Elderberry is known for its ability to strengthen the immune system and facilitate relief from coughs, flu, and colds. What does the evidence say about it? In this space, we detail it.
The benefits of elderberry (Sambucus) are well documented in natural medicine books. They have been the subject of interest in various scientific investigations, which have endorsed some of its uses about health. What does the evidence say?
To begin with, we should know that there are around 30 types of elderberry trees and plants in the world. However, the European version (Sambucus nigra) is the most popular in terms of medicinal applications. Both flowers, berries, and bark of the plant are used.
Beneficial components of elderberry
When it comes to health, the part of elderberry that is used the most is its black berries. These stand out for their content of organic pigments, tannins, carotenoids, amino acids, vitamin C, and other nutrients whose assimilation contributes to the prevention of diseases.
In particular, as detailed in a review published in the Journal of Functional Foods, elderberries contain:
- From 6 to 35 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams, that is, up to 60% of the recommended daily intake.
- 7 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams.
- Phenolic acids.
- Quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin.
Elderberry benefits supported by evidence
Today, many of the benefits of elderberry are used in the preparation of supplements and natural products. This is the recommended form of consumption, since raw berries, the rind, and the leaves have toxic compounds that can lead to stomach discomfort if not used properly.
However, it is important to clarify that, although elderberry has positive health effects supported by evidence, it is not a first-line treatment against diseases and is not a substitute for medical recommendations. For this reason, before any illness, it is essential to first go through a consultation with the professional.
Elderberry has traditionally been used to help calm flu-like symptoms
Elderberry for Flu and Cold
Elderberry remedies have been used since ancient times as adjuvants against flu and cold symptoms. Both the infusion of the flowers and the extract of the berries seem to reduce the severity and duration of the infection when consumed at the first symptoms.
A study published in 2019 through Complementary Therapies in Medicine determined that berries, due to their antioxidant components, have positive effects against upper respiratory tract symptoms.
Additionally, in 2012, other research published in Journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry exposed that these fruits help stimulate the immune response, lowering the risk of infections such as influenza.
For heart health
One of the most prominent benefits of elderberry has to do with heart health. Specifically, its berries have been shown to have positive effects on the health of the heart and blood vessels. A review published in Phytotherapy Research suggests that the fruit of the plant helps reduce the risk of heart disease thanks to its anthocyanin content.
These substances, which act as antioxidants, appear to reduce cholesterol buildup in the arteries. In addition, they would also have a positive effect on blood pressure. Although more studies are needed, the findings support its use to care for the heart.
A publication on the Penn State School of Medicine and Academic Medical Center page states that elderberry has a slight laxative effect and therefore, should not be consumed simultaneously with other laxatives. This property is attributed to a substance known as anthraquinone, which is also present in rhubarb and senna.
It is also explained in its significant contribution of fiber, which contributes to optimal intestinal function. In general, dry elderberry tea helps stimulate intestinal peristalsis to promote the elimination of waste. More evidence is necessary; despite this, it is considered safe when taken for up to 5 days.
Other possible benefits of elderberry
For now, the evidence is insufficient to affirm that elderberry has an exceptional role in disease prevention. Still, due to its antioxidant content, other positive health effects are attributed to it. Of course, its consumption must be accompanied by a healthy lifestyle.
- The anthocyanins in elderberry give it an anti-inflammatory effect that can contribute to the relief of physical pain.
- A study published in Phytotherapy Research highlights that black elderberry has antiviral and antimicrobial properties that are useful against pathogens that cause sinusitis, bronchitis, and intestinal infections.
- In animal research, elderberry had a diuretic effect, capable of stimulating the frequency of urination.
- Its antioxidants and nutrients also act positively on mood. In particular, it improves mental performance and reduces the risk of depression.
Elderberry has laxative effects and high fiber content, so it would be favorable for peristalsis
Elderberry side effects
In most healthy adults, moderate consumption of elderberry is not a problem. However, it is essential to avoid excessive consumption, as it can be irritating to the stomach due to its lectin content.
On the other hand, the elderberry plant contains substances called cyanogenic glycosides, which can release small doses of cyanide. Of course, the amount of this substance per 100 g represents only 3% of the estimated lethal dose for a person.
Additionally, commercial supplements and cooked elderberries have not been shown to have cyanide and are therefore considered safe. Ingesting any part of the raw plant, be it berries, leaves, or bark can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Elderberry-based products, like preparations with the plant or berries, are contraindicated for children under 18 years of age and women who are pregnant or lactating. People with a particular disease should consult a doctor before taking these types of remedies.