Every once in a while, an herbal remedy works so well that even the most skeptical experts sit up and take notice. Such has been the case with elderberry (Sambucus nigra). From ancient times, people have used elderberry for the immune system. This plant has a long history of traditional use backed by solid scientific evidence. With its abundant phytochemicals, many experts consider it a superfood.
Richard K., a Wisconsin-based pharmacist who specializes in integrative healing, has witnessed the wonders of elderberry many times over the years. "I grew up on a farm, and my mom would always give us homemade elderberry syrup at the first sign of sniffles," Richard explains.
So he wasn’t surprised when, as a pharmacist, he started seeing lots of studies showing a link between elderberry extract and immune health. "I’ve recommended elderberry syrup to countless patients during cold and flu season, and they always come back and thank me!"
What exactly is elderberry? How was it used in the past, and how is it being used today? What is the connection between elderberries and the immune system? Let’s take a closer look at the many health benefits of the incredible elderberry fruit.
What Is Elderberry?
The European elder tree is native to Europe, as well as parts of Asia and northern Africa. The use of this plant to make herbal remedies dates back to the fifth century B.C., when the famous Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about using the elder plant.
American elderberry — also called the elder tree — is a close relative of the European elderberry, is native to eastern and central North America. The shrub produces clusters of dark purple berries. A single bunch can contain as many as 2,000 elderberries!
American elderberry was traditionally used by Native Americans for fever, rheumatism, and other conditions. Ancient Egyptians used elderberry for wounds and to improve their skin health and complexion. Many called it, "the medicine chest of the country people," because there was so much folklore associating it with enhanced vigor and longevity.
Elderberries are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, as well as the following powerhouse phytonutrients:
- Volatile aromatic compounds
Because of these nutrients, elderberry boasts potent antioxidant properties. You can find elderberry supplements in the form of liquid extracts, juice, syrup, and gummies, all designed to support a healthy immune system.
How Can Elderberry Benefit Your Immune System?
A robust immune system is a must for staying healthy all year long. When your immune system is functioning optimally, you’re better able to maintain wellness. Elderberry can activate the immune system as it responds to illness. When you have a strong immune response, it eases symptoms and helps you get past health challenges more quickly. That way, you feel better sooner.
Here are some elderberry benefits for immune health.
Elderberry for Seasonal Wellness
If you’ve ever been sidelined by a nasty bug, you know how being sick can absolutely wipe you out. Whether you have fever, body aches, fatigue, or a runny nose, stuffy head, sore throat, or cough, you just want to feel better as quickly as possible! When you feel like you’ve got a bug, it's hard to function. That’s why a healthy immune system is so important.
When you have flu or cold symptoms, conventional over-the-counter medications provide short-term relief, but they aren’t designed to strengthen immunity.
Natural remedies, including elderberry, support a healthy immune response so you’re more likely to stay healthy in the first place. Taking elderberry syrup may give your immune system a boost to relieve symptoms more rapidly. Some experts have seen it work especially well when taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms of feeling ill.
Elderberry for Respiratory Symptoms
The respiratory system involves the lungs and the arteries and veins that carry oxygen throughout your body. When you’re dealing with an illness that affects the respiratory system, it affects your ability to breathe and you may find yourself struggling to keep your symptoms under control. Supplementing with elderberry can enhance a healthy immune system’s response to some respiratory conditions, helping to reduce symptoms. Elderberry may shorten the amount of time you experience respiratory symptoms, and it’s a safe and cost-effective treatment option.
Protect Yourself - 5 Natural Ways to Boost Immunity TODAY!
Length: 9 minutes
What Are the Best Elderberry Sources?
Elderberry can be prepared and consumed in a variety of ways. Here are the best elderberry sources.
You’ll find American elderberry plants growing as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada, south to Florida, and west to Texas and Manitoba, Canada. Elderberry shrubs grow in the wild, but you should always get your elderberries from a verified source unless you’re an expert at identifying plants.
Raw, uncooked or unprocessed berries and flowers from this tree contain toxins called cyanogenic glycosides, and you should not consume them in this natural state. They also contain lectins, which can upset the stomach if you consume too much.
Once you’ve properly prepared them, though, elderberries are quite safe — and tasty. They can be used to prepare everything from herbal remedies to jelly, sauce, and salad dressing.
Elderberry syrup is one of the most popular ways to reap the immune-supporting benefits of elderberry. The berries are naturally sweet, and this syrup is tasty and easy to prepare! Here’s a basic recipe.
You can make this recipe with fresh or dried elderberries. Cooking the elderberries makes them safe to consume. The dosage is ½ to 1 teaspoon for kids, and ½ to 1 tablespoon for adults.
- Large saucepan or pot
- Sterilized glass jar
- 4 cups fresh elderberries (or 2 cups dried)
- 4 cups distilled water
- 2 teaspoons dried ginger root
- 1 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup raw honey
- Combine berries, spices, and water in pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and allow mixture to simmer for 35 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let steep for 1 hour.
- Line funnel with cheesecloth and pour mixture through to strain.
- Add honey to remaining liquid and stir.
- Pour syrup into jar and store in refrigerator.
- Take syrup two times daily to support seasonal wellness.
You can get elderberry supplements in many forms, including elderberry lozenges, elderberry gummies, and elderberry liquid extracts. You can also purchase standardized elderberry syrup if you don’t wish to make your own. Elderberry is safe enough for children, although those under one year shouldn’t take syrup made with honey. You can also find elderberry in supplements that combine the best immune-boosting ingredients. I recommend Global Healing's Immune Boost Bundle, a Raw Herbal Extract™ featuring elderberry along with Echinacea, olive leaf extract, pine bark, enokitake, and birch polypore mushrooms.
Points to Remember
Among herbal remedies, elderberry is one of the most well-known and best-researched. Even the most skeptical experts have noted the effects of elderberries on the immune system. Both European and American elderberry have a long history of traditional use backed by a large body of scientific evidence.
Elderberry benefits the immune system in a variety of ways. It can help with health challenges during the winter months, as well as respiratory issues. Elderberry works by strengthening the immune response to alleviate symptoms and help you feel better faster.
Some of the best sources of elderberry are processed (not raw) berries, elderberry syrup, and supplements like liquid extracts and gummies. Elderberry is safe enough to be used by children.
- The ABC Clinical Guide to Elder Berry. The American Botanical Council. 2004. Accessed 23 Mar 2020.
- Charlebois D. Elderberry as a Medicinal Plant. In: Issues in New Crops and New Uses. Alexandria: ASHS Press; 2007:284-282. Accessed 23 Mar 2020.
- Barak V, et al. The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines. Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-296.
- Tiralongo E, et al. Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(4):182.
- Zakay-Rones Z, et al. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-140.
- Hawkins J, et al. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb;42:361-365.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.