September 30, 2020 7 min read

Elderberry is a dark purple berry produced by a species of European Elderberry trees called L. Sambucus Nigra. 

According to the holistic and natural health community, the elderberry, when prepared into a tincture, syrup, or other herbal preparation, may have immune boosting benefits, among various other healing properties.

Many people believe that elderberry can help ward off the flu or even help shorten the duration of the common cold.

In modern times, the fruit may also be used to make wine or as a natural alternative to artificial food coloring, but it's uses date back centuries.

In fact, there are records of elderberry's medicinal use dating back to 400 B.C. Hippocrates, the "father of medicine" himself, referred to the elderberry tree as his "medicine chest."

While elderberries may have a variety of health benefits, other parts of the elderberry plant may be toxic. Finding elderberry supplements that are well-made, easy to use, and tasty is the best way to design a safe, effective, and enjoyable immune-boosting routine.

Table of Contents
Elderberry Benefits
Elderberry Research
How is Elderberry Used?
Is Elderberry Safe?
Can You Take Elderberry Every Day?
Does Elderberry Interact with Other Medications?
Resources

Key Takeaways

Elderberry is the fruit of the elderberry tree, a species native to Europe, that has been used for various medicinal purposes for centuries.

Most pro-elderberry research focuses on its potential to prevent and manage the flu and the common cold, and many small-scale studies confirm that elderberry may be an effective treatment.

Of course, research regarding elderberry’s benefits and usage is slim, and more research is needed before we can understand the full benefit or most effective methods for using Elderberry.

Elderberry is generally considered safe for adults who aren’t taking diuretics or immunosuppressive medications, but you should always check with your doctor before adding a new supplement to your routine just to be safe!

Elderberry Benefits

Ripened elderberries on the bush

Elderberry has a diverse vitamin content, including high doses of vitamin C, and a plentiful amount of antioxidants, a combination that may help strengthen the immune system and promote overall wellness.

The berries get their dark purple color from anthocyanins, strong antioxidants known for having powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

Because elderberry may stimulate the immune system, it may also pose a range of benefits that help promote immune system balance. Some holistic practitioners suggest that elderberry may help tame mild inflammation, reduce high stress levels, and protect your heart by helping to keep cholesterol in check.

The most talked about benefit of elderberry is it’s potential use for preventing and treating the common cold and yearly flu.

Other possible benefits may include managing:

  • Constipation
  • Joint and muscle discomfort
  • Various skin conditions
  • Conditions that affect breathing
  • Headaches
  • Epilepsy
  • Stress
  • Fever
  • Kidney issues
  • HIV/AIDS

Some of these effects have been evaluated by preliminary research, while others may be based on common observations from health practitioners. There are also many anecdotal reports of elderberry’s ability to reduce the duration and severity of the flu and common cold.

Elderberry Research

Although elderberry has a lengthy history of medicinal use and plenty of support from natural health and wellness communities, research regarding elderberry’s benefits is limited to small studies.

One of these studies is a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial that evaluates the effects of elderberry on physical (especially respiratory) and mental health in 312 economy class air-travelers.

The study found that the control group developed more colds overall, and that the duration of the cold in control-group subjects was much longer (117 days vs 57 days) than those taking elderberry supplements. The control group also showed significantly higher symptom scores through the duration of the cold compared to the group that took Elderberry.

Another randomized trial involving 60 people looked at the efficacy and safety of elderberry syrup for treating influenza type A and type B.

The study found that those who took elderberry experienced relief from symptoms up to four days earlier than the group that received a placebo. The elderberry group also required significantly less medication to manage symptoms.

This study concluded that “elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza,” but called for a larger study to further confirm the results.

Research also evaluates the effects of elderberry on flu-induced pneumonia. A standardized elderberry extract was tested for it’s antimicrobial and antiviral activity against multiple types of bacteria commonly responsible for respiratory infections as well as two different influenza virus cultures.

It was shown that standardized elderberry liquid extract may act as an antimicrobial agent against multiple samples of respiratory infection-causing bacteria. According to this research, the elderberry may also inhibit the growth of pathogenic influenza viruses.

Other preliminary studies have evaluated elderberry against various conditions, like gum disease, obesity-related inflammation, heart disease, and cancer, but more information is needed before elderberry can be officially established as a treatment or cure for any condition.

How is Elderberry Used?

A freshly prepared jar of elderberry syrup

Because it has such a lengthy history in holistic practice, there are several different ways that elderberry may be used as part of a wellness routine. Elderberry may be made into lozenges, capsules, or teas, but the most common preparation is an oral syrup made from fresh or dried, cooked berries.

Elderberry syrup is usually taken similarly to the way a cough syrup is used, but the suggested dosage varies greatly.

Many people take elderberry daily as a preventative measure to ward off the flu and common cold, especially during flu season. When elderberry is used daily as a preventative, lower doses are needed.

When taken as a treatment for the flu or a cold, many holistic practitioners suggest increasing the frequency, taking several doses throughout the day.

Although research has yet to compare the differences, it’s usually suggested that elderberry is even more effective as a preventative for the flu than as a treatment.

For that reason, the most common way to use elderberry is to take a small, preventative dose daily throughout the duration of flu season.

Some products, like the Vida Optima CBD Lollipops, make daily preventative doses simple. Each is packed with 25mg of CBD (which is also thought to stimulate the immune system) and 50mg of elderberry to offer the plant-based immune boost you need to stay well and live optimally.

Is Elderberry Safe?

Opinions of elderberry’s safety vary, but most sources suggest that elderberry (when prepared properly) is generally safe for healthy people.

It’s important to note that raw elderberries shouldn’t be consumed, as they’ve been known to cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when uncooked.

Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t take elderberry because the effects of elderberry on neonatal health have not been researched.

People with immune system-related illnesses, especially those with overactive immune systems, may not be able to take elderberry because it stimulates an immune response.

In rare cases, some people find that they are allergic to elderberries. Allergic reactions often happen in the form of a skin rash or breathing difficulty.

If you suffer from allergy or histamine problems, have immune system disorders, or are otherwise concerned about the safety of elderberry, talk to your doctor before adding any elderberry supplements to your routine.

Can You Take Elderberry Every Day?

Elderberry is most commonly used as a preventative, which means that small doses of elderberry are taken daily. Many practitioners who are proponents of elderberry suggest that using elderberry as a preventative is the most effective way to use elderberry.

Many sources suggest that elderberry is safe to take daily for up to 12 weeks, but the safety of elderberry when taken for periods longer than 12 weeks has not been tested.

Many choose to take a daily elderberry supplement for 12 weeks through the peak of flu season. Others only take elderberry as a treatment, which means they may take elderberry multiple times daily throughout the course of an illness.

You may work out a dosing routine that is best for you based on the type of elderberry you take and the desired effects, but you should be careful not to take elderberry with some medications.

Does Elderberry Interact with Other Medications?

A spoonful of medicine

Elderberry is generally recognized as safe when taken in small amounts, but it may interact with some medications.

Elderberry is a known diuretic, meaning it can make you urinate more and expel more salt. For this reason, it shouldn’t be taken with other diuretic medications, and you should drink plenty of water when you take elderberry. For some people, an electrolyte beverage may help replenish lost salt content.

People taking immunosuppressants should also avoid taking elderberry. Elderberry may increase immune responses, which may decrease the efficacy of medications designed to decrease immune system responses.

Generally speaking, elderberry may fit into your normal wellness routine, and is frequently taken alongside other immune-boosting supplements, such as vitamin C and zinc.

Resources

  1. “Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review”https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614002400
  2. “Anthocyanins: natural colorants with health-promoting properties”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22129334/
  3. “Long-Term Supplementation of Black Elderberries Promotes Hyperlipidemia, but Reduces Liver Inflammation and Improves HDL Function and Atherosclerotic Plaque Stability in Apolipoprotein E-Knockout Mice”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30267603/
  4. “Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848651/
  5. “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15080016/
  6. “Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21352539/
  7. “Medicinal plants for gingivitis: a review of clinical trials”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6281068/
  8. “Black elderberry extract attenuates inflammation and metabolic dysfunction in diet-induced obese mice”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26314315/
  9. “Cardiovascular Disease Risk Biomarkers and Liver and Kidney Function Are Not Altered in Postmenopausal Women after Ingesting an Elderberry Extract Rich in Anthocyanins for 12 Weeks” https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/139/12/2266/4670593
  10. “Influence of Berry-Polyphenols on Receptor Signaling and Cell-Death Pathways: Implications for Breast Cancer Prevention”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3383353/

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