Elderberry is widely recognized as one of the most extensively utilized medicinal plants globally. It is primarily consumed in supplement form to address symptoms related to cold and flu. However, it is important to cite that consuming raw elderberries, bark, and leaves can pose a significant health risk due to their poisonous nature.
Historically, Indigenous communities have traditionally employed elderberry to alleviate fever and rheumatism, while ancient Egyptians incorporated it into their skincare practices to enhance complexion and facilitate burn healing.
Elderberry continues to be harvested and employed in folk medicine within numerous regions of Europe.
This article aims to delve into the subject matter by exploring the following:
- Elderberry and its properties
- The available evidence supporting the purported health benefits of elderberry
- The possible hazards associated with the consumption of elderberry
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry encompasses several varieties of the Sambucus tree, a flowering plant linked to the Adoxaceae family.
The most prevalent type is Sambucus nigra, European elderberry, or black elder. This tree is aboriginal to Europe but is cultivated extensively in various regions worldwide.
- nigra typically reaches a height of up to 30 feet (9 meters) and features sets of tiny white- or cream-colored flowers known as elderflowers. The berries grow in small bunches and are black or blue-black.
The berries possess a tart flavor and require cooking before consumption. On the other hand, the flowers emit a delicate muscat aroma and can be consumed either raw or cooked.
Other elderberry varieties include American elder, dwarf elder, blue elderberry, danewort, red-fruited elder, and antelope brush.
Throughout history, different parts of the elderberry tree have been utilized for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Traditionally, flowers and leaves have been employed to relieve pain, reduce swelling and inflammation, promote urine production, and cause sweating. The bark was utilized as a diuretic, laxative, and emetic (to induce vomiting).
Dried elderberries or their juice have been used in folk medicine to address influenza, infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, cardiac pain, and nerve pain as a laxative and diuretic.
Furthermore, elderberries can be cooked and processed into juice, jams, chutneys, pies, and elderberry wine. The flowers are commonly boiled with sugar to produce sweet syrup or infused in tea.
Health Benefits of Elderberry
Elderberries offer numerous reported benefits, being both nutritious and potentially supportive in addressing symptoms related to cold and flu, promoting heart health, and combating inflammation and infections.
Elderberries are a low-calorie food source brimming with antioxidants.
A cup (145 grams) of fresh berries contains 106 calories, 26.7 grams of carbohydrates, and is smaller than 1 gram each of fat and protein.
Moreover, elderberries possess various nutritional advantages, including:
- The abundance of vitamin C: With a cup of fruit providing 52 mg of vitamin C, elderberries fulfill approximately 57% of the daily value.
- Significant dietary fiber content: Elderberries contain 10 grams of fiber per cup of fresh berries, representing around 36% of the daily value.
- Presence of phenolic acids: These compounds serve as potent antioxidants, assisting in mitigating oxidative stress-induced damage within the body.
- Source of flavonols: Elderberry houses the antioxidant flavonols quercetin, kaempferol, and isorhamnetin. The flowers contain up to 10 times more flavonols than the berries.
- Wealthy in anthocyanins: These blends contribute to the fruit's characteristic dark black-purple hue and possess robust antioxidant properties with potential anti-inflammatory effects.
The specific nutritional composition of elderberries is influenced by factors such as:
- Plant variety
- The ripeness of the berries
- Environmental and climatic conditions
Improve Cold and Flu Symptoms
Research has indicated that black elderberry extracts and flower infusions can potentially reduce the severity and duration of influenza.
Commercial preparations of elderberry for treating colds are obtainable in various forms, such as liquids, capsules, tablets, and gummies.
In a study conducted in 2004 with 60 individuals diagnosed with influenza, those who consumed 15 mL of elderberry syrup 4 times a day encountered symptom improvement within 2 to 4 days, while the management group took 7 to 8 days to see improvement.
Additionally, a study involving 312 air travelers who consumed capsules containing 300 mg of elderberry extract three times daily found that those who fell ill experienced a shorter duration of illness and milder symptoms.
However, it is essential to mention that other large-scale analyses are necessary to confirm these findings and determine if elderberry could also play a preventive role against influenza.
It should be cited that most research has focused on commercial elderberry products, and there is limited information available regarding the safety and effectiveness of homemade remedies.
High in Antioxidants
During normal metabolic processes, reactive molecules can be generated and accumulate in the body, leading to oxidative stress associated with diseases like type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Antioxidants, natural components found in foods, including certain vitamins, phenolic acids, and flavonoids, play a role in neutralizing these reactive molecules. Diets rich in antioxidants may help in the prevention of chronic diseases.
The elderberry plant's flowers, fruits, and leaves are excellent sources of antioxidants. For instance, one of the anthocyanins in elderberries exhibits 3.5 times more antioxidant power than vitamin E.
A study comparing 15 different berry varieties and another study comparing types of wine found that elderberry is among the most potent antioxidants.
Furthermore, one study demonstrated that antioxidant status improved in individuals within an hour of consuming 400 mL of elderberry juice. Another study on rats showed that elderberry extract helped reduce inflammation and oxidative tissue damage.
However, while elderberry has shown promising results in laboratory studies, research involving humans and animals still needs to be completed. In general, the consumption of elderberry in the diet has only a modest impact on antioxidant status.
Moreover, it is important to note that processing methods like extraction, heating, or juicing of elderberries can diminish their antioxidant activity.
Therefore, products such as syrups, juices, teas, and jams made from elderberries may have reduced antioxidant benefits compared to those observed in laboratory studies.
Good for Heart Health
Elderberry shows potential positive effects on certain heart and blood vessel health markers.
Studies have indicated that elderberry juice may lower blood fat levels and reduce cholesterol. Additionally, a diet rich in flavonoids, including anthocyanins found in elderberry, has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
However, one study involving 34 individuals who received 400 mg of elderberry section (equivalent to 4 mL of juice) three times a day for two weeks did not observe a significant reduction in cholesterol levels.
On the other hand, an investigation conducted on mice with high cholesterol demonstrated that a diet incorporating black elderberry reduced cholesterol levels in the liver and aorta, although not in the blood.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that rats fed with foods containing polyphenols extracted from elderberry experienced decreased blood pressure.
Moreover, elderberries can lower uric acid levels in the blood. Elevated uric acid is associated with increased blood pressure and adverse effects on heart health.
In addition, elderberry can stimulate insulin secretion and improve blood sugar levels. Given that type 2 diabetes is a significant risk factor for heart and vascular diseases, proper blood sugar management is crucial in preventing these conditions.
Studies have demonstrated that elderberry flowers inhibit the enzyme alpha-glucosidase (α-glucosidase), which can help lower blood sugar levels. Furthermore, research on rats with diabetes that were administered elderberry showed improved blood sugar control.
However, it is necessary to state that while these effects are promising, there is currently no direct evidence demonstrating a reduction in heart attacks or other symptoms of heart disease. Further studies involving human participants are required to explore these potential benefits further.
Other Health Benefits
Elderberry has been associated with several potential benefits, although most of these claims lack extensive scientific evidence:
- Potential anti-cancer properties: Test-tube studies have suggested that European and American elderberry varieties may possess certain cancer-inhibiting properties.
- Antibacterial effects: Elderberry has demonstrated inhibitory effects against bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, which may help alleviate sinusitis and bronchitis symptoms.
- Possible immune system support: In rats, elderberry polyphenols were found to enhance immune defense by increasing the number of white blood cells.
- Potential protection against UV radiation: A skin development containing elderberry extract was found to have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 9.88.
- Potential diuretic effects: Elderberry flowers have increased rats' urine frequency and salt excretion.
- Suggested antidepressant properties: A study indicated that mice fed 544 mg of elderberry extract per pound of body weight (1,200 mg per kg) exhibited improved performance and mood indicators.
However, it is vital to note that additional research involving human subjects is needed to establish the significance of these effects.
Furthermore, it is worth saying that there is currently no standardized method for measuring the levels of bioactive components like anthocyanins in commercial elderberry products.
A study revealed that depending on the measurement method, a supplement could claim to contain 762 mg/L of anthocyanins but only 4 mg/L. Therefore, assessing the effects of available products can be challenging.
Health Risks and Side Effects
Although elderberry has potential benefits, it is essential to be aware of its associated dangers.
The bark, unripe berries, and elderberry seeds contain lectins, which can lead to stomach problems if consumed excessively.
Moreover, the elderberry plant contains cyanogenic glycosides, which can release cyanide in certain conditions. Cyanide is a toxin found in apricot seeds and almonds.
Fresh berries contain approximately 3 mg of cyanide per 100 grams, while fresh leaves have 3–17 mg per 100 grams. These amounts constitute only 3% of the estimated fatal dose for an average 130-pound (60-kg) individual.
However, commercial preparations and cooked berries do not contain cyanide, and no reports of fatalities have been associated with their consumption. Symptoms resulting from ingesting uncooked berries, leaves, bark, or elderberry roots may include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
There is one reported case of eight individuals falling ill after consuming juice made from freshly picked berries, including the leaves and branches of the S. mexicana elder variety. Their symptoms included nausea, vomiting, weakness, dizziness, numbness, and stupor.
Fortunately, toxic substances present in the berries can be safely eliminated through cooking. However, avoiding using branches, bark, or leaves in cooking or juicing is important.
If you are harvesting elderberry flowers or berries yourself, it is crucial to correctly identify the plant as either American or European elderberry, as other varieties may be more toxic. Additionally, ensure that any bark or leaves are removed before use.
Elderberry is not recommended for children and adolescents under 18, as well as pregnant or lactating women. Although no negative events have been reported in these groups, insufficient data confirms its safety.
Dr Sebi's Ultimate Favorite - Elderberry
Dr. Sebi, a renowned herbalist and natural healer, had a deep appreciation for the healing properties of various plants and herbs. Among his favorites was elderberry, a powerful fruit known for its numerous health benefits.
Dr. Sebi, as a renowned healer, focused on promoting optimal respiratory health. Elderberry has traditionally been used to ease respiratory issues such as coughs, bronchitis, and congestion. It acts as an expectorant, helping to loosen mucus and relieve respiratory discomfort.
Dr. Sebi's fondness for elderberry stemmed from its immune-boosting properties, anti-inflammatory effects, ability to alleviate cold and flu symptoms, and its positive impact on respiratory health. He saw elderberry as a natural and potent remedy that aligned with his holistic approach to healing and maintaining optimal well-being.
The Bottom Line
While elderberries show potential for various health benefits, it's important to note that most of the research conducted has been in laboratory settings, and limited studies in humans have been conducted. Therefore, making definitive recommendations regarding its specific health benefits is impossible.
However, there is reasonable evidence to support the use of elderberry in reducing the duration and severity of flu symptoms. Additionally, it may have potential benefits for heart health and antioxidant status and exhibit anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Furthermore, elderberry can be a flavorful addition to a healthy diet and provides valuable nutrients such as vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. As with any supplement or natural remedy, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using elderberry for medicinal purposes.