Elderberry: What it is, 5 Benefits, and Side Effects
Elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants grown and used throughout the world.
It has had many medical purposes in the past, aging all the way back to ancient Egypt, but currently it is taken as a supplement to treat symptoms of the flu and common cold.
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry is, in fact, a berry. The Elderberry includes a variety of flowering trees that produce the beneficial berries. While the most common of these trees grows in Europe (Sambucus nigra, AKA: the European elderberry or black elder) different varieties of the tree are found and grown on several continents worldwide (1).
This berry is also bursting with nutrients, which is one of the most notable qualities it has health-wise. Elderberry is high in vitamin C, fiber, and several antioxidants including phenolic acids, flavonols, anthocyanins (1).
When consumed correctly, this versatile berry has many uses and has been used around the world for a variety of medicinal reasons for thousands of years. The benefits may include a boost to the immune system, mood stabilization, ability as an antioxidant, and protection against UV rays.
5 Benefits of Elderberry
- High in a variety of nutrients
Elderberries, like most fruits, are low in calories and packed with nutrients. However, this berry provides a unique combination of nutrients that make it exceptionally beneficial when consumed. These include vitamin C, fiber, and several antioxidants.
This micronutrient plays an important role in several vital body functions, including immune system health, bones strength, healing and antioxidant function, iron absorption, and healthy aging (2).
Fiber – There are 7 grams of fiber in every 3.5 ounces (½ cup) of berries, which meets ¼ of the recommended daily intake of fiber (i.e., 25 to 30 grams per day) (1).
Fiber plays an important role in keeping the digestive system functioning effectively and keeps us feeling fuller longer. It also effectively reduces blood sugar and cholesterol levels and their linked health risks.
Antioxidants – Antioxidants found in high number in Elderberries. The specific antioxidative compounds in this berry are phenolic acids, flavonols, anthocyanins (1).
Phenolic acids are powerful antioxidants that can help reduce damage from oxidative stress in the body (1).
Flavonols have been shown benefit the circulatory system by aiding in lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the brain and heart. The flavonols in Elderberries include quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin (1).
Anthocyanins not only do these antioxidant contribute to the anti-inflammatory effects of Elderberry, but this compound is what gives the berry its characteristic dark black-purple color (1).
- High in antioxidants
As stated above, Elderberry is high in several key antioxidants that enhance your white blood cells’ ability to protect against the effects of harmful free radicals.
The specific antioxidative compounds in this berry are phenolic acids, flavonols, anthocyanins (1).
- Boost the immune system
Elderberry is most effective when it comes to its effect on the immune system. The powerful combination of vitamin C and antioxidants has been shown to assist in combatting the symptoms of infections and viruses, which may also help in a quicker recovery from illnesses (1).
It may even reduce your chances of becoming sick in the first place through the boost it provides your immune system.
- May reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
In some cases, the phytochemicals in elderberry have been linked to an improved mood. Not only this, but it has also show to relieve some symptoms of mental/emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Could protect against UV rays
Protecting against UV rays was a main use of elderberries by the Egyptians. Elderberry extract has a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 9.88 (1). However, this is still quite low when considering modern sun defense.
Egyptians also used to use the extract from elderberry to heal burns caused by overexposure to the sun or other scalding substances.
- Bonus – Using the Elder tree leaves, flowers, and bark
It’s not all about the berry.
Historically, the leaves, flowers, and bark of the Elder tree have been used as well to provide a variety of benefits.
From the tree, the bark was consumed as a diuretic, laxative, and to induce vomiting when necessary. The leave and flowers have been used for pain relief, swelling, inflammation, and as a diuretic (1).
The elderberry flowers also contain the highest ratio of flavonols; 10 times more than the berries themselves (1). They can also be eaten, raw or cooked.
Potential side effects of Elderberry
And while it can provide several health benefits, the berry should be consumed cooked or via approved supplements because consuming the berries raw can be dangerous. The raw berries, or bark and leaves of the tree, are known to be poisonous and can cause stomach problems if eaten (1).
As always, if you are experiencing any of these negative reactions seek out the advice of a medical professional immediately.
Dosage recommendations for Elderberry
There are currently no recommendations for elderberry supplementation.
Despite these berries being packed with nutrients and antioxidants that may provide various benefits, there is still much research to be done on elderberry and health (3).
Best practices are to use supplements you’ve purchased from a trusted brand, rely on the product for short-term use (between 2 to 5 days), and seek the advice of a medical professional if you are ever in doubt (4).
What Elderberry supplement is right for you?
Elderberry supplements come in several forms — gummies, capsules, drops, extracts, and syrup (3). You just have to determine your need, use, and preference.
Whichever you happen to select, ensure you purchase a trustworthy brand and thoroughly review the usage instructions.
Remember, though there is data on elderberry, there is still ample research to be done on topics like dosage. So if you are ever in doubt, seek the advice of a medical professional.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD
Allison Lansman is a Registered Dietitian (RD), freelance nutrition and health writer, and wellness blogger. She is the owner/operator of The Freelance RD writing service and blog. Her business provides mainly writing services, but also product development, educational services and brand partnerships.
As an RD, Allison embraces a modern approach to nutrition and wellness. She believes we benefit most from building positive, balanced connections between mind, body, food, and environment. And she is passionate about sharing that philosophy through wellness communication and writing.
Her educational background is through Iowa State University, where she completed both her undergraduate degree and dietetics internship. She is currently studying towards an Masters in Public Health.