Updated: Oct 21
Scientific Name: Sambucus nigra
Common Name: Elder, Elderberry, European Elderberry, Black elder, Black elderberry, Sambucus
Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Elderberries come in several varieties from the Sambucus tree, a flowering plant that belongs to the Adoxaceae family. The most familiar type is Sambucus nigra, also known as European elderberry or black elderberry, which usually grows up to 30 feet tall and has clusters of white or cream-colored flowers, often referred to as elderflowers with small bunches of black or blue-black berries (1).
The second most common type is Sambucus canadensis, also known as American Elder, American Elderberry, and elderberry. Sambucus canadensis is native to North America, Venezuela, and Brazil. This deciduous shrub or small tree grows up to 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide. This variation of elderberry can easily be identified by its yellowish-gray to grayish-brown bark with white pith, profuse blooms of fragrant, flat-topped or rounded clusters of creamy-white flowers, and rounded, drooping, purplish-black fruit clusters (2).
Benefits of Elderberry
Although elderberries are one of the most commonly used medicinal plants throughout the world and history and are even used for culinary purposes, the plant's berries must be cooked to be eaten. In contrast, the flower can be eaten raw or cooked and has benefits like:
Rich in Nutrients
The human body needs nutrients to flourish. Without vital vitamins and minerals, the human body won't function properly. Elderberry is rich in calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and vitamins A and C (3).
Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants can help fight damage from harmful free radicals. The buildup of free radicals has been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease (4). The elderberry plant's flowers, berries, and even leaves are an excellent source of antioxidants, with 3.5 times the antioxidant power of vitamin E (5).
May Support The Immune System
The immune system protects the body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other toxins (6). When you support your immune system, you potentially support your body's ability to fight off sickness. One study found that the elderberry polyphenols helped the rat's immune defense by increasing the number of white blood cells (7).
May Improve Cold & Flu Symptoms
Due to elderberries' ability to support the immune system and being rich in antioxidants, it only makes sense to improve cold and flu symptoms. Elderberries have been shown to reduce the severity and length of influenza (8). Another study determined elderberry may also play a role in preventing influenza (9).
May Improve Allergy Symptoms
Allergy symptoms occur when your body's immune system responds to foreign objects by releasing histamines, causing inflammation and attracting white blood cells to isolate the culprit and fight it off (10). Since allergies involve an overreaction of the immune system and inflammation, elderberry's ability to improve the immune system and calm inflammation can help relieve allergies (11).
May Promote Heart Health
Unfortunately, heart disease is the world's number one cause of death (12). Due to the incredibly complex determinants of heart disease and various possible contributions, it's hard to pinpoint an exact way to prevent it. Still, you can at least take steps to lower your overall risk. That's where shiitake may come in.
Elderberries may also have positive effects on your overall heart health. Studies have shown that elderberry juice may reduce blood fat levels and decrease cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease (13). Another study on rats found elderberries to lower their blood pressure and make them less susceptible to organ damage caused by high blood pressure (14).
May Help Manage Blood Sugar Levels
As of 2020, 34.2 million (1 in 10) Americans have diabetes, and another 88 million (1 in 3) Americans have prediabetes (15). Historically, Sambucus nigra has been documented as a treatment for diabetes. One study found Sambucus nigra significantly increased 2-deoxy-glucose transport, glucose oxidation, and glycogenesis of mouse abdominal muscle in the absence of added insulin (16). Another study found that elderberry polar extract reduced fasting blood glucose while lipophilic extract decreased insulin levels, lowering insulin resistance (17).
May Improve Skin Health
Elderberries have been shown to have significant bioflavonoids, antioxidants, and vitamin A, which is perfect for healthy skin. One study found that elderberry can improve skin conditions after a 12-week trial of post-menopausal women with their skin's structure and appearance measured with state-of-the-art equipment (18).
Statistics say that 158.3 of every 100,000 individuals will die from cancer, but what if they didn't have to (19)? European and American elderberry was studied in a test tube and was found to have some cancer-inhibiting properties (20).
To learn more about Elderberries, download Earthley's guide, What You Need to Know About Elderberries, which I co-wrote and designed.
⚠️ Warning: The Holistic Hipppie is not a functional medicine practitioner. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This content is not medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or replace medical guidance. The Holistic Hipppie assumes no liability for the application of the information discussed.
Contraindications & Interactions
Some medical professionals caution against using elderberries in pregnant and breastfeeding women. Allopathy considers it unethical to study elderberry usage in these women, not because there has been documented evidence of harm. Additionally, there is a long history of safe use in this population.
Notably, a trusted herbalist since 1989, Richard Whelan, states elder leaves and bark will be purgative and cathartic if taken in any quantity. Likewise, unripe Elderberries may cause nausea and vomiting. Aside from that, the medicinal use of the flowers and the ripe berries in teas or tinctures is considered very safe and may be taken by the young and old while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Additionally, if you are taking medications to suppress your immune system, you should use elderberry with caution since it is known to have immune system-enhancing effects. This is also why people with autoimmune diseases should proceed with caution. If you have a condition like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, be on the lookout for flares in your condition if you are trialing the use of elderberries, and stop immediately if your condition worsens (21).
How I Use Elderberry
When I make my own products herbal remedies, I try to buy herbs locally. When buying locally isn't an option, I typically purchase from one of the following brands I trust:
I haven't had the opportunity to make herbal remedies with elderberry yet, but I enjoy a few premade herbal products.
Products Recommended with Elderberry Ingredients
Earthley's Elderberry Elixir is a liquid supplement that combines elderberries and other immune-supporting herbs for everyday wellness. It's an elderberry tincture (not syrup) that's a potent cold and flu fighter, shelf-stable for up to 2 years, and super concentrated, which makes it the most cost-effective option.
Earthley's Elderberry Syrup DIY Kits make it easier than ever! No need to overbuy herbs or spend time researching the best recipe. Simply boil in water and add honey, syrup, or a sweetener of your choice.
Earthley's Heart Healthy is an herbal supplement that supports the heart and a proper immune response. This tincture is rich in anti-inflammatory properties and vitamin C. It can help to lower blood sugar and blood pressure, increase insulin activity, and even help with symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Earthley's Immune-Biotic is the perfect go-to herbal remedy for feeling under the weather and needing something fast. This tincture uses the natural power of immune-supporting herbs to give your body a jump start to fight off a cold. Take for three to seven days and kick sickness to the curb.
Earthle's Lunamore is for special metabolic support and a woman's moon cycle. This tincture provides herbal support for hormone balance, helps to reduce cramps and cysts, and supports healthy blood sugar levels.
Earthley's Sinus Saver is an herbal tincture that provides natural support during allergy season and beyond! Enjoy relief from sneezes, sniffles, sinus pressure, watery eyes, and other annoying allergy symptoms. Sinus Saver uses the power of herbs to help clear the body of excess histamines and calm allergic reactions.
Earthley's Thyroid Support is an herbal formula for thyroid support and total body wellness. The herbs include ashwagandha, amla berry, licorice root, Brahmi leaf, and milk thistle seed. It also supports a healthy liver and stress response and is rich in vitamin C.
The Brother's Apothecary Super Citrus Capsules start with an expert blend of citrus peels, including grapefruit, lemon, and orange. These nutrient-rich fruits are then blended perfectly with elderberry and cannabinoid-rich hemp, specifically high in CBD, to help support the immune system.