One of the most common medicinal plants globally, elderberry has been used for thousands of years.
The Egyptians used it to improve their complexions and heal burns. Folk medicine used it to help coughs and colds. Native Americans used it to treat fever and rheumatism. Even the Chinese used every part of the plant for a wide array of medicinal uses.
On top of that, it's delicious. Elderberries are a treat in the summer, being made into jam, jelly, wine, and baked into pies and other treats.
But, you probably want to know what it can do for your health and immune system. So, let's take a look at that.
What Is Elderberry?
Sambucus nigra is a tree native to Europe. It's a fast-growing small tree that produces bunches of white flowers in the spring and thousands of small, black berries in the fall.
Although the berries are tart, they're considered a wonderful treat. The flowers get boiled to make a sweet syrup or light-tasting tea. Dozens of recipes use elderberries in different ways for both taste and health benefits.
The Very Traditional Uses of Elderberry
Historically, all parts of the elder tree have been considered medicinal and sacred. Elder was the tree of the gods in some areas, worshiped and respected for its many gifts.
Different cultures around the world took other things from the tree. As people explored, they took the elder with them, helping it spread quickly into new areas.
Various parts of the tree were for pain relief, inflammation, swelling, and as a diuretic, laxative, or emetic. In addition, syrups of the juice helped colds and sickness, pain, and digestive problems.
Some of these uses have been verified in research, while others have not.
Why Elderberry Is Your Cough and Cold Best Friend
Primarily, people use elderberry to help support their immune system. It's incredibly rich in vitamin C, with a cup of fruit containing over half your daily recommended intake of vitamin C.
In the springtime, it was common to mix the previous year's syrup of elderberry with fresh tea made with elderflowers. It was a good combination, providing a lot of vitamin C and a significant source of various flavonols and anthocyanins that help stimulate the immune system and provide anti-inflammatory effects in the respiratory system.
People were often recommended to take a tablespoon of this mixture multiple times a day, providing a steady source of these nutrients.
Science even backs this up.
When it comes to the flu, black elderberry extract and flower infusions help reduce the severity and length people suffer from the symptoms. In some cases, it cut the time people were suffering in half.
Another study followed air travelers who took elderberry and found of those who did get sick, their recovery time was much faster.
Other Health Benefits of Elderberry
Some of the studies have shown the flavonoids and anthocyanins may help reduce the risk of heart disease. However, some of the studies have been mixed, with some showing positive effects and others no effect at all.
And they also help blood sugar levels. Elderberry can help create a small increase of insulin. The mechanism appears to inhibit the enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which controls the breakdown of long-chain starches in the intestine, which means fewer starches get converted to sugars. This can help improve sugar levels, although combining this with a diet low in sugar shows the most effect.
Other trial studies have shown promise in the areas of elderberry helping to fight cancer, inhibit bacteria growth, particularly H. pylori that causes ulcers, protect the skin from UV radiation, increase urination, and possibly have some antidepressant properties. However, more research is needed in these areas before anyone can conclusively say elderberry helps these conditions.
What Else You Need To Know About Elderberry
Fortunately, people tolerate elderberry very well, with more people reacting to the packaging than to the actual product. However, if you are sensitive to cyanide compounds, elderberry does contain trace amounts of these chemicals. It should also not be used with any medication that suppresses the immune system.
Elderberry gets added to a lot of different formulas for supporting the immune system. Its effectiveness and low interaction rates make it ideal for helping people boost their immune responses.
Outside of supplementation, you can look at jams, jellies, wine, and other food products to get a little bit of this beautiful berry into your diet.