Ask the Pharmacist: I’m mad about the stupid elderberry posts!

Suzy Cohen
Elderberry tonic.

There is a pandemic among us. People like you and me are looking for alternative methods to help support our immune system and help preserve our health, considering COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus).

More:Ask the Pharmacist: How to make an herbal immune tea

People are going to die because some health experts are irresponsible and have misinterpreted a scientific article from 19 years ago. I’m not naming names, but these people are now posting very poor “advice” over the Internet.

Sadly, the misinformation is going as viral as the virus itself! You cannot and should not believe everything you read right online, even if it’s from a practitioner (even some famous ones) because not everyone has the gift of accurately interpreting medical data. That’s actually very hard to do.

Go onto the website PubMed and you’ll see what I mean. Interpreting data requires a specific understanding of vitamins, enzymes, medications, genes, and metabolic pathways in your body. I can read these things like a second language!

So, when I hear about a story going around about elderberries being bad for you, it peaked my curiosity. Who would say that, and why? 

I’m here to save the elderberry! It has been documented to block viral attachment of certain types of coronaviruses to ACE 2 proteins/receptors. These are in your lungs, and the deadly coronavirus latches on to these and attacks the lungs. Follow me? Elder is also well-documented to increase T helper cell counts. You need those to fight back.

So, to hear from terrified people, who are now afraid of elderberry tea and herbs (and supplements), because of nonsensical stories read on the Internet … well it just makes me mad!


Several bloggers and doctors are posting stories about how elderberries can increase a cytokine storm. Again, this is not a fair statement. The misinformation you’re getting was based upon a research article that evaluated blood cells in test tubes. It was not a well-designed, placebo-controlled clinical trial. It was not even done on real live people (in vivo). Writing today’s article is the only way I can disinfect the lies.

Elderberries are helpful, they have been with us for centuries! But someone started a false claim that the precious herb would increase a cytokine storm and worsen your outcome. Now that’s gotten posted to every social media site available! Sad. Irresponsible.

You see, there are good cytokines and bad ones. Elderberry raises the good ones, COVID-19 raises the bad ones. It doesn’t worsen any virus in my professional opinion.

I’m pretty fired up about this! I want to show you how foolish all of this is:

  • The article was not printed in a journal that doctors commonly refer to like the Lancet, or NEJM. It was posted online. But regardless of the publication, allow me to go on …
  • Only 12 people were used who donated their blood! A global pandemic with over 11,000 deaths on the planet. We’re going to base our decision from data extracted from 12 test tubes?!

I should stop right here but I’ll keep going …

  • The article is from 19 years ago! I wouldn’t necessarily rely on data from two decades ago to decide about my life today.
  • The researchers themselves concluded that elderberry, “reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3-4 days.”
  • The researchers also conclude that it “can activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production.”  They’re saying that in a good way, because you need anti-inflammatory cytokines in higher numbers to offset the pro-inflammatory (bad) cytokines. They go on to say that elderberry, “…could also have an immune-protective or immunostimulatory effect when administered to cancer or AIDS patients, in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments.”

I have a longer rant about this at my website While you’re there, please sign up for my free health newsletter, so we can stay in touch via email.

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Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit