Elderberry 101 - Uses, Nutrition and Health Research

About this Recipe

About The Author: Article written by Heidi Rasmussen, co-founder of Grandmother’s Kitchen, nutritionist (BSc Nutrition & Dietetics), yoga teacher (RYT), writer, and wellness researcher from British Columbia, Canada.

How We Use Elderberry:

I would LOVE to pick my own elderberries and elderflowers one season and make concoctions and creations with them.

Until that happens my personal way to use elderberry is sometimes as the Concentrated Elderberry Syrup and sometimes as the Powdered Elderberry Crystals which I love to mix with lemon juice, honey and hot water and make a super satisfying beverage when I have a cold/flu or think I may be getting one.

Where to Buy Elderberry Supplements. For a our special discount on any Vitamin King product you can use the COUPON CODE: GRANDMA.

Why Elderberry?

This season I have been very fortunate in not getting many of the colds and flus that are going around. I did get a very mild cold, but it only lasted 2 days and was very very mild in symptoms.

Although it is hard to say was exactly is the magic formula, I have been doing several things for my health, but one of the things in my personal health cabinet for the cold and flu season is elderberry which I love to mix with lemon and honey or make into a warm and satisfying tea.

According to secondary sources of evidence (3), both the berries and flowers (black and blue varieties only) have commonly been used in folk medicine for reasons such as influenza, bacterial sinusitis and bronchitis.

Elderberries and elderflowers may have biochemical and pharmacological actions that are antioxidant, and immunologic.

Can Elderberry help the Flu?

In a 2004 randomized controlled study (2), 60 people who had flu like symptoms for 48 hours were given 15mLs of either elderberry syrup or a placebo syrup 4 times a day for 5 days. For the group taking elderberry, their symptoms were relieved on average 4 times sooner than the subjects taking a placebo. The scientists in this study conclude that elderberry extract is an efficient, cost-effective and safe treatment for the flu.

A 2014 systematic review (3) of elderberry and elderflower found that in the many years of clinical research there is good scientific evidence for its beneficial effects on influenza. Good scientific evidence in this case means: statistically significant evidence of benefit from 1-2 randomized controlled studies or evidence of benefit from 1 proper meta-analysis, cohort, case-control and supporting evidence from basic science, animal studies or theory.

A more current interesting study did another study on elderberry based on reports (6) of higher medical issues such as respiratory symptoms after air travel. The academic researchers in the 2016 (7) set out to compare elderberry supplements with a placebo in a sample of flight passengers. Their conclusions suggest a that elderberry supplementation in comparison to placebo had a significant reduction of cold duration and severity in air travelers. Dosing was 600 mg for the approximately a week before travel, then 900 mg during and after travel for approximately 4 days.

What Does Clinical Research Say About Elderberry and Other Health Concerns?

In the same 2014 review (3), the authors were only able to find ‘unclear or conflicting scientific evidence’ that elderberry or elderflower may be helpful with things such as bacterial sinusitis, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease risk, constipation, gingivitis, hyperlipidemia, and obesity Unclear evidence means that there was still evidence of benefit from at least 1 small randomized controlled trial, OR it means that there was conflicting evidence from several properly designed studies.

A 2017 study (5) found evidence that elderberry and elderflower parts may also have inflammatory modulating activity, which increases their nutritional value and evidence for benefits further than flus alone. Inflammation is our bodies’ attempts for self-protection, with the goal to stop harmful stimuli, which includes damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens. There is a current research interest regarding anti-inflammatory foods and health products and how they may have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other forms of inflammation.

What Does History and Folklore Say about Elderberry?

According to a 2007 ethnobotanical study (4) on the usage of wild medicinal herbs historically, the leaves were used topically in a poultice to relieve pain and help with healing. Native Americans also used elder for coughs, infections, and various skin conditions. Elder flower has been used to repel insects. As a drink, elder berries were mixed with sage, lemon juice, vinegar and honey to gargle for coughs, head colds, laryngitis and shortness of breath. Ancient Egyptians also are reported to have used elderflowers to improve skin complexion and heal from burns.

What Parts of Elderberry are Edible?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1) the berries and the of elderberry are edible when mature. They are most commonly eaten in pies, jams and juice and can be fermented into wine. I remember my Grandmother talking about making an elderberry liquor at one point in her life.

The root is likely the most poisonous part of the plant, and the fresh leaves, flowers, bark and buds contain a bitter part that would not be a good idea to eat.

What About the Elderflowers?

Some people grow elderberry for the beautiful and dainty creamy white flowers that are produced, which have also been used in traditional herbal medicine for concoctions and tinctures.

Dangers and Cautions of Fresh Elderberry

The Elder tree grows in different regions of the world, and has several varieties. The most common types we come across are the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis).

There is one report (1) in August 26, 1983, of 11 people experiencing poisoned after drinking a freshly made brew of from another variety of the the elder tree, Sambucus mexicana. Symptoms included nausea, cramps, weakness, dizziness and stupor. All of those with symptoms of poisoning had completely recovered after 4 hours, and for 1 person overnight in the hospital.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a review of the medical literature and found no reports on poisoning from elderberry juice, except from one case report of from another variety of the elder plant, Sambucus canadensis.

References: (1) Poisoning from Elderberry Juice -- California. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more.Read more.

(2) Zakay-Rones Z1, 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. Read more.

(3) Catherine Ulbricht, Ethan Basch, Lisa Cheung, Harley Goldberg, Paul Hammerness, Richard Isaac, Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Aviva Romm, Idalia Rychlik, Minney Varghese, Wendy Weissner, Regina C. Windsor & Jayme Wortley (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, DOI: 10.3109/19390211.2013.859852 Read more.

(4) Jaric S, Popovic Z, Macukanovic-Jocic M, Djurdjevic L, Mijatovic M, Karadzic B, et al. An ethnobotanical study on the usage of wild medicinal herbs from Kopaonik Mountain (Central Serbia). J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;111(1):160–175. Read more.

(5) Elderberry and Elderflower Extracts, Phenolic Compounds, and Metabolites and Their Effect on Complement, RAW 264.7 Macrophages and Dendritic Cells. Giang Thanh Thi Ho, Helle Wangensteen, Hilde Barsett. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Mar; 18(3): 584. Published online 2017 Mar 8. doi: 10.3390/ijms18030584Read more.

(6) Silverman D., Gendreau M. Medical issues associated with commercial flights. Lancet. 2009;373:2067–2077. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60209-9.Read more.

(7) 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 Evelin Tiralongo,1,2,* Shirley S. Wee,2,3 and Rodney A. Lea4 Read more.


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