Elderberry refers to the dark purple-black berries of the elder tree, scientifically known as Sambucus nigra. Elderberries grow on deciduous shrubs or small trees in the Adoxaceae family and are native to Europe, North America, and parts of Asia.

The berries are known for their tart, slightly sweet flavor and are used in culinary, medicinal and herbal preparations.

History of Elderberries as a Folk Remedy

Elderberries (Sambucus) have been a folk remedy for centuries in North America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919, elderberries in the form of elderberry syrup or tea were used as a natural remedy to alleviate symptoms associated with the flu.

Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. In more recent times, those with the flu who take elderberry juice report less severe symptoms and feel better much faster than those who do not take it.

Elderberries and COVID-19

The medicinal benefits of Elderberries continue to be investigated and rediscovered, including for their antiviral effects which could help fight COVID-19. However, whilst elderberries have been studied for their potential antiviral properties against certain viruses, including influenza, herpes simplex virus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), their effectiveness against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, has not yet been well-established through clinical trials.

Active Ingredients in Elderberries

Elderberries contain; organic pigments, tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, viburnic acid, vitamin A and vitamin B and a large amount of vitamin C. They are also mildly laxative, a diuretic and diaphoretic.

Flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the Elderberry flowers and berries. According to test tube studies, these flavonoids include anthocyanins that are powerful antioxidants and protect cells against damage.

Health Benefits of Elderberries

Elderberries are used for their antioxidant activity to; lower cholesterol, improve vision, boost the immune system, improve heart health, to fight coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis.

Elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995, and the Spanish Flu in 1918.

Elderberries were listed in the CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs as early as 1985, and are listed in the 2000 Mosby’s Nursing Drug reference for colds, flu, yeast infections, nasal and chest congestion, and hayfever. In Israel, Hasassah’s Oncology Lab has determined that elderberry stimulates the body’s immune system and they are treating cancer and AIDS patients with it.

The wide range of medical benefits (from flu and colds to debilitating asthma, diabetes, and weight loss) is probably due to the enhancement of each individual’s immune system.

Elderberries Research

At the Bundesforschungsanstalt research center for food in Karlsruhe, Germany, scientists conducting studies on Elderberry showed that elderberry anthocyanins enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines. These unique proteins act as messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response, thus helping to defend the body against disease. Further research indicated that anthocyanins found in elderberries possess appreciably more antioxidant capacity than either vitamin C or vitamin E.

Studies at Austria’s University of Graz  found that elderberry extract reduces oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is implicated in atherogenesis (plaque formation leading to coronary artery disease), thus contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Elderflowers are also used for their health benefits, for which we have a separate article.

Always take care when taking herbs and Read Our Disclaimer.

Elderberry Herb Notes / Side Effects

Most species of Sambucus berries are edible when picked ripe and then cooked. Both the skin and pulp can be eaten. However, it is important to note that most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous.

Sambucus nigra is the variety of Elderberry that is most often used for health benefits as it is the only variety considered to be non-toxic even when not cooked, but it is still recommended to cook the berries at least a little to enhance their taste and digestibility.

Latin Name

Sambucus nigra

Common Names

Elderberry, Black Elderberry, North American Elderberry

Properties of Elderberry

Antioxidant, diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), diuretic (helps to reduce fluid buildup in the body) , laxative, immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory.

Elderberry Uses

Immune system boost, coughs, colds, flu, bacterial infections, viral infections, tonsillitis, lower cholesterol, improved vision and heart health, cancer, HIV, asthma and bronchitis, viral infections, reduce inflammation of the urinary tract and bladder, nerve disorders and back pain.



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