a time, it will not become more powerful for extra steeping, but it won’t do any harm either. The important thing is to make sure that the berries are submerged in the liquid.
If you can’t be bothered to dry the berries, you can make a tincture from fresh ones, but in this case, the ratio needs to be 50/50 with alcohol, because the water in the berries has a diluting effect.
At the first sign of flu, take 2 teaspoons of tincture in hot water (newly boiled is best, as then the majority of the alcohol evaporates), three times a day. The efficacy of elderberries as a preventative is not widely attested – it is known primarily as a treatment, which seems to prevent the virus from replicating but it may not help stop you getting it in the first place. It does not seem to be effective against the cold virus, only influenza A and B.
We need not pretend that the flavour is very pleasant – although it’s the rich colour of blackberries, the taste is a bit weird, even slightly garlicky. I have taken to adding a few slices of fresh ginger and half a dozen cloves to each jar, in order to sweeten the flavour a little. But it is high in Vitamin C and should do you no harm.
Elderberries also make me vomit but this is quite a rare phenomenon (I also throw up if I drink green tea, and sometimes if I drink black tea). If you also find this problem, use the ginger and cloves as above, and sip the drink slowly – don’t glug it back. This seems to calm the vomit reflex. By drinking it in this way, slowly, in just-boiled water, I don’t have any problems.