For millennia, physicians, and herbalists have found medicinal uses for all parts of the elder tree, including its wood, leaves, flowers and berries. Leaves were used in ointments to heal skin. The flowers and berries were made into infusions as a common treatment for colds and rheumatic conditions. Today, herbalists and holistic physicians commonly recommend elderberry for the wide variety of properties that can support the health of the young and old alike.
European (Black) Elder (Sambucus nigra) is the species safely and most commonly used for botanical medicines. Note that the berries should not be eaten (or used) raw. They must be dried first or properly cooked at the peak of ripeness.
Elderberries are rich in Vitamin C and flavonoids that act as antioxidants that protect cells in the body from damage and can help reduce inflammation. They have been used in preparations to treat colds, flu, and bacterial sinus infection. In studies, syrup prepared from the juice of elderberry has been shown to help decrease the duration of flu symptoms, including swelling in mucous membranes and congestion. Other studies have shown that elderberry extracts have antiviral properties and appear to have a role in inhibiting the replication of viruses.
Elderberry can interact with other medications including those used to treat diabetes, asthma, and drugs that suppress the immune system. Before using an elderberry product for an adult or a child, check with your natural medicine practitioner to verify the integrity of the product and appropriate use.
- University of Maryland Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide (Online). “Elderberry.” Accessed 6 Feb 2018: https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/elderberry
- Johnson, R.L., Foster, S., LLow Dog, T. & Kiefer, D., National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. p. 71-73; 2014 ed. published by National Geographic Society for Barnes & Noble
- Duke, James A., et al., Handbook of Medicinal Herbs (2nd Ed.) pp. 267-268. CRC Press: Boca Raton, Fl.