Elderberry, also known as the ‘common elder’ or the American elder plant (Elderberry sambucus nigra sbsp. Canadensis) produces fruit known for its amazing health benefits. The elderberry plant is a deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub. The Sambucus elderberry bush branches outward from the base to form dense thickets which can reach up to 9m in height.1 Although both red elderberry and blue elderberry varieties exist, the plant usually referred to when one references ‘elderberry’ boasts fruit that is a deep blackish purple in color and is sometimes referred to as sambucol elderberry.1
The edible fruit of the elderberry plant is widely used as a natural medicinal remedy for minor ailments such as influenza, the common cold, digestive issues, as well as other conditions.1,10 Continue reading to discover more about the many health benefits of elderberry, as well as some delicious elderberry recipes.
Are Elderberries Edible?
You may be wondering, are elderberries poisonous? Despite their plump, appetizing appearance, elderberries should not be consumed straight from the plant. Raw elderberries and other parts of the plant, including elderberry leaves contain a toxic substance. If not properly prepared or processed, elderberries may cause digestive issues including nausea, vomiting, and severe diarrhea.2
History of Elderberries
Elderberry has long been recognized for its remarkable healing abilities. Used to create everything from elderberry liqueur to elderberry pie, it is a versatile ingredient. Elderberries, as well as other parts of the elder plant, have been used for centuries in Europe, Northern Africa, and parts of Asia to prevent or cure numerous ailments and health problems.1
Native Americans have also traditionally used elderberry for its healing propertiesparticularly to treat fever and rheumatism.3,4 In folk medicine, elder berries have been used for their diaphoretic (sweat inducing), laxative and diuretic properties and to treat various illnesses such as stomach ache, sinus congestion, constipation, diarrhea, sore throat, common cold, and rheumatism.5,10
Elderberry fruits are an excellent source of anthocyanins, vitamin A, vitamin C and a good source of calcium, iron and vitamin B6.1 Elderberry production and processing are well established in Europe where an impressive array of food and medicinal supplements are accessible. lose to 100 different elderberry products are available on the internet alone. These products can be divided into two main categories: food and beverages, and health products.
A daily dose of elderberry syrup provides the concentrated immune-supporting benefits of elderberry in a potent and delicious way. Elderberry syrup and elderberry cough syrup can be purchased or made yourself. Homemade elderberry syrup recipes can be found online. Elderberry syrup uses include maintenance of good health, natural prevention and treatment of cold and flu, allergies, and relief from inflamed joints and other chronic pains.8
Elderberry wine is known for its properties to strengthen the immune system, and is believed by some to help prevent cold and flu symptoms.1 Flavonoids found in elderberry wine possess powerful anti-viral properties. Additionally, a compound of elderberry wine, called lectin, may be able to hold back replication of particular strains of viruses in the body.5
Elderberry juice benefits the immune system and provides all of the health-boosting properties of other elderberry products with the ease of convenience. Elderberry juice can be purchased at health food stores, or homemade if one has access to elderberries. Like other “dark” berries, such as cherries, blueberries, blackberries and Saskatoon berries, elderberry taste is rich, tart and slightly sweet, with an astringent tannic aftertaste.
Benefits of elderberry tea include immune system protection, as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Elderberry is often mixed with other natural remedies to custom fit to specific maladies. For instance, elderberry and echinacea tea can be enjoyed to ward off cold and upper-respiratory symptoms. Ginger can also be added to enhance elderberry tea benefits and provide natural anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving assistance.3
As with other elderberry products, elderberry jam and elderberry jelly are tasty treats that also provide anti-viral/immune-boosting benefits.1 Elderberry jam can be purchased in stores, or made at home, with fresh elderberries, rehydrated dried elderberries, or even using elderberry syrup.
Elderberry liqueur, not to be confused with elderberry flower liqueur or elderflower liqueur, is a rich liqueur reminiscent of a tawny port wine and can be yet another (adults-only) way to get a dose of the immune-boosting berry.
Many vitamins and supplements have recently been made available in gummy form to make the daily task of taking pills easier and tastier. Elderberry supplements are no exception. Elderberry gummies can provide a daily immune-strengthening boost to children and adults alike in a simple, easy to consume format.
Elderberry pie is another delicious way to enjoy the many health benefits of elderberries. Although desserts do contain more sugar and fat than some of the other products listed here, one can still reap the benefits of the nutrient-packed berry in the more decadent form of a pie.
Elderberry tincture is a simple way to benefit from the properties of the elderberry without the added sugar of some of the products listed above. This tincture can act as a form of elderberry cold medicine, which can be taken preventatively or in higher doses during active sold or flu sickness. Elderberry tincture can be taken straight in 1 Tbsp. doses, or diluted in water or tea. Elderberry for colds may be an alternative to typical over-the-counter medications.
Elderberry and numerous forms of elderberry extract are considered by many to be a natural remedy for mild colds and flu.9,10 Researchers have found that the complex sugars in elderberries support may the immune system in fighting cold and flu. One study found that elderberry has the ability to eradicate viruses in the lining of the nose and throat.1 Another study found that with elderberry, cold and flu symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier compared to a placebo group. The use of over-the-counter medicine was also significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract. Researchers hypothesized this may be a result of elderberry’s natural antimicrobial properties.6
Elderberries also contain high levels of antioxidants and flavonoids, which are naturally occurring plant substances that have been shown to have antioxidant and antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus type 1, respiratory syncytial virus, and the parainfluenza and influenza viruses.10 Elderberry’s health benefits may be attributed to its natural anti-inflammatory properties which help support its traditional healing uses.9,10
Anecdotally, it is clear that many people swear by the healing benefits of elderberry syrup, and often reach for elderberry medicine over other forms of over-the-counter medicines.
Elderberry Side Effects
Elderberry, and other parts of the elderberry plant, such as the elderberry leaf, are potentially toxic or poisonous when consumed raw. Additionally, regular over-consumption of elderberry products has been reported to have a laxative effect.9 The use of elderberry syrup while pregnant is not yet well researched. Pregnant women should consult with a healthcare professional before consuming during pregnancy or nursing. Elderberry syrup for babies and toddlers is not recommended, and as for children, the berry should only be consumed in a product or dosage marketed as elderberry for kids, as adult dosages and concentrations may be harmful.2,7
Where to Buy Elderberry Products
For those wondering where do elderberries grow, fresh elderberries grow wild throughout many regions of North America and Europe. Growing elderberry plants is not particularly difficult for those that live in the right climate. However, both frozen and dried elderberries are often found in health food stores and can be used to make many of the products listed above.
Pre-made elderberry supplements, such as gummies, capsules, syrups and tinctures, can also be purchased at some health food stores such as Whole Foods or vitamin stores.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Charlebois, D. (2007) Issues in new crops and new uses: Elderberry as a Medicinal Plant. J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.). ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA. Retrieved on October 24, 2017 from https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu07/pdfs/charlebois284-292.pdf
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2016). European Elder: Fact Sheet. NCCIH Publication No.: D391. Retrieved on October 24, 2017 from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/euroelder
- Borchers, A.T., E. Gershwin, C.L. Keen, and J.S. Stern. (2000) Inflammation and native American medicine: The role of botanicals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 72: 339–347. Retrieved on October 24, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10919925
- Moerman, D.E. (1986). Medicinal plants of native America. Michigan Museum, Ann Arbor. Retrieved on October 23 2017 from https://books.google.ca/books?id=ItBWAAAAMAAJ&q=4.+Moerman,+D.E.+(1986)+Medicinal+plants+of+native+America&dq=4.+Moerman,+D.E.+(1986)+Medicinal+plants+of+native+America&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwidiZrarI_XAhUM2WMKHaMDByEQ6AEIKDAA
- Uncini Manganelli, R.E., L. Zaccaro, and P.E. Tomei. (2005) Antiviral activity in-vitro of Urtica dioica L.,Parietaria diffusa and Sambucus nigra Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 98:323–327. Retrieved on October 24, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15814267
- Merica, E., M. Lungu, I. Balan, and M. Matei. (2006) Study on the chemical composition of Sambucus nigra L. Essential oil and extracts. NutraCos 2006:25–27. Retrieved on October 24, 2017 from http://docsdrive.com/pdfs/medwelljournals/rjasci/2013/240-243.pdf
- Novelli, S. (2003) Developments in berry production and use. Bi-weekly Bul., Vol. 16. Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada. Retrieved on October 24, 2017 from http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2015/aac-aafc/A27-18-16-21-eng.pdf
- Kong, F. (2009) Pilot Clinical Study on a Proprietary Elderberry Extract: Efficacy in Addressing Influenza. Online Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics 5: 22-43. Retrieved on October 23, 2017 from – View Reference
- lbricht C, Basch E, Cheung L, et al. (2014) An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of Dietary Supplements. 11(1):80-120. Retrieved on October 23, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24409980
- Z Zakay-Rones, E Thom, T Wollan et al. (2004) Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections. The Journal of International Medical Research. 32: 132 – 140. Retrieved on October 24 2017 from – View Reference