Elderberry is the name for approximately 30 plants and trees, though the European ‘black elder tree’ (or Sambucus Nigra) is the most widely known.
High in antioxidants and vitamins, the berries of elderberry plants are prized for their health benefits and everyone enjoys a bit of elderflower cordial now and then.
Cultures around the world have celebrated the healing properties of elderberry, and Hippocrates – considered the “Father of Medicine” – called the elder tree his “medicine chest”. However, their medicinal usage has declined in recent years and people use them more in cooking than in medicine nowadays.
The Sambucus tree often referred to as “elderberry” typically has clusters of white flowers and blue-black berries, with the most common variety being the Sambucus Nigra or European elderberry. Don’t let the “European” in “European elderberry” fool you though, it can be grown in many other parts of the world – such as North America – and many other varieties exist elsewhere.
Although tart and inedible when raw, elderberries are super tasty and colourful when cooked, while the flowers are often pressed to make fancy drinks. Elderberry jam and elderflower cordial are delicious, but the elderberry plant has a wide variety of uses and plenty of therapeutic effects to recommend it.
Elderberries are popular plants that grow in the garden as well as the wild and were historically cultivated for culinary and medicinal use. While elderberries aren’t as common as, say, strawberries, they are excellent in:
*Elderberry wine was even referenced in the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail when a Frenchman insults King Arthur (Graham Chapman) by implying his mother was an alcoholic who “smelt of elderberries”.
Historically, elderberry flowers and leaves were used for pain relief, swelling and inflammation, while the bark was used as a diuretic, laxative, and emetic. Similarly, dried elderberries and elderberry juice were used to treat influenza, sciatica, and headaches as well as acting as a laxative and diuretic.
In modern medicine, not many people want the whole laxative and diuretic deal, so the berries are commonly processed into forms like elderberry gummies for convenience.
As well as being an easy and tasty way to get more elderberries, gummies contain much higher concentrations of beneficial compounds and vitamins than the regular ol’ berries. These compounds provide a wide range of beneficial effects, including:
Black elderberry extracts can reduce the severity and length of bouts of cold or flu, so send that sniffly nose packing with an all-natural remedy. Studies on people with influenza and airline travellers showed that elderberry extracts reduced the symptoms of cold and flu and improved recovery times.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds that can stop or slow damage to your body’s cells, and foods with lots of the stuff are often called “superfoods”. While the term gets a lot of bad press – remember the Goji Berry fad, anyone? – elderberries are the real deal with plenty of positive reviews dating back to ancient Greece and beyond.
Studies show that elderberry extracts may reduce the level of fat and cholesterol in the blood and lower blood pressure, helping improve your heart health overall. Now, we’re not saying that elderberry gummies are better for your heart than regular exercise and a balanced diet, but they can help you stay in tip-top shape, cardio-wise.
While there are way more reported benefits of elderberries, most of these claims aren’t exactly FDA approved, meaning that we cannot say for certain whether elderberries can:
Reaping the many health benefits of elderberries is as simple as eating (cooked) berries, drinking juice from the berries or taking an elderberry supplement. Elderberries are rich in nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants, especially in concentrated forms like elderberry gummies, so your body will naturally absorb these beneficial substances after you eat some.
Make sure to avoid eating uncooked berries or the stalks and bark of the elderberry tree, as they can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Thankfully, cooked elderberries and extracts from the elderberry plant don’t have this effect and won’t make you rush to the nearest restroom.
Opinions vary wildly on how helpful elderberries can be, but most people believe that they are perfectly safe in small doses, as long as you don’t eat the raw berries and flowers. However, the roots, seeds and leaves of the elder tree are toxic and should not be ingested in any form, so be careful if you plan on making elderflower tea, for example.
Fortunately, all elderberry supplements on the market – including elderberry gummies, tinctures, and capsules – use elderberry extracts that are safe for human consumption. Many of these elderberry supplements will list an advised dosage, but if you’re unsure of how much you should be taking, always consult a medical professional.
As mentioned above, the bark, seeds and unripe berries of the elder tree can cause stomach problems when eaten, though cooked berries and commercial products are safe to eat. Still, you can have too much of a good thing, and if you go overboard with the elderberry gummies you may suffer from:
Furthermore, elderberries and elderberry supplements are not recommended for children and pregnant women. While there is no evidence suggesting elderberries are harmful to these groups, the FDA does not have enough data to conclusively say they are safe, so it’s a grey area.
Still, it’s extremely unlikely that you will suffer from these side effects when taking elderberries in moderation, and the benefits are hard to deny, so why not see if these wonder berries are right for you?