Should Your Child Take Elderberry Gummies?

Elderberry gummies are made from the purple fruit of the European black elderberry shrub (Sambucus niger). The elderberry plant itself, including branches, twigs, roots, leaves, and even the seeds, contain a cyanide-like compound that can cause serious side effects if consumed. The unripe and uncooked fruit can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This doesn’t sound like something you’d really want your child messing about with, and you’d be right. Most doctors recommend you not give your child elderberry in any form. There are no serious scientific studies showing whether the medicine is safe for children and infants and very little showing distinctly positive results for adults.

Elderberry has been used as a medicinal plant for over 400 years. Even Hippocrates called it his “medicine chest.” In adults, the plant is used to treat cold and flu symptoms, constipation, kidney problems, chronic pain, stress, and breathing difficulties. Elderberry contains a good deal of vitamin C, dietary fiber, carbs, and a bit of protein. It’s also packed with antioxidants, which work by helping to clear out “free radicals,” which are molecules produced by the body in response to environmental stressors. These can damage your cells’ DNA, so clearing them from the body has to help, right? Probably so, but there’s just not a lot of scientific evidence proving that fact.

Elderberry’s antioxidants are called anthocyanins. They are also known to reduce inflammation. They do this by slowing the production of one of your body’s signaling molecules (nitric oxide). This molecule signals the cells to produce inflammation (redness and swelling) in response to disease or injury. Elderberry might help to reduce pain by reducing this immune response, but again, there aren’t enough studies to show that it actually works.

When your child is in pain, or up all night coughing or sneezing with a cold, it’s tough to find something that works properly. Over-the-counter medicines aren’t safe for babies or children under six years of age. Elderberry gummies are tempting to many parents because they think that herbs are “natural” and thus, cause no side effects. In fact, that’s a false belief. All medications cause side effects – and all herbs are medications.

Many people believe that elderberry has antiviral properties, too, which can reduce the length of time of a cold or flu. In fact, there was an Australian study in 2016 that did show a reduction in the length and symptom severity of colds in airline passengers who started taking elderberry ten days before their flight and continued taking it five days after their arrival. Most people, however, only take it during their cold, not before and after, so that wouldn’t do any good for them. And the passengers in that study were all adults, so there’s still no information about children and elderberry.

So what are you supposed to do to keep your child from getting sick? Actually, there are quite a few things you can do to protect them:

  • Wash your hands: that includes you and the child. Hand washing is the number one preventative measure for all viral infections, as it stops the virus from reaching your nose or mouth, where it would make itself at home.
  • Prepare healthy meals: If you and your child get the proper vitamins and minerals in your diets, you don’t need to look for herbal supplements.
  • Disinfect surfaces: inside your home, especially during cold and flu season, surfaces should be cleaned often to kill any viruses lurking around.
  • Get plenty of sleep: children and teens need ten hours of sleep a night to function at their best. You need six to eight yourself. Make sure your family is sleeping properly.
  • Limit contact with sick people: this should go without saying, but if you know someone is sick, keep yourself and your kids away from them.
  • Get your flu shot: a yearly flu shot doesn’t just protect you, but everyone in your family. Even if you should catch the strain that hasn’t been covered in the yearly vaccine, the shot itself will reduce your symptoms and make it far less likely to pass the virus to your loved ones.

And if you’re looking for some tried and true home remedies for your child’s symptoms, here are some things doctors (and grandmothers) recommend:

  • Breathing in warm vapors: a warm shower, bath, or just a pot of water on the stove will produce soothing steam that will ease a coughing fit or loosen up the lung passages of a wheezing child.
  • Using a humidifier: warm steam also helps break up mucus.
  • A teaspoonful of honey: So long as your child is over one year old, honey is a safe throat soother for coughs and sore throats. Honey isn’t safe for infants, but once past twelve months of age, you can dose them anytime they cough or complain. Try cutting the honey with a little lemon juice for an anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Popsicles to soothe a sore throat: cold helps ease pain, so giving the sick child a popsicle or other cold food will help them feel better.
  • Nasal saline: sterile saltwater helps cut nasal congestion and doesn’t interact with any medications at all, so you can use it whenever it’s needed. A very young child will need suction to help get rid of the mucus, but older children can blow it out once the saline starts working.

Children are more sensitive to medication that adults, so it’s best to avoid giving them herbal supplements like elderberry gummies until there are some serious scientific studies proving that it’s safe for them.