Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a berry that grows in European or black elder trees. The fruit has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat flu and other respiratory infections. Some research supports the benefits of elderberries for immune support and upper respiratory infections. However, adverse effects are also possible. Read more to learn about the potential benefits and risks to health of elderberries.
Elderberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Elderberries are rich in antioxidant compounds that eliminate free radicals, reducing cellular damage.
Elderberries may promote heart health and healthy blood sugar levels, but consult your doctor, especially if you have any existing conditions.
Weak evidence suggests that elderberries can be beneficial in improving colds and flu.
Elderberries can cause cyanide poisoning. Beware of potential side effects and consult your doctor.
Nutrient profile of elderberries
Elderberries are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C. They are also rich in bioactive compounds such as anthocyanins, which give the black-purple color to the fruit.
One cup of elderberries (145 g) contains:
|Total fat||0.7 g|
|Vitamin C||52.2 mg|
What is elderberry syrup?
Elderberries have been used in folk medicine to treat flu or other respiratory infections.
Weak evidence supports elderberries' beneficial effects on easing flu and colds. However, there is no standardization in elderberry syrups. Therefore, studies exploring different brands of elderberry syrup may not be comparable.
Also, the optimal dosage for safety and efficacy is not yet known. Dosage changes within batches from the same manufacturers and different brands. Therefore, you should consult your doctor before taking elderberry syrup.
5 health benefits of elderberries
Elderberries contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and non-nutrient compounds with potential health benefits.
1. Strong antioxidant compounds
Elderberries contain antioxidant compounds, including, but not limited to, polyphenols, anthocyanins, flavonols, and phenolic acids. Most health benefits of elderberries have been linked to their antioxidant potential.
Harmful molecules called free radicals harm DNA, proteins, and cells. Free radicals occur as a result of metabolic processes and environmental factors such as radiation, sun exposure, air pollution, smoking, and drugs. Antioxidant molecules are crucial in eliminating free radicals that otherwise damage cells, leading to diseases.
The amount of antioxidant compounds can change due to the processing and storage of elderberries. For example, blanching reduces polyphenols while increasing the anthocyanin content of fresh elderberries.
Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and potent antioxidant molecules. Antioxidant-rich diets can promote healthy cells by helping to minimize the effects of free radicals.
2. May promote heart health
Antioxidant-rich diets support heart health. Elderberries can promote cardiovascular health due to their effects on antioxidant capacity and blood pressure.
Elderberries may lower blood pressure; however, people with hypertension or other cardiovascular conditions are advised not to take elderberries and their products without their doctor's approval. Elderberry and its products can interact with blood pressure medications.
3. May promote healthy blood sugar levels
Abnormal blood sugar levels may be a symptom of type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease characterized by impaired production and efficiency of insulin.
Some animal studies suggest blood glucose-lowering effects of elderberry extract in diabetic rats. Additionally, the extract has been shown to improve insulin efficiency.
However, diabetic patients are advised not to use elderberry products before consulting their healthcare provider. Keep in mind that elderberry and its products can interact with diabetes medications.
4. May support the immune system
Blood anthocyanins rise when the fruit is eaten. Anthocyanins are antioxidant compounds found in elderberries. These compounds have been shown to enhance immunity.
5. May prevent colds and influenza
In folk medicine, elderberries are known for treating colds and influenza.
Microbes have to penetrate cells to infect the host. If the binding of a microbe is blocked, infection can be prevented. Some animal studies showed that elderberry juice can effectively prevent influenza by preventing microbes from penetrating cells.
Potential adverse effects of elderberries
Elderberries can cause toxicity and adverse effects.
Be aware of toxicity.
Keep in mind that you can eliminate the risk by cooking elderberries.
Other adverse effects
In addition to toxicity, there are other potential adverse effects:
- Cardiovascular. Cyanide poisoning can cause cardiovascular problems such as tachycardia (rapid heart rate).
- Dermatologic. Applying elderberry to the skin can cause reactions.
- Gastrointestinal. Consumption of raw elderberry juice made from leaves, stems, and uncooked berries can lead to gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and weakness.
Elderberry may also have a laxative effect.
Eating high quantities of elderberries can cause side effects, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Who shouldn't consume elderberries?
People with certain conditions should be cautious about consuming elderberries and its products:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, elderberries may not be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your doctor before eating elderberry.
- People allergic to elderberries or plants in the honeysuckle family. Some people may show allergic reactions to elderberries. Do not consume elderberries if you're allergic to the fruit, and consult your doctor in case of an allergic reaction.
- People who are taking medications. Elderberries may interact with medicine. For example, elderberries may lower blood pressure, so you should be cautious when taking blood pressure-lowering medications. If you're taking medications, consult your doctor about elderberry consumption.
- People who have diarrhea. If you have diarrhea, elderberries may have laxative effects that can worsen diarrhea.
- People with cardiovascular conditions. If you have arrhythmias or cardiovascular disease, be aware of potential cyanide poisoning from elderberries.
Elderberries are antioxidant-rich fruits with potential health benefits. However, it may cause side effects due to cyanide poisoning and allergies. Always consult your doctor if you have diseases and/or are taking medications, especially before taking elderberry products.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Elderberry.
- Journal of Dietary Supplements. An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Elderberry and Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration.
- United States Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central.
- Journal of Functional Foods. Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review.
- Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials.