Elderberry, also known as sambucus, are small bluish-black berries that grow in clusters on a shrubby bush. Not to be confused with blueberries, elderberries are native to parts of North America and have been a staple in folk medicine for centuries.
Elderberries have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years as an immune supporter and cough suppressant. Elderberries are an excellent source of vitamins A, B, and C, and could support immune function year-round. Bioflavonoids present in elderberries could soothe inflammation and irritation of the throat, acting as an all-natural sore throat soother and making elderberries a popular ingredient in many over-the-counter medications and cough drops. Elderberries could support immune function with their high levels of antioxidant properties and vitamin C. Potent levels of vitamin A and anthocyanins in elderberries could improve skin health and encourage production of collagen.
How It Works for the Body
Flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries. These flavonoids include anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants and protect cells against damage according to test tube studies. According to laboratory research, an extract from the leaves, combined with St. John’s wort and soapwort, inhibits the influenza virus and herpes simplex virus. The effect on influenza of a syrup made from the berries of the black elderberry has been studied in a small double-blind trial. People receiving an elderberry extract of 2 tablespoons per day for children, 4 tablespoons per day for adults appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo. Animal studies have shown the flowers to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Common Cold: Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and may benefit some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold.
Sore Throat: High levels of antioxidant properties and vitamin C can help soothe a sore throat.
Influenza: Supplementing with elderberry may help speed recovery.
Infection: Elderberry is both immune supportive and antimicrobial.
Sinus Infection: Elderberry is said to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Diabetes: Elderberry has insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions.
Allergy Relief: Elderberries are known to have anti-inflammatory and immune supporting properties.
Elderberries have long been used as food, particularly in the dried form. Elderberry wine, pie, and lemonade are some of the popular ways to prepare this plant as food. The leaves were touted by European herbalists to be pain relieving and to promote healing of injuries when applied as a poultice. Native American herbalists used the plant for infections, coughs, and skin conditions.
The safe internal use of elderberry is limited to the use of the dried flowers or syrups made from the ripe berries. The roots, stems, leaves, and unripe berries may contain poisonous constituents that can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Preparations containing any of these parts of the elder plant should be avoided. See “Poisoning from Elderberry Juice — California” at this link: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00000311.htm
Resources to Dive Into
Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 423.
Foster S. 101 Medicinal Plants. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1998, 72-3.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 1116-7.
Mascolo N, Autore G, Capasso G, et al. Biological screening of Italian medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res 1987;1:28-31.
Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals.London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 104-5.
Serkedjieva J, Manolova N, Zgórniak-Nowosielska I, et al. Antiviral activity of the infusion (SHS-174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra L., aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria officinalis L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses. Phytother Res 1990;4:97-100.
Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free Radical Biol Med 2000;29:51-60.
Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. 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. J Alt Compl Med 1995;1:361-9.