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Can a berry help fend off flu? Nutritionist says it can help
Lumpkin County woman swamped with requests for homemade elderberry syrup
Mary Ella Abernathy, 8, counts fifteen jars of elderberry syrup in Cumming, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

It all started with a simple Facebook post aimed at trying to unload some leftover elderberry syrup.

“I basically was just trying to recoup the cost of the ingredients and now here I am,” said Robin Reynolds, a community relations manager at Homestead Hospice.

After making a big batch of the syrup for her family, Reynolds, a Lumpkin County resident, was left with a few extra pints. Elderberries are believed by many to ease flu symptoms, so to help her friends out during the flu outbreak, she posted her syrup surplus on Facebook, selling jars for $12 apiece.

She has since had more than 100 requests for more and has had to turn down some people because she doesn’t have enough time to make it.

“We’re just blown away at the response, the need and the want,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t even intend for this to be any type of side business.”

Elderberries are a small fruit about the size of a blueberry. Reynolds describes their taste as “tart” and “wild,” kind of like a mix between a blueberry and raspberry. She said elderberries have been around for hundreds of years, but this flu season seemed to be the first time people have shown major interest in them as a cure.

“It isn’t new,” Reynolds said. “It’s just recently come to the forefront because people are tired of being sick, and they’re scared.”

That’s because this flu season is the worst in recent years. The Georgia Department of Public Health’s most recent report listed 51 flu-related deaths in the state during the 2017-18 outbreak.

Reynolds said people are seeking any ways to protect themselves, and that means looking toward elderberries, which grow wild in Georgia and are often used in wines and jams.

“I think in general, people are looking for ways to help themselves be healthy,” said Jeanne Winner, a clinical nutritionist and functional medicine practitioner at Winner Wellness Center in Gainesville. “We have a lot of sickness, and I think people are looking for ways to take the bull by the horns and looking for ways to be healthy, and elderberries are one aspect of that.”

She said elderberries are rich in vitamin C with some calcium and iron. They can help with inflammation, collagen formation and in battling colds and flus.

“You can call them a superfood,” Winner said. “The only problem is getting them and keeping them fresh.”

That’s because everyone wants them right now. Reynolds cites two major reasons: With reports of the negative side effects of prescription Tamiflu — which reportedly can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, nosebleed, eye redness or discomfort and sleep problems — she said people are looking for other ways to prevent or shorten the flu. The other is a photo of Sambucol, a brand of black elderberry syrup going around on social media and available at most pharmacies.

“That picture has circulated, that this is what you take,” Reynolds said. “I was in Walmart and this man who was probably 80 years old was in the pharmacy asking for it with the picture.”

Instead of shelling out $13 for 4 ounces that she couldn’t find in stores anyway, she decided to make it herself.

“I joke that I’ve got an inner old medicine woman inside me,” Reynolds said. “Because my great-grandmother, in Cleveland, that’s what she was in the mountains.”

Reynolds said if people were sick, they went to her great-grandmother in days before modern medicine and when they couldn’t get to a hospital or doctor. She uses a recipe that’s been handed down through her family for the syrup.

While her original plan was to help her own family, Reynolds has been able to help others in surrounding counties, and only charges for the cost of supplies and ingredients. She said she’s always proactive when it comes to health care and makes sure her family has enough vitamin C throughout the year.

That’s something Winner said makes all the difference.

“The way to treat the flu is to prevent the flu by strengthening your immune system,” Winner said. “So If you incorporate elderberry along with some other things into your daily diet, you’ll strengthen your immune system and cut short the flu.”

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