Elder trees, most commonly Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis, have been used as a botanical medicine for thousands of years around the world for everything from skin diseases to infections. Current medicinal use focuses on reducing symptoms of cold and flu viruses, most frequently as a syrup made from the berries, but dried berry extracts and lozenges are also available. The fruit and flowers are also popular culinary ingredients, though the raw elderberries require cooking to make them edible. Elderflowers can be eaten raw or used to make syrups, teas, or cordials.

Pre-clinical trials suggest that properly prepared elderberry products may reduce infectivity of viruses, improve endothelial cell function, and modulate the immune system by inhibiting the production of nitrous oxide. Pre-clinincal trials also indicate that elderberry products may increase insulin secretion, modulating blood glucose levels; though this effect hasn’t been confirmed in human trials. Like all dark red and purple colored fruit and vegetables, elderberries contain anthocyanins which exhibit strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Elderflowers contain antioxidant flavonols such as quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin. In clinical trials, participants who took 15mL elderberry syrup four times a day had reduced flu symptoms in 2-4 days and those who took lozenges containing 175mg of elderberry extract for two days had reduced flu symptoms within 24 hours. Air travelers who took 300mg dried elderberry extract 2-4 times a day before, during, and after traveling experienced fewer symptoms and shorter duration of colds; however, there was no difference in frequency of colds compared to those taking a placebo, indicating that elderberry products likely do not prevent cold viruses.

Only berries and flowers from the European black elder and the American black elder should be consumed due to varying amounts of toxins in elder trees. Most parts of the elder tree contain lectins and cyanogenic glycosides, which can cause stomach discomfort or toxicity. Cooking the berries reduces these toxins, but the leaves, stems, branches, bark, seeds, and roots of elder trees should not be consumed. Symptoms of toxicity may include diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, numbness, stupor, vomiting, and weakness. Excessive consumption of elderberry products may have diuretic and laxative effects. Side-effects from commercial preparations of elderberry medicinals are rare but may include allergic reactions. Limited safety studies have been done on elderberry medicinals therefore contraindications include autoimmune diseases, diabetes, children under 18, adults over 65, pregnancy and lactation, anti-diabetes drugs, diuretics, and immunosuppressant drugs.

Elderberry products should be taken within the first 48 hours of cold or flu symptoms for 3-4 days and up to 8 days. Standard dosing is 1 Tbs (15mL) of elderberry syrup 2-4 times daily; two lozenges containing 175mg elderberry extract daily; or capsules containing 300-500mg elderberry extract 2-4 times a day.

Disclaimer: The content herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is not meant to diagnosis, cure, or treat any medical condition. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with questions regarding a medical condition and before starting new diets and dietary supplements. Not all diets or supplements are appropriate for all people or all health conditions.


1 Comment

  1. Thank you, Vandy! I love elder berries and blossoms. They used to grow My first experience was walking into a field of heifers with a paper bag to collect the blossoms in. We didn’t know that the farm’s owner carried their food in a paper bag, so by the time we got to the lone tree, they had surrounded us, gentle but anticipating a treat. We had not prepared for this, so moved very slowly, collecting the blossoms to use in treating ringworm in a friend and slowly moved back to the road. They lost interest and wandered away too. The remedy we followed worked.

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