Elderberries & Their Benefits
Also Known As: Black Elderberry, European Elderberry, European Elder
Origin: Europe, North America
Parts Used: Berries, Flowers
Traditional Use and Health Benefits
In Switzerland and Italy, researchers have uncovered evidence that the elderberry may have been cultivated by prehistoric man. There are also recipes for elderberry-based medications in the records dating as far back as Ancient Egypt where some Ancient Egyptians even had the tincture buried with them. Historians, however, generally trace the tradition of the elderberry’s healing power back to Hippocrates, the ancient Greek is known as the “father of medicine,” who described this plant as his “medicine chest” for the wide variety of ailments it seemed to cure.
Elderberries are particularly rich in flavonoids, especially anthocyanins which are responsible for their deep purple (almost black) coloring. These powerful antioxidants work to keep the immune system strong and resilient. Dr. Gerhard Rechkemmer is the President of Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food. His research has shown that the anthocyanins in elderberries boost the production of cytokines – proteins that act as messengers within the immune system – thereby enhancing the body’s immune response. Cytokines play a crucial role in the immune system’s response to disease and work in ways very similar to hormones. They can be both inflammatory or anti-inflammatory depending on what is needed and are released by immune cells either directly into the bloodstream or locally into body tissue during an immune response.
These tiny berries are also believed to contain antiviral agents– compounds so potent they are thought to deactivate viruses. Viruses are unable to multiply on their own and need to get inside a healthy cell to do so. They are cleverly coated with something called “haemagglutinin spikes” to help them pierce the cell wall. These viral spikes are also covered with enzymes which the virus uses to break down the cell wall. Elderberries have high concentrations of bioflavonoids which appear to inhibit the action of this enzyme, thus deactivating viruses and rendering them unable to pierce the cell wall and replicate.
The Elderflower is also packed with bioflavonoids that help to boost the immune system. Research has shown that Elderflowers are also effective in killing common pathogens.
The humble elderberry is perhaps most famously used for the treatment of colds and flu. There is much evidence for its effectiveness, with a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted during an outbreak of influenza B in Panama in 1995. The study found that within 2 days there were significant improvements in symptoms, including fever, among 93.3% of those taking elderberry syrup. 90% of the elderberry group were completely well again within 2 – 3 days compared to 6 days in the placebo group.
In 2016 another study by the School of Pharmacy, Griffith University, Australia published in “Nutrients”, showed that supplementation with elderberry can reduce the symptoms and duration of a cold in air travelers. Travelers who used elderberry for 10 days before travel and up to 5 days after arriving overseas experienced an average 2 day shorter duration of their colds, and a noticeable reduction in their symptoms.
The Elderflower is an “anti-catarrhal” herb, meaning it is extremely effective for runny noses and congestion. Anti-catarrhal herbs prevent excess mucous formation and aid in removing mucous and reducing inflammation in the body.
Cystitis/Urinary Tract/Bladder Infections
Most commonly affecting women (although men are certainly not exempt), UTI’s, cystitis and bladder infections cause a world of misery and pain. The constant urge to urinate, accompanied by a burning sensation can leave the sufferer feeling housebound and depressed. Elderberry tea may bring significant relief from this debilitating condition – first and foremost acting as a diuretic. This is important as it causes the kidneys to continually flush out toxins whilst increasing urination. This in turn helps to flush out the bacteria that cause cystitis, reducing the likelihood of the infection spreading to the bladder and/or kidneys and may also help to reduce its duration. Its anti-inflammatory properties may help to reduce inflammation, potentially reducing the burning and pain that accompanies urination.
Elderberry’s immunostimulating and anti-inflammatory properties make it a great natural remedy for allergy symptoms. Inflammation of the sinuses, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, swelling and a runny or stuffy nose can all benefit from this potent herb. It is thought to be particularly good for hayfever and strengthening the upper respiratory tract.
Elderflower’s anti-catarrhal action is also effective in clearing congestion and runny noses caused by seasonal allergies.
The high fiber content of elderberries can help to eliminate constipation, reduce excess gas, and generally increase the health of the gastrointestinal system. The dietary fiber contained in these berries can also increase nutrient uptake efficiency, especially in the gut, helping you to get more out of the food that you eat.
Dried Elderberries can be used to make a delicious tea or syrup. They can also be added to baked goods such as muffins and pancakes. They can also be used in herbal remedies.
Folklore and History
Over the centuries, elderberry has been used to treat colds, flu, fever, burns, cuts, and more than 70 other maladies, from toothache to the plague. In the 17th century, John Evelyn, a British researcher, declared, “If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark, and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our countryman could ail for which he might not fetch a remedy (from the elderberry), either for sickness or wounds.”
Elder is sacred to many goddess traditions, especially those dedicated to the goddesses Venus and Holle. Pagan tradition holds that the spirit which inhabits the Elder tree is the Elder Mother who holds the power to work her magic in this world. It was said that one who falls asleep under the branches of the Elder Tree would have vivid dreams of faery realms and be transported to Celtic fairylands.
Elderberry: Flavonoids (rutin, quercetin), terpenes, sambunigrin, sambucine, chlorgenic acid, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Potassium.
Elderflower: Flavonols; quercetin, anthocyanins, and isoquercitrin. Chlorogenic acid, erythrodiol, and oleanolic acids.
- Do not consume raw berries, which can induce vomiting and diarrhea. Can occasionally cause a mild allergic reaction – consult your healthcare professional if you think you are having a reaction. Do not take if pregnant or breastfeeding. Not recommended for children.
- Consult your healthcare professional if you have an autoimmune condition as elderberry may stimulate the immune system.
- Do not take if you have had an organ transplant. Consult your doctor if you are taking any medications before using elderberry.
- Elderflowers are considered safe, however, please consult with your healthcare professional if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking prescription medications.