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Elderberry: Health Benefits & Uses

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

One of the most common medicinal plants in the world is Elderberry and has been used by herbalists for hundreds of years.

Elderberry was popular during the 1990's and more mainstream during the pandemic. As we enter a new season (arguably the best for my fellow fall lovers), we approach cold and flu season. Elderberry has some cool history to appeal to my Spooky Season friends – let's start there!

What is the history of Elderberry?

Ancient Egyptians used it to improve their complexions and heal burns, while Indigenous people traditionally used it to treat fever and rheumatism. Elderberry stems were used to make flutes by Celtic druids to communicate with the spirits of the dead. According to Celtic belief, the elder tree's hollow wood is home to the spirits of the forest, and its springtime white blossoms represent the rebirth of the dead. In Austria and the northern part of England, people would place elder clippings on graves during the spring. If the branches began to bloom, it indicated that the souls of the deceased had entered paradise. Fortunately, cuttings of elder grow really well!

What are the health benefits of Elderberry?

Elderberries contain an antioxidant called anthocyanin — which in addition to giving Elderberry its characteristic dark purple color, acts as an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Antioxidants help to fight oxidative stress and reduce free radicals in the body making them really helpful in reducing inflammation. Elderberries also contain Vitamin C and most of us choose this as our first line of defense when we feel a cold coming on. A cup of Elderberries contains 58% of the RDA of Vitamin C, making it a great natural source to fight off colds! When actively fighting off a cold, it's recommended to increase your dosage of tinctures/syrups to about 3-4 times daily until symptoms alleviate. If you are using Elderberry preventively you can take 2 Tbsp once daily.

The flowers and leaves have traditionally been used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation as well as to increase urine production and induce sweating. The bark was used as a diuretic, a laxative, and to induce vomiting. The berries can also be cooked to produce juice, jams, chutneys, pies, and Elderberry wine. The blossoms are frequently used to flavor tea or boiled with sugar to make a delicious syrup.

In what ways does Elderberry work to help improve our health?

The study that prompted more research regarding its benefits showed that patients who took Elderberry had a full improvement in symptoms within 2 days compared to those who took the placebo and had symptom relief within 6 days.

Since Elderberries are a natural food based substance that is considered safe, I personally really like those numbers despite the study’s age. There are no known “cures” for viral infections such as the flu. Typically doctors will suggest rest, hydration and over the counter medication for symptomatic relief; however it’s a positive sign to see how natural methods continue to show benefits (something the herbalists have been trying to tell us for years).

What should I look for when supplementing Elderberry?

One important thing to note when it comes to all supplementation is that quality matters! You want to look for homemade tinctures/syrups as opposed to the gummies or liquids sold in most stores. These products can contain preservatives and high fructose corn syrup which can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the elderberries and isn’t the best for your health overall.

In Summary

Elderberry is generally considered safe for most people, although it can cause stomach aches if taken in excess amounts. When consuming a syrup made with sugar it is important for people with diabetes to be aware of the added sugar content. However, certain companies (like the ones we carry in the office) have created an extract that has no sugar and can be taken in the same fashion without the added blood sugar increase. Stop by the office or give us a call to grab some for yourself!

By: Dr. Abby Kellogg

Chiropractor at ANH Wellness

Disclaimer: "The information including but not limited to text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this website is for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment."

Sources: Journal of Functional Foods: “Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review.” Zakay-Rones, Zichria, Noemi Varsano, Moshe Zlotnik, Orly Manor, Liora Regev, Miriam Schlesinger, and Madeleine Mumcuoglu. “Inhibition of Several Strains of Influenza Virus in Vitro and Reduction of Symptoms by an Elderberry Extract (Sambucus Nigra L.) during an Outbreak of Influenza B Panama.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1, no. 4 (1995): 361–69. doi:10.1089/acm.1995.1.361.
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