Elderberry, also known as the American Elder, is a small tree native to North America. Elder’s European variety can be found throughout Europe, Asia and North Africa. The flowers, leaves, berries, bark and roots of elderberries have been used in folk remedy for centuries. The elderberry tree has been called “the medicine chest of the common people”. Only quite recently has the western medicine started investigating and rediscovering the medicinal benefits of elderberries.
Elderberry is a potent antioxidant and immune booster having multiple uses. The leaves and flowers are common ingredients in ointments and poultices for burns, swelling, cuts and scrapes. Flower water can be used as a soothing gargle and infusions of blossoms combined with other herbs are used to quicken the recovery from common cold or flu.
The juice from the berries is an old cure used for common colds and flu and is also said to bring relief to asthma and bronchitis. Studies made with elderberry juice have confirmed that it can destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. One of the studies showed that people with the flu taking elderberry juice reported less severe symptoms and felt better faster than those who did not take elderberry juice. Scientific studies made in Germany have showed that elderberry anthocyanins boost the production of cytokines thus enhancing the function of the immune system. Cytokines act as messengers in the immune system, helping to regulate immune response and thus helping to defend the body against disease. Same studies also indicated that anthocyanins found in elderberries posses considerably more antioxidant capacity that either vitamin E or vitamin C.
Elderberry is available at least as a syrup, tincture, capsules and lozenges. You can also find dried elder flowers standardized at least 0,8% flavonoids. Sambucol is one of the most famous commercial elderberry extracts as its potency has been proven in many studies. It is available in many different forms from extracts to capsules. Other popular commercial brand is Sinupret which is a combination of herbs used to support healthy sinus and respiratory function and also immune system.
As with many other common cold remedies, also elderberry should be used as soon as the symptoms of cold or flu start occurring. Here are some examples of doses for adults:
- Tea: steep 3-5 grams of dried elder flower in 1 cup of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Strain and drink three times per day
- Sinupret: 2 tablets three times a day for bacterial sinusitis
- Sambucol: 4 tablespoons a day for three days against common cold and flu
Raw berries should never be used since they can cause nausea and vomiting. Stems, roots and leaves of elderberries can contain source of poisonous cyanide. Therefore it is advisable to use commercially prepared syrups or extracts. Elderberry flowers are generally regarded as safe. Side effects are rare but mild gastrointestinal distress or allergic reactions may occur. Other rare side effects of elderberry include irregular heartbeat, stomach upset & diarrhea. It is not recommended to use elderberry if you are pregnant or nursing or have complex liver disease. It is recommendable to consult your doctor before using elderberry in young children.