Elderberry is one of the most widely used medicinal plants in the world. There is evidence that its properties have been known since ancient Egyptian times.
Hippocrates himself described the elderberry plant as his “chest medicine chest” due to the wide range of respiratory complications it seemed to cure. (1)
Even the government of Panama used elderberry extracts to combat the Panama flu epidemic in 1995. (4)
Today, scientists have confirmed its antiviral properties and raised the possible uses of elderberry as a treatment for symptoms of the virus and bacterial infections.
This article analyzes elderberry’s properties, benefits, uses, and contraindications for health.
What is elderberry?
The elderberry is a genus of flowering plants in the Adoxaceae family.
The best-known type is Sambucus nigra, also known as European elderberry or black elderberry. This tree is native to Europe, although it is also cultivated in many other parts of the world.
Throughout history, various parts of the elderberry have been used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Cooked berries and elderberries are the ones that have potent properties and health benefits.
The raw berries, bark, and leaves of the plant are poisonous and can cause stomach side effects.
Antiviral properties of elderberries
Recent research has confirmed that elderberry extracts have antiviral properties. Pharmaceuticals such as syrups and extracts have even been made with elderberry as the main ingredient to treat virus infections. (1,2,3,4,10)
The antiviral properties of elderberry are due to its high content of polyphenols (anthocyanins) and acidic polysaccharides. (1.3)
Dr. Mumcuoglu was the first person to discover that one of the properties of elderberry is to neutralize the activity of hemagglutinin found on the surface of many viruses. The elderberry allows deactivating the ability to enter, enter or pierce and replicate in the cell when hemagglutinin is deactivated. (1)
Elderberry juices, syrups, and extracts can be used to strengthen the immune system and have worked in shortening the times of the common flu. (4)
A study of 60 people with the flu found that those who took 15 ml of elderberry syrup four times a day showed improvement in symptoms within two to four days, while the control group took seven to eight days to recover.
Another study states: Elderberry extracts demonstrate an inhibitory effect on infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), a pathogenic chicken coronavirus at an early stage of virus infection. (5)
The immunomodulatory effects of elderberry have been investigated and appear to show that the plant is likely to stimulate the immune system of weak or immunocompromised people. It has also been studied to see if it would exacerbate or mitigate the cytokine storm and could dampen it. (10)
A study published in February 2020 states: Elderberry extracts have been shown to inactivate two different envelope viruses and should be tested for Ebola, SARS, and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, as they are all envelope viruses and are it will likely disable it as well. (10)
However, it is essential to know that these results are still preliminary, and more studies are still needed to see if they can be used as an effective treatment or prevent virus infections.
Nutritional properties of elderberry
In addition, research has confirmed that elderberries have a high content of molecules with antioxidant properties: anthocyanins and phenolic acids.
Anthocyanins are the compounds that give the fruit its characteristic dark purple color. The benefits of these molecules are to reduce the oxidative effects that occur due to oxidative stress in the body, and they have anti-inflammatory properties. (4)
The nutritional properties of elderberries are:
Uses of elderberry
In naturopathic medicine, the dried berries or juice are used to treat flu, infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain, nerve pain, and a laxative and diuretic (2).
Traditionally, elderberry flowers and leaves relieve pain and inflammation and prevent fluid retention. The bark has been used as a diuretic, laxative, and to induce vomiting. The uses of elderberry are:
- Syrups for the flu
When it comes to colds, flu, and upper respiratory problems, elderberry syrup is best suited. There are high-quality products in online stores, or if you have enough tools, you can do it at home.
Most elderberry syrup recipes involve simmering the elderberries with a bit of water and various other healing herbs for 45 minutes to an hour.
- In the form of tea as an expectorant
Another of its uses for elderberry is in the form of tea. This form is handy to relieve the typical sputum of colds. Added to the properties of elderberry are added those of drinking a hot drink.
You can buy tea bags or buy dried berries or flowers and make tea by combining a tablespoon of berries or flowers with 500 mL of water. You can also add honey, lemon, cinnamon, or mint to improve the flavor and enhance the health benefits.
- In juices
If you are neither one of the teas nor the syrup, you can try elderberry juice. Its flavor is bittersweet and refreshing. Make sure you don’t buy brands with excess sugar in their composition.
- In mouthwashes
Elderberry is used in gingivitis mouthwash preparations. Investigations have confirmed a minimal and non-significant decrease in gingival index scores. (7)
- As an ingredient for anti-disinfectant products
Elderberry has also been shown to have potential properties as an ingredient in hospital disinfectants, for which trials are sufficient. Without effective disinfectants, it can be an alternative to modern medicine. (10)
- In gastronomy
Elderberries can be cooked to make jams, cakes, and even wine. The flowers can also be eaten fresh in salads. We remember that eating raw berries can be dangerous to health.
Other possible health benefits of elderberry
There are many other possible benefits of elderberries. However, there is still no consistent scientific evidence to confirm them. Other potential benefits of elderberry are:
- Improve the symptoms of sinusitis and bronchitis
Elderberry can inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause sinusitis and bronchitis, such as Helicobacter pylori, and can improve symptoms of sinusitis and bronchitis. (10)
- Cardioprotective effects
Epidemiological studies suggest that higher anthocyanin consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, the most common cause of death for men and women. (8) High anthocyanin elderberry products may have these benefits.
- Diuretic effects
In animal studies, elderflower extracts increased urination frequency and salt excretion. So it could have the benefit of avoiding fluid retention. (7)
- As an alternative treatment for HIV people
Pharmaceutical drugs as treatment for HIV and AIDS can generate resistance, even when used in combination, so alternatives are needed. Preliminary research suggests elderberry may help the effectiveness of other antiretrovirals. (10)
The elderberry grows in African countries where the costs of HIV drugs are prohibitive for many. Its benefits in economic terms and availability would be an advantage if the products were shown to be effective.
- Strengthen the immune system against bacteria
While most studies have confirmed the antiviral properties of elderberry syrup, they could extend to bacteria.
One study suggests that elderberry polyphenols can strengthen the immune system, particularly with echinacea extracts. (10)
As well as inhibitory activities of bacteria that cause respiratory diseases such as Streptococcus and Branhamella Catarris have been recorded. (9)
- Reduce bad cholesterol (LDL)
In human research, elderberry juice lowered harmful LDL cholesterol levels and had a minor effect on serum lipids. However, more studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
While these results are interesting, more human research is needed to determine if the effects are genuinely significant for elderberry to be used as a treatment.
Side effects and contraindications
While elderberry has some promising potential benefits, some dangers are associated with its consumption, like most herbs.
The bark, unripe berries, and seeds contain small amounts of substances known as lectins, which can cause stomach problems if eaten in excess. (1)
Eating raw elderberries, leaves, bark, or roots are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (2).
Fortunately, the toxic substances found in berries can be safely removed by cooking them. However, the branches, bark, or leaves should not be used for cooking or eating fresh.
If you are picking the flowers or berries yourself, make sure you have correctly identified the plant as American or European elderberry, as other types of elderberry can be more toxic. Also, be sure to remove the bark or leaves before using them.
Elderberry is not recommended for children and adolescents or pregnant or nursing women. While no particular side effects were reported in these groups, there is insufficient data to confirm that it is safe.
Where to buy elderberry?
Elderberry is available at many local health food stores or online stores and can be purchased in various forms.
Elderberry candies, elderberry wine, and elderberry juice are the most popular choices.
Commercial elderberry preparations for treating colds come in various forms, including liquids, capsules, tablets, and gummies.
- Elderberry is a genus of flowering plants traditionally known for its medicinal properties.
- Today science has confirmed that elderberry extracts have potential antiviral properties.
- The most common uses for elderberry are a treatment to reduce symptoms of the common flu and strengthen the immune system. However, some studies suggest that it could be extended to make disinfectant products.
- Elderberries can have extensive health benefits. However, misuse or excess can have side effects and contraindications.
- Berries should be cooked before eating, and the rind should never be used to make products.
- Scientists are still conducting tests to determine whether elderberry’s antiviral properties can be used during the new coronavirus outbreak.