Elderberry is fast becoming popular for its myriad of health benefits. Referred to in European folk medicine as “natures medicine chest”, this small berry packs a punch with its versatility in dealing with a multitude of health issues. The benefits of taking elderberry go far beyond just treating cold & flu symptoms.
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Black elderberry, the fruit from a flowering shrub formally known as Sambucus nigra is in the genus Adoxaceae family. This medicinal berry has been used for millennia as prevention & treatment for many ailments. Commonly known today as a cold & flu preventative, the benefits of elderberry far exceed treatment of this virus alone.
Elderberry bushes are found readily near boggy areas and at the forest edge, but can be grown easily in any sunny backyard environment. This bush/tree can grow up to 20+ feet tall and is related to the honeysuckle. Flowering here in zone 5a mid-July, these berries are ready for harvest late August. Although the flowers and berries of the Elder plant are commonly ingested, it’s important to note that the roots, stems, leaves, & seeds are toxic to humans as they contain a high amount of certain alkaloids & cyanidin glycosides.
Further, ingesting in excess, elderflowers and berries may cause issues with vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Due diligence in researching is always recommended prior to beginning any course of action.
The elderflower, growing in a beautiful cap-like formation, can be used medicinally to treat ailments (sinusitis, bronchitis, diabetes, & constipation), used in culinary dishes (fritters, vinegars, & savory dishes), infused into teas & oils (skincare, acne, & sunburns) and made into cordials (wine & adult beverages). The flowers may be used fresh or dried & stored for future use.
Highly nutrient-dense, the elderflower is packed with vitamins and antioxidants that may give our immune systems a boost while assisting with the reduction of many inflammatory issues. In addition, these flowers contain 0.3 percent of essential oil containing free fatty acids & alkanes, making extracts from this flower a potential component in the treatment of diabetes according to NCBI.
The flavonoids and phenolic acids contained therein were potent stimulators of glucose and fatty acid uptake in a dose-dependent manner. Most of the phenolic constituents and several of the metabolites showed high antioxidant activity and showed considerably higher α-amylase and α-glucosidase inhibition than acarbose. Elderflower might therefore be valuable as a functional food against diabetes.NCBI
From the elderflower comes the actual elderberry. Like the elderflower, the berries nutritional value is immense. Raw elderberries possess high vitamin & mineral content & make this a go-to plant for many home apothecaries.
The dark ripe almost black berries, are made up of 80% water, contain 18% carbohydrates, and less than 1% of both protein & fats. They are naturally high in vitamins, C, A, & B6, and contain iron, potassium, and several other essential nutrients.
ELDERBERRY RIPENING & HARVESTING
The stages of ripening are a wonder to observe. The clusters of elderflower quickly begin to form the berries themselves. Initially green, the berries need to remain on the vine until they are ready for harvest mid-summer. They will become heavy and appear to hang upside down on the bush.
Only harvest the ripe, dark berries as the leaves, stems, roots, and raw berries (both green & ripened) can be toxic (cooking/processing negates the cyanide inducing glycosides). Elderberries will ripen in stages, usually within a few days of each other. When they begin to ripen you may need to harvest every day or so.
To harvest these nutrient-dense berries couldn’t be more simple. Should you have access to fresh ones, choose the darkest most ripened clusters and cut them from the bush at the base of the grouping. Processing immediately is encouraged as they will begin to ferment within 12 hours of harvesting.
To process or remove the berries from the stems, the fork method is preferred. Simply run the berries through the tines of the fork to remove. Be sure to remove any small stems remaining on the berries as well as any unripened berries from the processed ones. The video below demonstrates how easy this process is to complete.
Once removed from the stems, the berries than can be made into syrups, tinctures, jams, frozen or dried for future use. To dry, either dehydrate with a dehydrator such as this one HERE or simply let the power of solar do its work. Leave the berries on a fine-mesh sieve like the one below (allows full air movement) in the sun for 4-6 days, shaking periodically, until completely dried. Store the dried berries in a glass jar and seal until ready to use.
The most common benefit and one that the majority are familiar with is for prevention & treatment of the common cold & flu virus. Elderberry syrup has regained popularity recently as well as elderberry tincture, and for good reason…it works! If you’ve not heard of the tincture before be sure to take a look at “How To Prepare For Cold & Flu Season With Elderberry Tincture” for instructions on how to make and use.
Amazingly the benefits of taking elderberry don’t stop at just a wonderful option for preventing and shortening colds & flu! The benefits of these berries reach far beyond using them for just this natural remedy. Here are 14 surprising benefits uncovered in the writing of this article.
14 ELDERBERRY BENEFITS
- DIGESTIVE AID – In a randomized clinical trial evaluating the efficacy and safety of elderberries, it was found that ” the phytotherapeutic compound assessed has laxative efficacy and is a safe alternative option for the treatment of constipation”.
- HEART HEALTH – “Studies have indicated that increasing flavonoids is associated with a decreased risk of CVD” (cardiovascular disease) according to this review by NCBI.
- RESPIRATORY HEALTH – “Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza” according to this randomized study by NCBI.
- BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM – Although this may not be a surprising benefit, it is one worth noting again. A published abstract, Advanced Research On The Antioxidant and Health Benefit of Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) In Food, states that elderberries antioxidant levels can “greatly affect the course of disease processes by counteracting oxidative stress, exerting beneficial effects on” “immune system stimulation”.
- DIABETES AID – Research continues to be conducted in how elderberry can benefit those dealing with diabetes. One such study on the effects of elderberry on diabetic rats concluded that ” extracts lowered insulin resistance, without remarkable alterations to hematological indices, sera lipids, and sera and tissular trace element homeostasis. In conclusion, elderberries are a potential source of bioactive compounds for formulations to be used as co-adjuvants in diabetes management”.
- BONE HEALTH – Studies continue to be conducted in elderberry extract and it’s effects on bone mineral density. According to one such article, it was found that ” one may conclude that a dietary intake rich in natural polyphenols would lead to the regression of diabetes complications in general and osteoporosis in particular”.
- SKINCARE – Elderberries anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties have been found to assist in healing skin infections as well as help to assist in fighting the effects of aging by improving microcirculation.
- WEIGHT LOSS – A german study lead at the University of Freiburg has shown elderberry helps improve satiety and aids in weight loss largely due to elderberries high levels of antioxidants & anti-inflammatory properties.
- REDUCE INFLAMMATION – Inflammation, a bodies worst nightmare. Inflammatory issues show up in the body as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimers disease. Clinical trials are now being conducted researching elderberries effects on decreasing the risks of these diseases.
- REDUCE HEADACHES – Due to elderberry’s high level of flavonoids along with their antioxidant effects as well as anti-inflammatory properties all assist in reducing the severity and occurrences of headaches.
- CANCER-FIGHTING PROPERTIES – Elderberries have been found to contain some cancer-inhibiting properties.
- ANTI-DEPRESSENT QUALITIES – According to a recent study, elderberry “extracts were safe and showed remarkable antidepressant activity in FST and TST in mice. These results introduced these plants as an easily accessible source of natural antidepressant”.
- SUN PROTECTION – Elderberries naturally high levels of polyphenols (micronutrients), “possessing anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and anti-oxidant properties are among the most promising group of compounds that can be exploited as ideal chemopreventive agents for a variety of skin disorders in general and skin cancer in particular” according to an article Skin Photoprotection By Natural Polyphenols.
- REDUCE HERPES OUTBREAK – Elderberries high levels of antiviral properties have been shown to shorten the duration of herpes outbreaks.
As with any of Mother Nature’s healing gifts, caution should be considered prior to beginning any new regimen as negative interactions & side effects may occur. Consulting your health care provider is encouraged before taking elderberry. A few precautionary notes:
- do not ingest uncooked or raw berries as they contain traces of lectins and may cause digestive issues.
- Raw berries contain “cyanogenic glycosides” which can in turn release cyanide in certain circumstances (the cooking process safely removes this threat).
- Small children & pregnant or lactating woman are discouraged from ingesting elderberry due to lack of research confirming it’s safety.
- Those with auto-immune issues such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis should seek counsel from their health care provider prior to taking as elderberry products will stimulate the immune system.
Taken from Penn State Hersey, the following interactions are possible:
If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should talk to your health care provider before taking elderberry.
Diuretics (water pills). Diuretics help the body get rid of excess fluid and increase the amount of urine your body makes. Elderberry may also act as a diuretic, so taking it along with a diuretic could make that drug stronger and raise your risk of dehydration. Diuretics include:
- Bumetanide (Burinex)
- Furosemide (Lasix)
- Amiloride (Midamor)
- Metolazone (Zaroxolyn)
Diabetes medications. Elderberry may lower blood sugar levels. If you are also taking drugs for diabetes, taking elderberry may increase your risk of developing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
Chemotherapy. Elderberry may interact with some chemotherapy drugs. If you are undergoing chemotherapy, ask your oncologist before taking any herb or supplement.
Laxatives. Elderberry may act as a laxative and should not be taken at the same time as other laxatives.
Theophylline (TheoDur). Elderberry may reduce levels of theophylline, a drug taken for asthma and other respiratory conditions. That could make the drug not work as well.
Drugs that suppress the immune system. Because elderberry may stimulate the immune system, it could interfere with medications taken to suppress the immune system. These medications include corticosteroids (prednisone) and medications used to treat autoimmune diseases. People with organ transplants should also avoid elderberry.”
There you have it! 14 elderberry benefits, many of which were surprising and unexpected. What are your favorite uses for elderberry? Be sure to subscribe to stay up-to-date with all the happenings here on the hill!
Love, Light, & Laughter ~
Great post. I take Elderberry capsules every day but had no idea there were so many other uses. Congratulations, you are being featured at Thursday Favorite Things. I hope you stop by.
Thank you, Bev, for the feature!
We are so excited that you participated! Thank you for sharing your creativity! This is so interesting!
Thank you, Suzan, I will be checking to see if they grow in my area!
Great post! We just started making Elderberry syrup this last season! So good and beneficial! Thank you for sharing your knowledge at our Embracing Home and Family link up! Hope to see you again this Friday!
I don’t know where there are any in my area, but I’ve always thought working with and using them would be good. – Margy
Can’t wait to share this info on My Homestead Life, found on the blog hop.
Thank you, Amber!
Amazing! I love it when friends can point out the ways in which creation was designed for goodness and healthfulness!
I had no idea elderberry had so many health benefits! My boys and I did start taking elderberry supplements this past February during flu and for most/part of the pandemic too. We took a few months break before just starting up again with back to school season as I had read that it could lose it’s effectiveness if taken every single day. Thanks for sharing with us at Encouraging Hearts and Home. Pinned.
Yes, I find elderberry much more effective when taken only when needed. Thanks so much for stopping by & reading, and for your support!
This post really provided a comprehensive overview of elderberry’s benefits as well as some of the issues of concern. I hesitated to use elderberry as a natural remedy last year after some cautions begain to circulate. I hopped over from Homstead Blog Hop and I’m glad I did. Thanks for sharing this valuable post.
I’m so happy you found this article of use & it helped answer some questions for you. Stay safe & thank you for reading.
Love this post – pinned and tweeted 🙂 #goinggreen
Thank you so much!
I picked a load of elderberries yesterday – some will go into a hedgerow jelly I make and the others may go into elderberry port which I find great for easing sore throats. A very useful and informative post to add to #GoingGreen – thank you.
How lovely! So many uses for this great berry 🙂
Great information about elderberries. My family has learned in the past few years about the health benefits of elderberries. I take elderberry every day! Thanks for linking up at the #GatheringofFriendsLinkParty 5 sharing!
Great info, Suzan! Thanks for sharing on Farm Fresh Tuesdays!
I don’t have any elderberries growing around us, but I hope to plant some in the spring. 🙂 I’ve been buying dried berries from a co-op for my tea, etc.
Awesome, Lisa! Thank you for reading!
This is so helpful, thank you. We love elderberries, but do usually use them solely for a coughs and colds tincture.
Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too!
I’m always so impressed with your commitment to making your own health products. It is truly impressive. And of course, your posts are so informative!
Thank you, Maria. I truly appreciate your kind words and for reading!
I’ve used elderberry in winter for the immune boost. It’s great to learn more about it.
This is an impressive article! I had no idea that elderberries were so versatile. Thanks for sharing!
Another great article. I pinned it for future reference. I never realized all of the benefits. As I age, I am more and more interested in natural health remedies and benefits such as this. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for reading, Heather! So glad you found it of benefit.
I found this post fascinating, Suzan. You’ve researched it all so well! I’ve only ever used elderberry tincture for colds and respirartory issues, I had no idea elderberries were so versatile. Pinning. Thank you for sharing with the Hearth and Soul Link party.
Thank you for the kind words, April. So glad you found it informative!
I am always so interested in Elderberry. It does not grow where I live, but it sounds like it has wonderful health benefits. Last time I was in the South we purchased some Elderberry Jam and it was lovely!
Love the flavor of elderberry jam. Thanks for stopping by!
I’m so amazed by nature and it’s natural benefits! Keep it coming this information is much needed
Love your posts! Wouldn’t it be fun if we lived near each other. I so appreciate elderberry. It’s one of my go to herbs.
Thank you, Cindy! YES it would be awesome to live near!
The fork method is brilliant! I love little hacks like that. Thanks for all of these different uses. I’m a big fan of elderberry jam but haven’t been brave enough to try making it myself yet.
Make a tincture! Easy to do…check out my post “Preparing For Cold & Flu Season With Elderberry Tincture” for complete instructions. Thanks for reading!
Wow! So much great information here! I loved learning about the benefits and the harvesting process! Good to know about the possible drug interactions.
Glad you enjoyed it, Kendra. Thanks so much for reading!
I always enjoy learning more about herbs and things from you. I consider myself pretty well versed in natural remedies, but I always learn something new from you. I usually just use elderberry for cough and flu season. I had no idea of the other benefits.
Thank you, Pauline, for the wonderful compliment! I’m so glad you are enjoying the content.
Hi Suzan, very informative article! I especially like the list of 14 benefits. I pinned this to my “natural health” board on Pinterest as well. As really enjoy your blog!
Thank you for reading & pinning Carol! I’m happy you enjoyed it.
I would like to be your neighbor. We would make delectable things together.
LOL…that would be awesome, wouldn’t it?
Lots of interesting information! I really need to try these… so many benefits with them. thanks for sharing!
What a wonderful post! We have elderberries growing wild all over where I live and I had often heard of the “cyanide” concern so it’s great to read the full story. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thanks for reading Leigh Ann!
I knew elderberry was good for you but I didn’t know there were that many benefits. Great info!
These are good benefits to remember. I like using elderberry for immune support, and we are approaching cold and flu season, aren’t we?
Faster than I would like 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Laure!
I love the knowledge you pass on to us! Great article!
I’ve heard of lots of friends using elderberry lately. This was an interesting read! I didn’t realize they are toxic until they are cooked. I’ll have to look into getting some!
I probably walked by these plants many times and had no idea what they were, although I have heard of the Elderflowers before -primarily in reference to the St. Germain liquor 😀 But had no clue how much benefits are packed in those berries! Great, informative post, as always! Thanks!
So glad you found this useful Akiko! Thank you for reading.
I do not think they grow out here in Cali, at least that I have heard of. But I love all the benefits you outlined and how to harvest them.
If they can’t be found in your area, ordering online is always an option. Thanks for reading!
Wow, so many great reasons to use elderberries. Good to know! I’ve never had any before, but maybe I’ll have to change that!
Love this! I had wondered about elderberry process. I bought some for my son at one time but never knew how to make it myself. this is great!
Glad you enjoyed the article, Karie. Thank you for reading!
I’ve used elderberry syrup for years during cold and flu season. I didn’t realize it had so many other powerful properties. This post came at a good time, as I needed the reminder to pick up some more. Thank you!
You’re welcome Ramae! Happy you found it useful.
Thank you for sharing. I never knew there were so many benefits.
I am very interested in natural plants an herbs that can be used as healing agents. I think we take for granted having medications prescribed so easily and forget all about the science and what people of used in the past to help us get better.
I couldn’t agree more. Natures nuggets often times work on deeper levels of support & healing than any pharmaceutical option could. Thank you for stopping by!
Lots of info jammed (pun intended) into such a concise post. I’m forwarding this to my sister-in-law, but I know she’ll have one additional question…have you had any success with making wine out of elderberries? LOL! (Funny but not joking.)
Thank you, Matt. I do tend to “jam” a lot into them, lol. Thank you for sharing! I have yet to make elderberry wine, although it is on my radar to make as I now have access to the berries and have a wonderful vintage recipe from my grandmother to try!
I had no idea Elderberry had so many benefits. Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome, Jordan!
Now I have to go Google tincture! LOL
No need, Laura! A tincture is simply a concentrated extract, typically alcohol-based.
Hi Suzan, I love elderberry. My neighbor used to make jam. I never knew the plant is toxic to dogs. Always good information you provide. Thanks for sharing at “Love Your Creativity.” Have a lovely week ahead.
It is a wonderful medicinal plant when prepared properly. Thank you for reading Linda!
wow the elderberry is an interesting plant. I never knew everything was toxic except the berries and the flowers. In a way it’s good I don’t have one because my kids would try to eat the berries right off the bush. Do you know if it the plant is also toxic to dogs? Thanks for linking this post with us at #OMGHWW!
The toxin produced by the plant is cyanogenic glycoside, also known as Amygdalin. This toxin is the same as found in bitter almonds, apples seeds, & stone fruits. Degradation of amygdalin in the digestive tract produces hydrogen cyanide, which can be toxic in as little as 2 milligrams per kilogram of weight in any animal. So in short, yes, if ingested it may become toxic to our canine friends. I will say, that I’ve grown elderberry on our property for 3+ years and our Yogi doesn’t touch it.
Hope this helps & thanks so much for your question!