Have you ever wondered about the health benefits of elderberries? Is the dark berry pure winter gold or just an old wives’ tale?
We’ve been making elderberry syrup for years now to help combat the seasonal gloom and doom of our cold metropolitan wintertime (I’ll take a delicious placebo over nothing!) Elderberry syrup is so versatile. You can take it straight out of the bottle, add it to teas, or pour it over a short stack (yum!) at the very least. Plus, it’s super easy to make. Did I mention it’s delicious?
I’ve been wondering though…
What does current science have to say about elderberry benefits?
Are there any perks to consuming elderberry concoctions that have been explored by the scientific community?
Turns out, YES! There may be many benefits to taking elderberry supplements!
Just so we’re clear, we’re talking about the fruit of black elder – the berries of the elderberry shrub. Not the elderflower which can also be harvested and used for a variety of reasons.
Also, anything you read in this article relates to heat-treated elderberries. You should NEVER consume raw elderberries or any product made with raw elderberries.
Here is what I found about the health benefits of elderberries:
1. Elderberries promote overall health
Elderberries may be tiny, but they sure pack a healthy punch!
For starters, apart from vitamin A, vitamin B6 and vitamin C, elderberries contain minerals like iron, phosphorus, potassium and calcium, and a variety of other beneficial compounds.Elderberries happen to be particularly rich in anthocyanins (that’s what gives the berries such deep dark color) which are powerful antioxidants that may help maintain health and boost the immune system. In fact, elderberries are one of the richest sources of anthocyanins among ALL small fruits and berries! That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.
Another benefit of consuming elderberries is that they contain a significant amount of dietary fiber – 10.2 g per 1 cup serving which is about 41% of the daily recommended dietary fiber intake for adults. You’d obviously need to ingest the entire berry to get this kind of benefit as opposed to a liquid extract. How do you feel about a slice of elderberry pie?
2. Elderberry is good for your skin
The high content of anthocyanins and other flavonoids paired with other beneficial compounds that elderberries contain (particularly vitamins A and C) have an additional benefit: apparently, it’s good stuff for your skin!
3. Elderberry can boost vision health
Given the high vitamin A content in elderberries and the importance of vitamin A in terms of vision health, one may only speculate that the fruit of black elder can help keep eyes healthy.
4. Elderberry can help build strong healthy bones
Minerals like calcium, iron, and potassium are important in boosting bone health, and elderberry is a decent source of all of them. Every little bit helps, right?
5. Elderberries may help prevent cancer
Research indicates that elderberry has some chemopreventive properties. (A chemopreventive compound is able to inhibit, delay, or reverse carcinogenesis.)
It is worth noting that in one study1, both European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) demonstrated significant chemopreventive potential.
FYI: Though the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been studied a lot more, the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) appears to have comparable medicinal properties in general.
6. Elderberry appears to have decent antidepressant potential
Interestingly, in a study2 done on mice, elderberry extract showed remarkable antidepressant activity. Unfortunately I haven’t found any more studies on this topic.
7. Elderberry may help prevent infection
Extract made from the elderberry fruit appears to have antiviral as well as some antimicrobial properties, so keeping elderberry syrup as an integral part of wintertime health support may not be such a bad idea after all! (It’s part of our strategy for keeping our kids healthy during the flu season and beyond.)
An article published in the 2009 issue of Phytochemistry3 showed that the flavonoids found in elderberries bind to the virus and block its ability to cause infection. Another study4 points out that elderberry fruit extract is effective against influenza A/B viruses and bacterial infections that can accompany the flu.
The elderberry wasn’t able to inhibit the growth of crucial nosocomial pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA and MSSA) or Streptococcus mutans though.
8. Elderberry can shorten the duration of the flu or common cold
Elderberry extract has been shown to be an effective treatment for sore throats, coughs, colds and the flu.
A few studies5,6,7 have demonstrated the capability of black elderberry to reduce flu-like symptoms and to speed up healing. On average, symptoms were relieved 4 days earlier for those on the elderberry protocol.
Sounds great for treating the sniffles and cough, doesn’t it?
Don’t get too excited though…
This is where the FDA comes barging in.
“Elderberry supplements have NOT been approved by the FDA for the treatment or prevention of ANY medical condition.”
The FDA cares about you and is committed to protecting your health from potentially unsafe or useless products. Unapproved health claims are dangerous and may cause delay in seeking approved
expensive heavily pushed treatments instead.
Like TAMIFLU, for example.
Unlike its much cheaper roadside cousin elderberry, TAMIFLU has been approved by the FDA and has been deemed SAFE AND EFFECTIVE based on large clinical studies.
No need to know that Tamiflu is actually pretty lousy when it comes to the flu.
It turns out that the manufacturer lied, manipulated data, and withheld vital information from pretty much the rest of the world.
I mean, whoopsies…?
To be fair, Tamiflu DOES shorten the duration of the flu by a whopping less than a day (compared with no treatment at all), but you’re trading a few hours’ worth of faster recovery for a HEFTY LIST of unpleasant side effects that may include unusual neuropsychiatric issues such as seizures, delirium, and abnormal behavior including self-injury and suicide.
Something you don’t get with the humble elderberry. Just sayin’.
Speaking about safety…
Is taking elderberry supplements really safe? How safe?!
According to scientific studies, elderberry extract and elderberry syrup in particular appear to be safe for short-term use (up to 5 days). Long-term use has not been studied. (Purely for anecdotal evidence, my great grandma lived on the elderberry syrup her entire winters and so did the generations before her.)
Can elderberry interact with certain medications?
There are no known drug interactions with elderberry.
However, some concern for certain risk groups does exist either because the use of elderberry hasn’t been studied in certain specific groups or based on theoretical interactions and speculative concern.
Elderberry precautions and possible interactions:
- Taking elderberry supplements in pregnancy and lactation is not recommended. It’s not because a proof exists that doing so could be harmful. The recommendation is in place because elderberry supplements haven’t undergone extensive research regarding their safety (but then again neither has the flu shot or other vaccines that are so heavily pushed on pregnant women).
- Elderberry supplements may increase urination and intensify the effect of diuretic medications.
- Also, elderberry may increase the effect of laxative products.
- Elderberry may lower blood sugar levels and could increase the risk of hypoglycemia for those taking medications to regulate blood sugar.
- Be cautious about the use of elderberry supplements along with medications taken for asthma and other respiratory conditions as the berries of black elder may reduce the effect of theophylline.
- Elderberry may interfere with immunosuppressant therapy – consult use of any elderberry supplements with your doctor if you’re on immunosuppressant drugs.
- And, of course, avoid consuming unripe and raw elderberries which are toxic.
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- Thole JM, Kraft TF, Sueiro LA, Kang YH, Gills JJ, Cuendet M, Pezzuto JM, Seigler DS, Lila MA. A comparative evaluation of the anticancer properties of European and American elderberry fruits. Journal of Medicinal Food, 2006 Winter; 9(4):498-504.
- Mahmoudi M1, Ebrahimzadeh MA, Dooshan A, Arimi A, Ghasemi N, Fathiazad F. Antidepressant activities of Sambucus ebulus and Sambucus nigra. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2014 Nov;18(22):3350-3.
- Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry, 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.06.003. Epub 2009 Aug 12.
- Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, Imirzalioglu C, Domann E, Pleschka S, Hain T. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement. Alern. Med., 2011 Feb 25;11:16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-16.
- Evelin Tiralongo, Shirley S. Wee, Rodney A. Lea. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2016 Apr; 8(4): 182. Published online 2016 Mar 24. doi: 10.3390/nu8040182
- Fan‐kun Kong, PhD. Pilot Clinical Study on a Proprietary Elderberry Extract: Efficacy in Addressing Influenza Symptoms. OJPKTM Online Journal of Pharmacology and PharmacoKinetics ©; Volume 5: 32‐43, 2009. [pdf]
- Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int. Med. Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.