Elderberry can be considered a blanket term used to cover a variety of types of Sambucus trees. The most common type is the Sambucus nigra. It is native to Europe but grown across the globe.
The berries of the plant are a deep purple or blue-black in color and are bunched together in small clusters. They are about the size of blueberries or cranberries and have an extremely tart taste. Like cranberries, they should be cooked before eaten. Elderberry flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, and both berries and flowers may have medicinal uses.
Different parts of the plant have been used for various medical and health-related purposes. Like other berries, elderberry fruit is used to make juices, jams, syrups, pies, and more.
Elderberry has a rich tradition as well as a number of uses. The plant’s flowers and leaves have been used to reduce swelling and inflammation and offer pain relief. Elderberry has also been used as a diuretic and laxative. Dried berries, juices, and syrups have been used to boost immunity, combat pain, and fight illness.
May Improve Cold and Flu Symptoms
There is a series of studies indicating that elderberry extracts can help boost immunity to combat cold and flu symptoms. Although not necessarily a preventative tool, research has demonstrated that taking elderberry can reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms.
One randomized controlled study featuring 60 adults found that taking elderberry could help treat the flu. Those who took 15 milliliters (mL) of elderberry syrup four times per day had symptoms clear an average of four days earlier than those taking a placebo.
Another small study, this time featuring 64 people, found that taking 175 milligrams (mg) of elderberry extract lozenges for two days led to significant improvements in flu-related symptoms. Headache, fever, aches, and congestion were all less severe in just one day of use.
Other studies have also found it effective, and larger studies are underway to confirm these findings and learn if elderberry might be an effective tool for flu prevention.
One thing to keep in mind is that these results were determined using commercially available elderberry products. It is unclear if homemade syrups, etc. would have the same effect.
May Promote a Healthy Heart
The high levels of antioxidants present in elderberries might offer a boost to heart health. Research has shown that foods containing flavonoid anthocyanins, as well as polyphenols, can help reduce arterial stiffness and promote reduction in blood pressure.
Some studies have suggested that taking elderberry can lower levels of cholesterol, while others have found it makes no difference.
Some animal studies have shown that elderberry extract can lower blood pressure and reduce organ damage resulting from high blood pressure. There is other evidence that it might also boost insulin secretion to help lower blood sugar. Lower levels of blood sugar can help reduce systemic inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Far more work needs to be done concerning heart health. That said, including an elderberry extract in your routine is unlikely to cause harm. Just don’t rely on the remedy as a significant player in your own heart health.
May Offer Benefits for Skin Health
The antioxidants in elderberry may also help treat skin conditions like acne or wrinkles. Antioxidant flavonoids may provide anti-inflammatory benefits that help keep skin cells healthy and limit inflammatory skin conditions.
For wrinkles, elderberry is a decent source of vitamin A. It may help smooth skin and help reduce the appearance of age spots and wrinkles.
Elderberries are nutrient- and antioxidant-rich. One cup of raw elderberries features:
|Nutrient||Amount||% Daily Value (DV)|
|Vitamin A||870 IU||17%|
|Vitamin C||52.2 mg||87%|
|Vitamin B6||0.3 mg||17%|
|Pantothenic acid||0.2 mg||2%|
Elderberry Side Effects and Risks
There is a slight risk if you’re considering using elderberries for health. If you decide to eat them raw, and a lot of them, they might cause stomach pain and digestive problems. This is due to compounds called lectins. Waiting until berries are ripe, or cooking them, however, should take care of this problem.
There is also a small amount of cyanide in elderberries. Doses, however, are extremely small and unlikely to cause illness. Once again, cooking them will eliminate the cyanide. Commercially sold elderberries will also be cyanide-free.
Overall, elderberries seemingly only cause harm if raw, uncooked berries, leaves, bark, or roots are consumed. It’s important to note that when making juice or syrup or cooking elderberry, you should only use the berries. Do not include branches, bark, or leaves.
Ultimately, existing research surrounding elderberry has not confirmed its ability to cure any specific health condition. You should not stop taking any medications you’ve been prescribed without first speaking with your healthcare provider.
If consumed properly elderberry is safe, and can be a nutritious addition to your diet.
How to Use Elderberry
Elderberry can be used much like any other berry. You may not want to consume them raw, but using them in pies, jams, spreads, and virtually any other context for berries is welcome.
One common way people use elderberries is in elderberry syrup. It may provide some of the immune-boosting benefits elderberry is celebrated for. Here’s a recipe from the Wellness Mama you can make at home:
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Serves: 2 cups
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 2/3 cup black elderberries (dried, or 1 1/3 cups fresh or frozen)
- 2 tbsp ginger (grated)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 cup raw honey
- Pour water into a medium saucepan and add the elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.
- Bring to a boil and cover. Reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until liquid has reduced by about half.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Mash the berries.
- Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl. Discard the elderberries and let the liquid cool to lukewarm.
- When it has cooled, add honey. Stir well.
- When the honey has dissolved in the elderberry mixture, pour the syrup into a bottle or jar for storage.
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