The history of the elderberry as a health tonic goes back thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians believed that applying the flowers of elderberry to the skin improved the complexion and healed burns. Native Americans have used it in teas and other beverages. The Romans frequently drank homemade elderberry wine, and cordials, that were thought to prolong life. With more research on this herbal medicine, a growing scientific understanding of how this berry can help with numerous medical conditions is coming to light.
Today herbalists use elderberry for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis. Studies have found that its bioflavonoids, vitamin C and other substances destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. The juice is also said to relieve asthma and bronchitis, and makes an excellent addition to any heart healthy diet.
Elderberries contain organic pigments, tannin, amino acids, carotenoids, flavonoids, sugar, rutin, viburnic acid, vitamin A and B and a large amount of vitamin C. They are also mildly laxative, a diuretic, and diaphoretic. Extract from berries is an effective treatment for influenza and herpes simplex virus.
Large amounts of vitamin C, flavonoids and rutin together improve the immune system’s ability to fight diseases.
Black elderberry is also high in antioxidants. According to studies its flavonoids include anthocyanins that are powerful antioxidants and protect cells against damage.
Fresh leaves of elderberry also contain hydrocyanic acid, cane sugar, invertin, betulin, free fatty acids, and a considerable quantity of potassium nitrate.
- Important nutrients: Black elderberries are loaded with a variety of good nutrients. Elderberries contain fiber, Vitamins A, B, B6 and C. There are minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sodium. And there are flavonoids, tannins, carotenoids, and amino acids. All these are essential for good health.
- Antioxidant properties: Elderberry extract is rich in anthocyanin, the water-soluble pigment that gives the black berries their colour and is rich in antioxidants.
- Basis for Wine: Both the berries and the flowers of the elderberry plant can be used to prepare elderberry wine which improves with age. Elderberry wine when taken hot with sugar, just before going to bed, provides an effective sleep remedy. It is also an old-fashioned and long established cure for the common cold. The alcoholic drink sambuca is made by infusing elderberries and anise into alcohol.
- Used in Skin Creams: Herbalists use the elderberry for infections, inflammations and swelling. It can be used as a wash for skin healing and as an astringent.
- Influenza: The active flu-fighting substance in elderberry is Sambucol, which is patented anti-flu remedy. A recent study found that that 93% of flu patients given Sambucol were completely symptom-free within two days; those taking a placebo recovered in about six days.
- Bacterial Sinusitis: Laboratory studies on animals have shown that elderberry can be used to reduce excessive sinus mucus secretion. Researchers from the University of Minnesota, say that the berry may help improve immune function, and reduce the swelling of sinuses of people with colds and flu.
- Lowers Cholesterol: Early studies have suggested that elderberry juice may decrease serum cholesterol concentrations and reduce the oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol. As a result, it is thought to complement a heart healthy diet.
- Fever: Black elderberry’s ability to reduce fever is due to its diaphoretic (sweat-inducing) properties. When using for fever, its best to use an elderberry tea and drink as hot as possible. Native Americans have used the elderberry plant to treat rheumatism and fever for hundreds of years.
- Respiratory infections: This herb is often used to cure and prevent upper respiratory infections. Research shows that elderberry can decrease mucus secretion and can even reduce the swelling in the mucus membranes and can decrease nasal congestion.
- Other remedies: Elderberry may block the HIV virus from infecting healthy cells, according to a 2009 study published in Phytotherapy Research. However, before being used as a cure, more research is needed.
- Diarrhea, vomiting: The raw Elderberry contains cyanogenic glycosides and hence should be used with caution. Cyanogenic glycosides are the substances that release the poison cyanide. The juice made from untreated leaves, stems, and uncooked elderberries can also cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and weakness in people. Make sure the berry is cooked or fermented.
- Allergic reactions: Elderberry can cause an allergic reaction in people with known allergy to plants in the Caprifoliaceae family (honeysuckle family). Some children also develop reactions after playing with toys made from elderberry stems. An allergic reaction to fresh elderberry plant stems can cause rash, skin irritations, or in extreme cases, difficulty breathing.
- Drug Interactions: If you taking any prescription drugs, consult your doctor before consuming black elderberry. It could interact with laxatives, diuretics, diabetes medications, immunosuppressant drugs and certain medications used for asthma and other respiratory conditions.
- Not for Pregnancy: Elderberry products are not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding, because of the risk of birth defects or spontaneous abortion.
Elderberries have been a folk remedy in North America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa for centuries. Studies show that elderberry is an effective remedy for sinusitis, colds and flu, cholesterol, asthma and fever. No wonder it is so popular as a mulled wine on a cold winter’s day! Make sure that you don’t eat it the berry or the plant raw – it is toxic until it is cooked or fermented. If you are taking laxatives or other prescription drugs, consult your doctor before consuming elderberry: it can have several drug interactions.