Elderberries - Nature's Great Healers

Guest post by Naga Sanapally

Elderberry or Sambucus nigra, the Latin name, is one of the most versatile herbs closely tied to human health and healing. The history of Elderberry dates all the way back to 400 BC, and Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine,” called the Elder tree his “medicine chest”, for it  seemed to cure a wide variety of ailments.

In folk medicine today, the elderberry is considered one of the world’s most healing herbal plants. The Elderberry tree was considered as a holy symbol of health in the Middle Ages, and it appears in ancient lore in countries such as Germany, Denmark, Romania, Russia and Scotland. Traditionally, Indigenous people used it to treat fever and rheumatism, while the ancient Egyptians used it to improve their complexions and heal burns.

Elderberry bushes are perennial shrubs within the honeysuckle family, known for both the edible berries and the sweet-smelling blossoms which precede them. European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and the American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), are the two most common species.

The plant grows up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall and has clusters of small white- or cream-colored flowers known as elderflowers. In the summer, the creamy white blossoms give way to clusters of small green berries and later ripen to a bluish-purple hue found in small black or blue-black bunches. The flowers are widely seen in the British countryside in spring and the berries are available during late summer and early autumn.

As the weather begins to change and the seasons flow from one to the other, this is time for everyone to prepare for the cold and flu season. It’s that time of the year when we are all bundled up inside and prone to spreading germs easily. Not to worry, Mother Nature has our back with different magical & medicinal healing herbs, flowers and berries to support your health. Elderberries with their unique and versatile healing properties are one of the best ways to keep away from getting sick due to seasonal colds and flu.

Nourish your body and support your immune with natural and organic foods, teas and remedies to stave off sickness.  Elderberry syrup is a very powerful way to strengthen the immune system and help the body stay healthy during the cold months. With a firm texture and moderately juicy, their flavour is distinctly tart with an extremely astringent finish. They are usually considered to be unpalatable when consumed raw and therefore more often than not are eaten after cooking. The green berries are considered toxic and should not be consumed.


Properties of Elderberries

In folk medicine Elderberries have been used for their diaphoretic, laxative and diuretic properties and to treat various illnesses such as stomach ache, sinus congestion, constipation, diarrhoea, sore throat, common cold, and rheumatism.

According to advanced research from the Journal of Functional foods, 2015, the Elderberry has medicinal properties associated mainly with the presence of polyphenols, which are compounds with strong antioxidant properties. The berries also contain tannins and viburnic acid, both known to have a positive effect on diarrhoea, nasal congestion, as well as to improve respiration.

The flowers are said to have diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, diuretic, and topical anti-inflammatory actions. Leaves and inner bark have also been used for their purgative, emetic, diuretic, laxative, topical emollient, expectorant, and diaphoretic actions.

Health Benefits of Elderberries

Elderberries are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that contribute to most benefits. The main benefits of this incredible tree follow below:

Boosts Immunity

Rich in flavonoids, especially anthocyanins which are responsible for their deep purple colouring. These powerful antioxidants work to keep the immune system strong and resilient.

According to Dr Gerhard Rechkemmer who is the President of Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Nutrition and Food, his research shows that the anthocyanins in elderberries boost the production of cytokines. Cytokines are the proteins that act as messengers to enhance the human immune response to disease and works in a similar way to hormones. They can be both inflammatory or anti-inflammatory depending on what is needed and are released by immune cells either directly into the blood stream or locally into body tissue during an immune response. Increased production of inflammatory cytokines helps in treating upper respiratory tract infections and other respiratory ailments.  Once they have completed the job, inflammation is reduced and the immune system returns to its normal inactive, but alert state.

Treats Cold and Flu

The Elderflower is an "anti-catarrhal" herb, and therefore very effective for treating runny noses and congestion. Anti-catarrhal herbs prevent excess mucous formation and aid in removing mucous as well as reducing inflammation in the body.

Elderberry syrup has been used for centuries as a home remedy to treat colds and flu, both of which are caused by viruses. The syrup is very effective at reducing the severity and duration of infection if taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. The diaphoretic actions promote a fever to remove the infection from the body through the skin.

A study conducted by School of Pharmacy, Griffith University, Australia reported that supplementation with elderberry can reduce the symptoms and duration of a cold in air travellers. Travellers who used elderberry for 10 days before travel and up to 5 days after arriving overseas experienced an average 2-day shorter duration of their colds, and a noticeable reduction in their symptoms.

Improves Skin and Hair Health

Elderberries keep your skin radiant for longer periods because of the innate anti-aging and free radical fighting properties. They act as a natural detoxifying agent and help prevent distressing skin conditions like breakouts, boils, and scars.

According to Science Daily, published by the University of East Anglia, the article ‘The Elderberry Way To Perfect Skin’, 2007, anthocyanins in elderberries gives a natural boost to your skin’s health & protects against skin damage. Distilled elderberry flower water is known to restore skin health and lighten freckles. The fruit extract can reduce inflammation and bruising.  Antioxidants in Elderberries can combat the Herpes virus, giving relief when taken internally and when the distilled water is applied externally.

The berries also work really well for great hair health. The serum can treat split ends, problematic hairlines, and might even promote hair growth.

Improves Digestion

Elderberries, like most other fruits, are good sources of fibre and can enhance digestion. The fibre content in elderberries can help to eliminate constipation, reduce excess gas and generally increase the health of the gastrointestinal system. The dietary fibre contained in the berries can also help to improve nutrient uptake efficiency, especially in the gut, helping you to absorb more vitamins and minerals from the food that you eat.

Strengthens Bones

The nutrients calcium, iron, and potassium in the berries are known to strengthen bones and increase bone mineral density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. The anthocyanins in the berries might even prevent bone loss, but it is always best to consult your doctor or work with a trained specialist on this matter.

Eye Health

Elderberries are rich in vitamins A and B6 and can help prevent serious vision ailments like glaucoma and macular degeneration. The antioxidant activity of elderberries also helps ensure vision health in the long run.

Improves Brain Health

According to the article ‘Nutraceuticals in cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease’, (2014) from the ‘journal of Frontiers in Pharmacology’ anthocyanins in elderberries can help treat cognitive impairment and the resultant conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Elderberries are also full of quercetin, which is an important flavonoid critical for brain health. Quercetin reduces the harmful inflammation at a cellular level and activates the mitochondria in your cells (powerhouses) that boost cell health.

Enhances Heart Health 

According to the Oxford Academic Nutrition Reviews from the article ‘Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health’, 2010, states that not only elderberries but all kinds of berries have powerful effects on the heart through anthocyanins which protects the inner layer of the blood vessels from oxidative stress, protects the cells from inflammatory stressors and improves blood circulation, reducing the risk of heart disease.

As Elderberries are rich in potassium, they can help regulate blood pressure reducing the strain on the heart.

Note: Side Effects

While elderberry has many potential benefits, there are also some associated risks to be considered when consuming them.

According to the report from the European Medicines Agency, 2014, the bark, unripe berries, and seeds contain small amounts of substances known as lectins which can cause stomach problems if consumed excessively.

In addition, the elderberry plant contains substances called cyanogenic glycosides that can release cyanide in some circumstances, which is one of the reasons why the bark is less commonly used.



  • Elderberries are best suited for cooked and processed applications to mitigate their tart flavour and astringent mouthfeel.
  • The berries can be used to prepare teas, tinctures, wine, jams, and syrups.
  • When sweetened in a preserve they become a pleasant floral and fruity condiment very similar to blackberry jelly.
  • The flowers of the elderberry plant are used to make jelly, cordial a beautifully refreshing drink for the summer months and also in baking or may also be eaten as fritters.
  • Elderberry syrup, an infusion of the pureed berries cooked down with sugar, can became a versatile ingredient for ice creams, sorbets, baked goods, beverages and sauces for wild game, as well as a syrup for treating early symptoms of coughs and colds.
  • The edible flowers are utilized for infusing wine, cordials and the famous liqueur, St Germain. They can also be used internally for treating influenza and skin irritation.
  • This versatile berry can be used dried for adding to pancakes, salads and teas or fresh by using them in smoothies, juices, in syrups and ice lollies.


Other Facts

  • Extracts from elderberry are used in horticulture as a repellent against insects.
  • Elderberry shoots are placed into the soil to frighten off mice as well as moles.
  • The Elderberry tree is also used to control soil erosion.
  • The wooden branches are also used for making pegs and other small wooden items due to the white colour.

As elderberries are now ripe and ready for picking, here’s something to try!

Elderberry Tea


  • 1 cup of water
  • A few elderberries
  • A pinch of turmeric and cinnamon


  1. Add water and elderberries to a saucepan, add turmeric and cinnamon.
  2. Bring it to a boil and boil for about 15 minutes.
  3. Let the liquid cool. Strain the berries using a strainer.


Your tea is ready, the only thing left to do is to enjoy it!

You can also make the tea by boiling 3-5 grams of elderflowers in 250 mL of water. Or if you are using the bark, take one teaspoon of it and add to half a cup of boiling water. Enjoy!

Elderberry Nutritional Information

Elderberries are rich in vitamin C and dietary fibre with antioxidants.  According to Nutrascience labs 145 grams of fresh elderberries provide 106 calories and contain:


  • Carbohydrates - 26.7 grams
  • Dietary fibre - 10.2 grams
  • Protein - 1 gram
  • Fat - 0.7 gram
  • Vitamin A – 870 IU
  • Vitamin C - 52.2 mg
  • Thiamine – 01 mg
  • Riboflavin – 0.1 mg
  • Niacin – 0.7 mg
  • Vitamin B6 – 0.3 mg


  • Folate – 8.7 mcg
  • Pantothenic Acid – 0.2 mg
  • Calcium – 55.1 mg
  • Iron - 2.3 mg
  • Magnesium - 7.3 mg
  • Phosphorus – 56.6 mg
  • Potassium – 406 mg
  • Sodium – 8.7 mg
  • Zinc – 0.2 mg
  • Copper – 0.1 mg
  • Selenium – 0.9 mcg



Elderberries Information, Recipes and Facts - Specialtyproduce.com

Elderberry Benefits - Natural Health Guide - Indigo-herbs.co.uk

An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) - The Natural Standard Research Collaboration - PubMed

Elderberry Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits - Verywellfit.com

What are The Benefits of Elderberry? - UPMC HealthBeat

12 Amazing Benefits Of Elderberry For Skin, Hair, And Health - stylecraze.com

Assessment report on Sambucus nigra - L., Fructus europa.eu

Elderberry Benefits & Information (Sambucus Nigra) - Herbwisdom.com




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