Elderberries have long been touted for their amazing health benefits. They are widely used in natural medicines and food. Elderberries are the rich, dark purple fruit of the elderberry shrub and have high levels of antioxidants making them perfect to help support the body through some ailments, such as the common cold.
Many of elderberry’s health benefits can be attributed to anthocyanin, the aforementioned antioxidant. As an antioxidant, anthocyanin works by clearing the body of free radicals that damage cells at the DNA level. It also has antiviral properties that may prevent or reduce the severity of certain common infections making it one of the best cold and flu fighters out there. Elderberry also exerts anti-inflammatory effects which help to reduce swelling and can reduce pain by tempering the body’s immune response.
There have actually been studies helping to support elderberry’s efficacy in the natural treatment of the common cold. A 2016 study from Australia reported that among 312 long-haul airline passengers, those who used elderberry extract 10 days before and five days after their flight had 50 percent fewer sick days from the cold than those who did not. Elderberry, however, did not reduce the risk of catching a cold, it only reduced the severity of symptoms and length of time spent ill from the common viral infection.
It should stand to reason that because elderberry is an anti-inflammatory, it might also be a helpful natural pain reliever. Although there are few and limited studies showing whether or not elderberry’s anthocyanins actually reduce any pain, or provide any relief, the anthocyanins are, in fact, known to reduce inflammation – a leading cause of chronic disease. Those antioxidants in elderberry do so by inhibiting the production of nitrous oxide by the body’s immune cells. Nitrous oxide serves as a signaling molecule that triggers inflammation in response to injury or disease. By tempering this response, pain and swelling may also be relieved.
Drinking an elderberry tea could help relieve the discomfort of constipation. This laxative effect is attributed to a compound in elderberry known as anthraquinone, which is also found in rhubarb and senna. Anthraquinone inhibits the absorption of water in the intestines which increased intestinal pressure stimulating muscle contractions to help aid in evacuating the bowels. Although there is little medical literature related to elderberry’s laxative properties, Very Well Health says that it is generally accepted that the effects are mild and safe when used to treat occasional, uncomplicated constipation.
Because of elderberry’s laxative properties, there are a few side effects. The overconsumption of elderberries may cause diarrhea, stomach ache, and abdominal cramping thanks to these laxative effects. If elderberry is used for medicine, only ripe or dried berries should be used. It is also important to note that certain parts of the elderberry plant (including the leaves, root, bark, and stems) contain a type of poison known as “cyanogenic glycoside.” Even unripe berries contain trace amounts of this poison, which, if chewed, can release cyanide into the body. Elderberry is not recommended for children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. While no adverse events have been reported in these groups, there is not enough data to confirm that it is safe over the long term. Seek medical attention immediately if you use elderberry and experience any symptoms of poisoning.
Those with autoimmune diseases should also steer clear of elderberry. Elderberry makes the immune system more active, meaning it can interact with the drugs used to suppress the immune systems of those with an autoimmune disease.
Recipe for Elderberry Extract:
- 4oz of dried elderberries
- 1-quart bottle of cheap vodka or brandy
- 1-quart jar with lid
- Each day, shake the jar and during the first week, make sure that the alcohol you’ve chosen still covers the berries. Add more vodka or brandy if necessary.
- After 6-8 weeks or longer, remove the berries by straining them through the colander. The extract will remain potent for 1-2 years if kept in a cool dark place.
Note: This is extract, and it will taste like an extract. It needs to be added to other things such as tea, seltzer, or water to make it more palatable. It still has all the wonderful properties, maybe even more so than the syrup recipe, however. Serving 20 drops for adults and 10 drops for kids once a day for prevention and 3 or 4 times per day if one is sick with the flu or cold.
There are a few other ways an elderberry extract can be used as well.
- Throat Lozenges (cough drops) – A great recipe can be found here, at Tasty Ever After.
- Added to an immune boosting tea for immune boosting properties:
- Add to warm or sparkling water for a health tonic.
WebMD suggests that elderberry is possibly safe to take for up to 12 weeks but it isn’t known what the long term side effects could be. As with any medicine, natural or otherwise, it’s better to err on the safe side, especially until you know what your body is capable of handling. Don’t hesitate to speak to a healthcare provider if you feel the need to do so. Take the time to research and note the possible side effects so that you are well prepared in advance.
*This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, cure, or diagnose any medical or health condition. Please seek help from a medical professional if you have any questions or concerns.