Elderberry is becoming a much more well-known herbal remedy now that its benefits for immune health have become documented. It grows in popularity during the cold and flu season but is beneficial all year round.
While elderberries do have powerful antiviral properties that support your immune system, there’s lots more to love about this herb. The many health benefits of elderberry are one of the reasons it’s been used by herbalists for thousands of years.
Here’s more about this small yet mighty berry, plus how to use it for your health (including an elderberry syrup recipe).
All About Elderberries
Elderberry can refer to any one of several different flowering shrubs with the genus name of Sambucus. The most commonly used medicinal variety is the black elderberry (Sambucus nigra).
Originally native to parts of Europe, elderberry is now grown widely throughout the world.
It can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree and blooms with clusters of white or cream-colored flowers. Like the berries, elder flowers are also used medicinally, especially as a fever remedy.
Elderberries have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek who is considered the father of medicine, called the elder plant his “medicinal chest.” Medicinal recipes using elderberry date back to Ancient Egypt. (1)
Clearly, the benefits of elderberry have long been prized and still are today.
Elderberries can be used fresh or dried, but the fresh berries need to be cooked before being consumed. Eating raw elderberries can cause digestive upset and diarrhea.
Elderberry Benefits for Immune Health
One of the most famous health benefits of elderberry is its ability to strengthen the immune system and help fight off colds, flus, and other viruses.
Elderberries are full of antioxidants called anthocyanins. These work to boost the immune system and protect the body from disease.
They also have strong antiviral properties that have been shown to help with cold and flu symptoms. (2)
One study found that 15 ml of elderberry syrup taken four times a day helped participants with flu-like symptoms recover an average of four days sooner than those in the placebo group. (3)
A larger study involving over 300 air travelers found that elderberry extract not only helped to prevent travelers from getting a cold, it also gave “a significant reduction of cold duration and severity.” (4)
While elderberry syrup is one of the most popular ways of using this herb for immune health, it can also be combined with other immune-boosting herbs in a tea.
One of the main causes of allergies is an overreaction of the immune system to a substance that is not truly harmful.
Elderberry benefits the immune system as a whole and has been used as a natural remedy for allergiesand hay fever. Its immune-boosting properties and anti-inflammatory nature can help with symptoms of hay fever: sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, runny nose, and even respiratory distress. (1)
Elder flower is also used as a natural allergy and hay fever remedy.
High Antioxidant Content
The high antioxidant content of elderberry plays a large role in its beneficial health properties.
Antioxidants are vital to overall health. They can help to prevent chronic diseases and reduce the risk of cancer. Elderberries are full of antioxidants, especially ones called anthocyanins, which help to reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative stress. (5)(6)
The ability of anthocyanins to reduce inflammation explains why elderberry has traditionally been used for everything from cuts and bruises to toothaches.
The high antioxidant content of elderberries along with other key compounds like bioflavonoids, vitamin A, and vitamin C also make them wonderful for improving skin health. (7)
Diabetes and Blood Sugar
The elder plant has been used as a traditional, herbal treatment for diabetes.
Both elderberry and elder flower have shown benefits for improving blood sugar levels, which in turn can help to treat or prevent type 2 diabetes. (6)
Although much more research is needed to determine how elderberry could be used for diabetes treatment, animal studies do indicate that it improves blood sugar levels. (8)
Elderberry Benefits for Heart Health
Because of its antioxidant content and ability to improve blood sugar levels, elderberry has lots of potential for heart health.
Type 2 diabetes is considered a major risk factor for developing heart disease. Elderberry has the ability to not only help with diabetes but also to reduce high blood pressure and uric acid levels in the blood, which both negatively affect heart health. (6)(9)
Urinary and Digestive Health
Both elderberries and elder flowers have a natural diuretic effect. This can help to relieve water retention (a common problem for older adults) and promotes a healthy urinary tract and bladder. (10)
Elderberry or flower can be taken as a tea to help flush toxins out of the kidneys and to increase urination to flush toxins out of the body.
Elderberry tea is also thought to promote regularity and treat mild constipation. The berries contain a compound called anthraquinone, which is also found in senna- another herbal laxative. (11)
Using Elderberry for Health
There are many ways to use elderberries to get their health benefits. You can buy elderberry tincture, juice, and extract or buy the dried berries to make your own remedies.
Two of the most popular ways to use elderberries are as a tea and a syrup.
- 1 Tablespoon dried elderberries
- 8 ounces boiling water
- Honey or maple syrup to sweeten
Instructions: Pour the boiling water over the dried elderberries. Steep for 15-30 minutes to allow all the beneficial compounds to infuse into the tea. Strain out the elderberries, squeezing to get all the liquid out. Add honey or maple syrup to taste.
Elderberry syrup is a more concentrated remedy that can be especially useful to have on hand for cold and flu season.
- ½ cup dried elderberries
- 3 cups cold water
- 1 Tablespoon ginger root
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½-1 cup raw honey
Instructions: Combine the elderberries and water in a pot on the stove, allow them to soak for 30-60 minutes before boiling. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Leave the lid cracked for steam to get out.
Simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half. Then, pour through a strainer into a bowl, crushing the berries with a spoon to get all the liquid out. Let it cool to about room temperature.
Add honey to taste, keeping in mind that more honey will help to preserve the syrup for longer. Pour into a glass jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator. Take a few teaspoons a day to strengthen your immune system or 1-2 tablespoons several times a day to fight off a cold or flu. The syrup will keep refrigerated for up to 3 months.
Side Effects and Precautions
Elderberries and flowers are very safe to use but may occasionally cause a mild allergic reaction.
The biggest precaution to be aware of is to not consume raw elderberries. The raw berries contain compounds that can cause digestive upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. These compounds disappear when the berries are cooked.
Talk to your healthcare professional before consuming elderberries if you have an autoimmune condition or another health concern.
Discover the Benefits of Elderberry
Although elderberry has many health benefits, it’s still most popularly used for immune health.
You can use the berries to make a syrup or drink it in an immune-boosting tea.
However you choose to use it, elderberry is one of the best herbal remedies to have on hand all year round and especially during the winter!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.