Numerous species of elder or elderberry grow in Europe and North America. Only those with blue/black berries are medicinal. The flowers and berries are both used. Species with red berries are not medicinal.
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
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1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
Adults: 4 Tbsp daily of a syrup containing 38% elderberry extract; children: half a dose (2 Tbsp)
Supplementing with elderberry may help speed recovery.
The effect of a syrup made from the berries of the black elderberry on influenza has been studied in a small double-blind trial.2 People receiving an elderberry extract (four tablespoons per day for adults, two tablespoons per day for children) appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo.
Common Cold and Sore Throat
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Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and may benefit some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold.
Elderberry has shown antiviral activity and thus may be useful for some people with common colds. Elder flowers are a traditional diaphoretic remedy for helping to break fevers and promote sweating during a cold. Horseradish has antibiotic properties, which may account for its usefulness in easing throat and upper respiratory tract infections. The resin of the herb myrrh has been shown to kill various microbes and to stimulate macrophages (a type of white blood cell). Usnea has a traditional reputation as an antiseptic and is sometimes used for people with common colds.
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Elderberry is both immune supportive and antimicrobial.
Elderberries have long been used as food, particularly in the dried form. Elderberry wine, pie, and lemonade are some of the popular ways to prepare this plant as food. The leaves were touted by European herbalists to be pain relieving and to promote healing of injuries when applied as a poultice.1 Native American herbalists used the plant for infections, coughs, and skin conditions.
Flavonoids , including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic actions of the elderberry flowers and berries. These flavonoids include anthocyanins that are powerful antioxidants and protect cells against damage according to test tube studies.3 According to laboratory research, an extract from the leaves, combined with St. John’s wort and soapwort, inhibits the influenza virus and herpes simplex virus.4 The effect on influenza of a syrup made from the berries of the black elderberry has been studied in a small double-blind trial.5 People receiving an elderberry extract (2 tablespoons [30 ml] per day for children, 4 tablespoons [60 ml] per day for adults) appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo. Animal studies have shown the flowers to have anti-inflammatory properties.6 These actions have not been verified in human clinical trials.
A syrup of black elderberry extract (1 teaspoon–1 tablespoon [5–15 ml] for children, 2 teaspoons–2 tablespoons [10–30 ml] for adults) can be taken twice daily. A tea made from 1/2–1 teaspoon (3–5 grams) of the dried flowers steeped in 1 cup (250 ml) boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes may be drunk three times per day.7
The safe internal use of elderberry is limited to the use of the dried flowers or syrups made from the ripe berries.8 The roots, stems, leaves, and unripe berries may contain poisonous constituents that can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.9 Preparations containing any of these parts of the elder plant should be avoided.
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 423.
2. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1:361–9.
3. Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free Radical Biol Med 2000;29:51–60.
4. Serkedjieva J, Manolova N, Zgórniak-Nowosielska I, et al. Antiviral activity of the infusion (SHS-174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra L., aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria officinalis L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses. Phytother Res 1990;4:97–100.
5. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Alt Compl Med 1995;1:361–9.
6. Mascolo N, Autore G, Capasso G, et al. Biological screening of Italian medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res 1987;1:28–31.
7. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 1116–7.
8. Foster S. 101 Medicinal Plants. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1998, 72–3.
9. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 104–5.
Last Review: 11-07-2012
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