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Friday, February 8, 2013

Flu Bug Got You?

Elderberry for the Flu

The Black Elderberry grows in British Columbia

 What if there was proven remedy that was safe, tastes good and will reduce your flu symptoms by 90% within three days? What if this natural medicine is safe for children? What if  it works for other viruses? Let’s find out the interesting facts about Black Elderberry: Sambucus nigra.

The ripe berries of Sambucus nigra (Black Elderberry) have been shown to effectively control the growth of the H5N1 Avian flu strain.  A study in Israel, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed 20% of patients taking elderberry extracts had dramatic improvements in symptoms including fever, muscle pains and cough. This increased to an improvement in 73% of patients by the second day and 90% by the third day. Compared to the placebo group, in which only 16% improved after two days, there was a clinically significant improvement in the elderberry cohort. 

There were two positive results: there was a greater percentage of the patients improving and the improvements manifested four days sooner.  Children in the study took two tablespoonfuls daily and adults took four. 

Another randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study in Norway showed a reduction of flu symptoms  by four days. This study concluded that elderberry extracts stimulate the healthy immune system  by increasing the production of immune system mediator cytokines. 
The ripe berries are used, devoid of twigs or branches

The medicinal part of the plant is the ripe berries. It contains several flavonoids, the most important ones  being the anthocyanidins cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-sambubioside. Elderberries are also rich in the bioflavonoids rutin, isoquertin and hyperoside.  The anthocyanidins are quickly absorbed, showing significant plasma levels in thirty minutes. Excretion is through the kidneys as glucoronide conjugates. 

Mechanism of Action

The mechanism of action seems to be two fold. The first mechanism is  immunomodulation through increased production of inflammatory response cytokines such as interleukin and tumor necrosis factor.  This implies that Elderberry is beneficial for immunosupressed patients, for example, someone undergoing chemotherapy.   Patients with autoimmune conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis can also benefit from the properties of elderberry without worsening their condition.  This is an important consideration when they get viral infections.

Immunomodulators are substances that regulate or modify the function of the immune system. Immunosuppressants  inhibit the immune response and  immunostimulants stimulate the immune response.It is unclear how immunomodulators work, but it is hypothesized that they act on certain points of the immune activation pathways. Cytokines present in the elderberry are natural immunomodulators. They have multiple interacting roles in the immune pathways.

In a study in Israel in 1995, Elderberry Extracts have also been shown to have antiviral effectiveness  against several flu strains including human, swine and avian strains. The extract is thought to inhibit both hemagglutinin activity and viral cell replication. 
A well designed berry pickers that separates the berries and branches

Side Effects

Orally, elderberry extract is well tolerated.  It is sweet and fruity tasting and is suitable for children.  The ripe berries are used and the proper preparation involves removal of all twigs and branches.  The raw and unripe fruit has been reported to cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Therefore, it is recommended that home preparations of elderberry juice, extracts, wines or tinctures not be consumed in large quantities and cannot be used for medicinal purposes. 

Elderflower Tea: Used Differently

The flowers of the elderberry tree are used effectively for sinusitis. There is insufficient reliable information about the effectiveness of the elder flower for its other uses. The mechanism of action is from the flavonoids lectin, rutin, choline tannin and lipophilic triterpinoids. It also exerts antioxidant activity from sterol compound such as lupeol and beta-sitosterol. 

There have been no studies on the use of the elder flower in influenza cases.

The elder flowers are often prepared in an extract or a tea. 

Elderberry syrup can be served hot as a delicious tea


J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40

Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.


Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.

J Altern Complement Med. 1995 Winter;1(4):361-9

Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama.


Department of Virology, Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel.

J Nutr. 2002 Jul;132(7):1865-71.

Absorption and metabolism of anthocyanins in elderly women after consumption of elderberry or blueberry.


U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center, Little Rock 72202, USA.

Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects

 By Iris F. F. Benzie, Sissi Wachtel-Galor


Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6.

The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines.


Immunology Laboratory for Tumor Diagnosis, Department of Oncology, Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel.

Kombucha and Gengis Khan

Kombucha Tea and Gengis Khan

My Introduction to Kombucha

I was wrong. I thought Kombucha was a variation of the Kefir strain: a sort of a  gentler, more palatable version of the mighty Kefir (see my blog: My Fear of Kefir). Turns out that Kombucha preceded Kefir by about a thousand years. 

More than 2,000 years ago, the Chinese relied on the health benefits of Kombucha Tea, and they called it the “immortal health elixir.”  There is a story of a Korean physician named Kombu healing the emperor of Japan though this medicinal tea, which propelled its immense popularity in Japan. The biggest contributor to the spread of the Kombucha was a fellow by the name of Gengis Khan. It was carried in skin flasks by his armies who drank the sour drink for immunity and strength. Yup. Nothing like a drink of immortality before you invade a foreign territory. 
Kombucha Tea is made from the fermentation of a mixture of sweetened tea and a SCOBY, which is a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.

Jaggary, a beautiful, mineral laden form of sugar cane

Oolong tea is the traditional tea and will give beautiful, white scobies.

My favorite tea base is made from equal parts of black tea, green tea and oolong tea. I have brewed successfully in hibiscus tea, tulsi tea, rooibos tea, white tea, and red reishi.  I have discovered a molasses tasting sweet version with Jaggary and tulsi tea (Holy Basil). On the other hand, I have killed some cultures with overly strong ginger, chai, ginseng and dan shen teas.


I purposely over brew the three teas separately in alkaline water overnight. I always use alkaline water set at a pH of 10.6, which is ideal for pulling the minerals from the tea.  The minerals are an essential food for the bacteria. I have used different sugars and prefer Jaggary, the raw sugarcane cubes from India.  It is unpasteurized and unprocessed, retaining the minerals from the sugar cane , which adds to the overall happiness of the culture.

Benefit: Detoxification
Through the growth of  beneficial commensal gut bacteria , as well as providing enzymes and yeast to the digestive tract, Kombucha tea can help detoxify your body. It increases pancreatic enzymes, improves protein digestion and assists the liver.  It contains glucoronic acid which is a potent detoxifier.  A properly fermented culture should not be too overly acidic (it should not taste like vinegar). Taking the slightly acidic Kombucha assists in digestion if taken at the beginning of a meal.

Photo of Acetobacter bacteria

Benefit: Digestion
Kombucha has been shown to contain several strains of beneficial bacteria including Bacterium gluconicum, Bacterium xylinum, Acetobacter xylinum, Acetobacter xylinoides and Acetobacter ketogenum. The health of the colon is aided by the yeast strains  Saccharomycodes ludwigii, Saccharomycodes apiculatus, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Zygosaccharomyes and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It also contains Vitamin B12 , Niacinamide, Nicotinic acid, Pantothenic acid, Riboflavin and  Thiamine.

Benefit: Cancer Defense
Kombucha tea’s detoxifying properties and its high content of glucoronic acid can aid in the prevention of cancer. Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his autobiography that his stomach cancer was cured by regular consumption of Kombucha tea. After President Ronald Reagan came to know about the author’s claim, he decided to use Kombucha tea to prevent his cancer from spreading. 

Benefit: Lowers Inflammation
Kombucha tea contains high amounts of glucosamine which enhances the production of hyaluronic acid, an acid that can help preserve cartilage structure and reduce arthritic pain. HA attracts up to one thousand times its weight in water and will increase lubrication and flexibility of joints.

Benefit: Supports the Immune System
By improving the gut flora , Kombucha increases base immunity by decreasing the amount of toxins entering the body. The gut permeability is preserved and protein digestion is improved, diminishing protein putrefaction which can lead to dysbiosis and bowel inflammation. It contains the important Sacharomyce bouiilardi strain which is beneficial for irritable bowel disease. 

A healthy gut is the key to improved immunity and has far-reaching benefits for overall health, including hormone health. It will manifest as improved resistance to disease, improved digestion and increased energy levels.

How to Make Happy Kombucha

1.       Prepare a strong tea by brewing your choice of green tea, oolong tea or black tea. Avoid herbal teas and spicy teas (chai) as the culture can be killed by the spices.
2.       Allow the tea to cool to room temperature and add one cup of sugar per litre.  The ratio of sugar to tea is 1:2. Do not worry about all the sugar: it will be consumed by the bacteria and yeast and will not be present when the ferment is finished.
3.       From the tea that you were given, pour out half to drink over the next ten days. The dose is four tablespoonfuls a day.
4.       Replace the tea that you have poured out with the sugared cold tea.
5.       Place a breathable fabric over the jar such as cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.
6.       Place the culture in a warm, dark place. Do not disturb for at least 7 days. The ideal temperature range is 21 to 29 degrees Centigrade. The wrong bacteria will grow if the temperature drops below 16 degrees. Do not make Kombucha if you can not regulate the temperature: your culture will sour and harmful bacteria will have harmful effects.
7.       After 7 days, inspect the culture daily. It is normal for a culture “mushroom” to form on top of the liquid. If you smell a little bit of vinegary smell, then it is ready to harvest. If you smell a bit of sweetness, it is not ready to harvest. The time it takes to harvest will depend on the temperature in your house. The warmer it is, the faster it will ferment.
8.       If it is ready to harvest (smells or tastes slightly acidic, but NOT vinegary), then pour out half and repeat the process from step 3.

A happy scoby is firm, white and clear
9.       Over time, the “mushroom” will get to the size of a hamburger patty and will start forming layers. Once you have several layers, you can start a new culture by peeling and separating the layers. If you are starting a brand new culture, make sure you include at least two inches of the old liquid, as well as the mushroom. 

Happy, Healthy Scobies

1 A happy, healthy SCOBY is white to yellow-beige, but never black. It may have dark spots which is from the yeast, but it should be even coloured, firm and smooth. It should look luminous and glowing. If your SCOBY is sickly looking, discard it and start from scratch from a secondary ferment and allow it to grow a new SCOBY. Check your temperature and acidity regularly.

A healthy culture fizzes when you shake the bottle. Once in a while, shake the culture to check. It should also have small bubbles visible at the top of the culture. The more fizz, the happier the culture is. 

Tell us how your Kombucha experience goes.

May You Have Many Years of Happy fermenting!!


Family Day Blog

Title: Family and The Three Aspects

There is a new holiday this year: Family Day and it is this coming Monday. This is the first year it is being celebrated in British Columbia. Thinking about this, I dug up an old photograph with me sitting on my mother’s lap at one year of age. There were two more sisters born after this photo, so I come from a big family.

Family brings to mind the first aspect: the need for faith. It is true that we can pick our friends but never our family. Our families are the source of our greatest joys, and our greatest sorrows. Our family is who we are, in our DNA, in our cells,  in our very fibre. They give us allergies. I have often told my two children that no matter what, no one will come closer to them than each other. In fact, they are closer to each other than they are to us, their parents. It is often believed that we are the product not just of our parents, but of seven generations past. I added it up: 284 energies guiding each of us. Our instincts, intuition and clairvoyance are propelled by the connection to these unconscious factors. It gives us a compass, it guides us invisibly, it holds us to our foundation, like invisible threads. It provides us with a trust: that everything will work out, with our family behind us. This is the first aspect.

From the first aspect of faith, we are enabled to rise to the second aspect: the need for courage. From our foundation of the family, we experience growth; in our abilities and in our confidence. Always, our biggest fan club is our own families and it is true that our achievements are their achievements. ( I have a nephew who at age six is a fantastic and gifted singer and it always gives me a special sense of pride to watch his videos. *)

Family is the training ground and the greenhouse where we get to try new stuff out. Let our talents sprout. This gives us courage to venture on our own and pave our own paths. It allows us the social grace to form friendships and kinships of our own. And then, it is these partnerships that lead to the most courageous venture of all: creating our own family. There exists many modern versions of this: the partner, the co-mortgagee, the soul-friend, or if you are conventional, the wife or husband.  This is the second aspect.

* Here is a link to a my nephew Tyson's youtube video:


Through the aspect courage, we begin the third aspect: the need for questionability. This may seem a strange and final culmination, but this is the most important aspect of all. If we do not question, we cease. We stagnate. We are lulled into a false security. We die in spirit. Questioning is the opposite of doubting. It is the opposite of insecurity. It is the opposite of terminating. When we question, we allow ourselves to simultaneously reflect in gratitude for our past, enjoy our present and propel into the future. It allows us to grow and to excel. When doubt and uncertainty creep into our thoughts, we should welcome it as necessary refinements to our game plan.

Perfection is therefore not the objective. Rather, we return to the first aspect: have faith in ourselves; the second aspect: have the courage to do what is required and the third aspect: question ourselves as to what next. The aspect of questionability allows us to transcend our limitations. Each generation should transcend the previous.

The three aspects repeat in our lifetime. Over and over again.

And this is will go on for seven generations. Our spirits will continue to soar through our descendants. More so if they are aware of this gift. 

The gift of family.

So, have a great Family Day to all of you and may you pause on this day to look back to where you came from in order to achieve a sense where you are.