5 Benefits of Elderberry: Dosage & Safety

Elderberry has become wildly popular over the last few years, but is it worth all of the hype? In this article, we’ll dig into the benefits of elderberry and how …

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Written by: Daniel Powers, MSc
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Elderberry has become wildly popular over the last few years, but is it worth all of the hype? In this article, we’ll dig into the benefits of elderberry and how you can use it to benefit your body.

Elderberry is a natural herb that has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy.

In fact, it was written about by Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Pliny, ancient fathers of medicine. The Elder tree was so popular for its medicinal virtues that it was known as “the medicine chest of country people”.

While elderberry is commonly thought of as an immune health aid, it has other health benefits as well.

health benefits of elderberry

What is Elderberry?

Elderberry is the dark purple berry that’s produced by the European elder tree.

Known scientifically as Sambucus nigra, the elder tree grows throughout Europe, North America, Asia, and Northern Africa.

Elderberries have been used for millennia as both a food and a medicine.

Health Benefits of Elderberry:

Below are the top research-backed benefits of elderberry.

1. May Support Immune Health

Elderberry is one of the most popular natural remedies for immune health.

Elderberry is a popular supplement that’s commonly used to fight off colds and flus. Elderberry’s immune-boosting properties have been proven out through a variety of clinical trials.

A clinical trial found that elderberry extract helped to reduce cold duration and severity in air travelers. The study was conducted with 312 economy class passengers traveling from Australia to an overseas destination. The passengers were interviewed before and after the trip. The elderberry group had a reduced number of total colds, as well as a decreased sickness severity.

A meta-analysis study of elderberry clinical trials found that supplementation with elderberry substantially reduces upper respiratory symptoms. 

Summary:

Clinical studies show that elderberry may be beneficial in boosting immune health.

2. Antiviral Properties

Sambucus nigra has powerful antiviral activity, especially against a wide range of influenza viruses. It works by reducing hemagglutination and thus helps to reduce virus replication.

A placebo-controlled, double-blind study showed that elderberry extract reduced the activity of a variety of different viruses during an influenza outbreak. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever reduction, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the elderberry-treated group within 2 days (compared to 91.7% of the patients who showed an improvement within 6 days in the control group).

An in vitro study showed that elderberry extract has an inhibitory effect on influenza viruses.

Elderberry can be used to decrease the length of a cold or flu by about one day. It is believed that the antiviral activity in elderberries prevents viruses from multiplying and spreading

Several other in vitro studies have shown that elderberry is effective against a variety of virus strains, including multiple H1N1, H3N2, and type B strains, an H5N1 strain, and animal strains from European swine and turkey.

Summary:

Research indicates that elderberry may have antiviral properties.

3. Antibacterial Properties

In vitro research has shown that elderberry extract has antimicrobial activity against both Gram-positive bacteria of Streptococcus pyogenes and group C and G Streptococci, and the Gram-negative bacterium Branhamella catarrhalis.

An in vitro study showed that elderberry is directly active against infectious bronchitis virus, a coronavirus causing illness in chickens; treatment with S. nigra extracts reduced viral titers in Vero cells by four to six orders of magnitude.

Another test-tube study found that elderberry extract (of both the berry and flower) had antibacterial activity against both gram-positive and gram-negative strains of bacteria.

Summary:

Studies show that elderberry may have antibacterial properties.

4. Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Macrophages play a key role in your immune system. They work by engulfing foreign matter (microbes, etc…) and removing them from your system. Macrophages also work to promote inflammation within the body.

In vitro studies show that elderberry extract (of both the berry and flower) works to modulate macrophage activity. The researchers noted that this could be especially helpful for those struggling with inflammatory diseases.

This initial research was expanded upon in 2019 when it was discovered that elderberry extract worked to reduce the inflammation response in activated macrophage cells.

Summary:

According to researchers, elderberry may work to reduce inflammation. Additional studies are needed to confirm this finding.

5. Antioxidant Properties

Antioxidants are substances that can help to protect the body from free radicals, which have been shown to contribute to a variety of diseases and health conditions.

Consuming adequate amounts of dietary antioxidants are thought to be helpful for slowing down the aging process and promoting overall health.

Multiple studies have shown that various forms of elderberry have antioxidant activity within the human body.

Elderberry gets its antioxidant activity from its high anthocyanin and flavonol content. These phytochemicals go to work within the body and combat free radicals.

Summary:

Elderberry may have antioxidant properties, however, further research is required for confirmation.

Elderberry Safety:

No reported side effects. Unripe elderberries or improperly prepared elderberry preparations can cause adverse side effects including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

It is noted that the leaf, bark, seed, and unripe fruit of Elder trees (spp) contain the cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin. Ingestion of this phytochemcial can potentially cause vomiting or severe diarrhea.

It should be noted that this constituent is destroyed when elderberries are heated up during the syrup-making process.

Pregnancy & Lactation:

There are no known restrictions although there are insufficient data to confirm safety during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Drug Interactions:

No confirmed drug interactions. Potential interactions with diuretics or drugs that interact with diuretics, as well as with laxatives have been speculated.

A potential beneficial interaction between elderberry preparations and decongestants and antibiotics has also been speculated based on preliminary clinical observations.

Dosing:

Since there are a variety of different forms for elderberry, we’ll hit on the main forms along with their best dosage.

Elderberry Syrup Dosing:

For intensive use:

•Adults: 2 teaspoons 4 times daily

•Children: 1 teaspoon 4 times daily

For daily maintenance:

•Adults: 2 teaspoons daily

•Children: 1 teaspoon daily

Expressed Juice:

1 glass (8oz) 2 times daily.

Tea Decoction:

1 cup (made from 10g of dried berries) several times daily.

Lozenges:

For intensive use:

•Adults: 2 lozenges 3 times daily

•Children: 1 lozenge 4 times daily

For daily maintenance:

•Adults: 1 lozenge two times daily

•Children: 1 lozenge daily

Conclusion:

The history of elderberry has been closely tied in with that of colds and flu, which is why it’s a popular ingredient found in many herbal formulas targeting these issues. In modern times, research on this herb has focused more specifically on its antioxidant properties.

Elderberry is a fantastic herb for immune health. It provides a great deal of antioxidant benefits and is generally safe to take.

While this herb doesn’t have as much clinical research as you’d expect for a top-selling herbal ingredient, it certainly appears to be a helpful herb for anyone who wants to keep their immune system strong and healthy.

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Youdim, K. A., Martin, A., & Joseph, J. A. (2000). Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free radical biology & medicine, 29(1), 51–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0891-5849(00)00329-4

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About Daniel Powers, MSc

Daniel has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has a passion for herbal medicine and how it can be used to support everyday health & wellness.

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