Hype or helpful? Here's what the current research says about elderberry as a natural remedy.

Marisa Moore, M.B.A., R.D.N., L.D.
December 12, 2019

If you've seen elderberry products greeting you at the health food store or noticed an uptick in advertisements touting the benefits of black elderberry, you might be wondering if there's any truth to the claims.

Truth: elderberry fruit has been used as a natural remedy for cold and flu for centuries (learn more about if elderberry can help with cold and flu). But does it work?

What is elderberry?

Elderberry is the edible fruit of the elderberry shrub, or Sambucus nigra, which grows in North America and Europe. Where elderberries grow in abundance, the ripe fresh fruit is used to make wine, jam, jellies, sauces, pies and syrups. The flowers are also used to make tea and are sometimes cooked into fritters and other dishes. Fresh elderberry harvest season runs late summer to early fall in parts of the Americas, but dried elderberries are available in natural-foods stores throughout the year.

What are the nutrition benefits of elderberry?

Elderberries pack an impressive nutrition punch. One cup of fresh elderberries has just 105 calories and packs a whopping 10 grams of fiber and 58% of the recommended daily vitamin C.

But the potential benefits go beyond basic nutrition. Elderberries are rich in flavonoids—those naturally occurring compounds in fruits and vegetables that may provide some anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Elderberries are particularly high in anthocyanins, the same deep purple color pigments that give blackberries and blueberries their rich color. Scientists believe these components may be responsible for elderberry's immune-boosting effects.

Does elderberry help with colds?

There's good potential here. Research suggests elderberry extract may be effective at reducing the length and symptoms of the common cold and flu by as many as four days. Yes. If you've ever been down with the flu, a few days can make a big difference. Clinical research suggests that high-quality elderberry extracts might help reduce flu-like symptoms, particularly when taken within 48 hours of the first sign of the flu. So this may be something to consider when battling a cold or flu.

What are the benefits of elderberry syrup?

Though elderberry syrup gets lots of attention, the benefits lie in the extract, which can be taken in many different ways. And it's important to note that the extract concentration varies from product to product and by recipe. Therefore, some options might be more effective than others.

Elderberry syrup is made by combining elderberry extract or juice with honey or using a sugar and water solution, which is common in many store-bought versions. You can also get elderberry extract in capsules, lozenges or gummies.

What are the benefits of elderberry tea?

While elderberry syrup is praised for its potential to help you get back on track after the flu, research suggests elderberry tea may offer a different set of perks. Notably, elderberry tea may help reduce chronic constipation. One study found that a tea combination made with elderberry flower, anise and other laxative-promoting ingredients, like senna, taken three times per day helped improve constipation (learn more about the health benefits of different types of teas).

Is elderberry safe for kids to take?

Though many elderberry syrup products on the market list a dosage for children, there's limited research regarding safety in kids. Talk to your pediatrician if you have specific questions about giving elderberry to your kids. However, there is ongoing research assessing the safety and effectiveness of elderberry extract in patients 5 years and older with the flu. Stay tuned for those results.

Are there any dangers or side effects?

Elderberry flowers are generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration and the cooked fruit appears to be well-tolerated by most. However, eating raw elderberries can cause nausea and vomiting. The berries should be cooked before eating. The stems, leaves and roots of the elderberry plant should also not be eaten.

Bottom line

Antioxidant-rich elderberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber. Elderberry shows promise. It's worthy of further study to build upon evidence supporting its use in reducing the length of colds and flu.

Contrary to some of the claims, elderberry is not a miracle way to prevent the flu or the common cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy habits like frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact with sick people, and taking care of yourself overall with adequate sleep, a healthy diet and stress management are still the first line of defense when it comes to preventing cold and flu.

Advertisement