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July 14, 2022
What Is Elderberry? Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, and More
Are you sick of being sick? Is a pesky cold sneaking up on you again?
Well, there’s a natural ingredient that’s been used for centuries, passed down among generations, that stops the cold and flu in its tracks.
It can cut down your symptoms by up to 50% so that you can get back to your life twice as fast. And the best part? It might be in your own backyard at this very moment. Meet elderberry.
What Is Elderberry?
Elderberry is a berry that grows in many parts of the world and is especially common in corners of North America. There are several different varieties of this berry, but when people refer to it, they’re usually talking about a variety called Sambucus nigra. Also known as European elderberry, these berries are known for their association with cold and flu relief, and they’ve been used for centuries as part of ancient medicine.
Some people eat elderberry flowers in addition to the berries themselves. The berries need to be cooked to be safely eaten, and they can be enjoyed as part of juices, jams, pies, other treats, or as a standalone supplement.
What Does Elderberry Taste Like?
When cooked, elderberries are juicy and lightly sweet. Elderberry flowers, which are also edible, have a sweet and musky flavor, with a hint of earthiness. Some people find the flavor of elderberries and their flowers lacking, and mix them with other ingredients while cooking. Of course, you can also take a tasteless version of elderberry in capsule form!
6 Health Benefits of Elderberry
Elderberry has long been appreciated for its many potential health benefits. Here are some of its most commonly known perks…
1. May Improve Cold and Flu Symptoms
Black elderberry extracts and elderberry flower infusions have been linked to shorter and less severe experiences with influenza (1). In one study, patients who came down with influenza and took elderberry experienced symptom improvement in just 2 to 4 days, while those who didn’t take it didn’t see improvement for 7 to 8 days (2). Some studies have also suggested that taking elderberry supplements regularly before getting sick can help your outcome when you do get sick (3). Experts want to see further large-scale studies to better confirm the berries’ benefits (1).
2. Packed with Nutrients
The nutritional makeup of any given elderberry can depend on a wide range of factors like varietal of the berry, ripeness, and environmental surroundings, so it’s not always consistent across the board. However, by and large, most elderberries are loaded with fantastic nutrients. Elderberries are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber, and antioxidant flavonols, all of which contribute to the powerful immune-boosting perks they’re famous for (4, 5).
3. High in Antioxidants
Among elderberries’ powerful nutritional punch, their levels of antioxidants especially stand out. Both the fruits and flowers of elderberries are loaded with them. In fact, one of the anthocyanins (a certain type of antioxidant) found in elderberries has 3.5 times the antioxidants of vitamin E (6, 7)! In one study, the antioxidant status of participants improved just one hour after drinking 400mL of elderberry juice, and another study linked elderberries to reduced inflammation and curbed oxidative tissue damage (8).
4. Heart Healthy
Elderberry juice may be beneficial for heart health and blood vessel health. Elderberry may reduce the level of fat in the blood, lower “bad” cholesterol, and reduce levels of blood pressure-raising uric acid in the blood (9, 10). In addition, eating a diet high in the antioxidant flavonoids, which are found in elderberries, has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease (9).
5. May Help Reduce Cancer Risk
In some test-tube studies (meaning, they were not conducted directly on humans), elderberries have been shown to potentially have some cancer-fighting properties (11).
6. May Boost Immunity
In addition to specifically fighting cold and flu symptoms, elderberry may help you ward off illness altogether. Studies have indicated that elderberries may boost immune defense and help fight off bacteria, especially the kind that causes ailments like sinusitis and bronchitis (12, 13).
Recommended Elderberry Dosage
The best elderberry dosage for you depends on which form you’re enjoying it in. Many people feel the best elderberry supplement method is to take it in the form of a capsule or gummy. If that’s how you’d like to take it, aim for a minimum dose of 250 to 300 milligrams—since this dose has been associated with a decrease in the length and severity of cold symptoms (14). If you take elderberry as a syrup, 2 teaspoons per day is a good elderberry dosage to aim for. Always make sure that you read the instructions on the label of elderberry supplements and take as directed by the manufacturer.
Other Important Nutrients to Arm Your Immune System
Elderberry is often paired with other vitamins and nutrients to superpower its effectiveness. That’s for good reason: Nature offers us an abundance of powerful immune-boosting ingredients! That’s why we pack as many natural nutrients as we can into our immune-boosting products like Native Defense. If elderberry is a regular part of your routine, consider adding these nutrients to your rotation as well…
- Vitamin C: This vitamin is part of many foundational parts of the immune system, and without it, we’re more susceptible to infection (15).
- Vitamin D3: Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with a higher risk of infections and autoimmune issues (16).
- Zinc: Zinc is a vital component in the way your immune cells function (17).
Potential Side Effects of Elderberry
The most important thing to remember when consuming elderberry is that it’s very dangerous to eat it raw. Raw elderberries, as well as elderberry bark and elderberry leaves, are poisonous. This is because certain parts of the raw plant contain lectins (which can irritate the stomach) and cyanide (which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and other issues).
Luckily, cooking the berries removes these risks. Commercially prepared elderberry foods and supplements will also be safe to consume if they’re made by a reputable brand, manufacturer, or restaurant.
If you are on certain medications, talk to a healthcare professional before adding elderberry to your wellness regimen. Elderberry and high blood pressure meds, chemotherapy, or diabetes might not mix. Elderberries may have certain effects on the body (like lowering blood pressure or changing how your system secretes insulin) that could interact with these conditions and treatments (20).
How Long Does Elderberry Take to Work?
One of the best things about elderberries is just how fast they can work. While many supplements take weeks or months to show results, elderberries can help crush flu symptoms in just a few short days.
Elderberries may help reduce influenza symptoms like headaches, fevers, sore throat, coughing, and body aches soon after your symptoms begin. Studies have indicated that elderberries are the most effective if you start to take them within 24 to 48 hours of first feeling sick. When you act fast, elderberries may be able to cut the length of your illness by up to 50% (21).
Is Elderberry Safe During Pregnancy?
While elderberry hasn’t been linked to negative effects on pregnancies or on children, experts recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women steer clear. This is because there is not enough research yet to confirm that elderberry is completely safe during pregnancy (22). If you have any concerns, talk to a healthcare professional who can help you work through your individual situation.
The Bottom Line
The next time you start feeling sick, reach for elderberry. And to be ultra-prepared before your next cold or flu, supplement with it daily. Our Native Defense capsules are packed with 250 milligrams of elderberry fruit powder, and loaded with other bio-activated immune-boosting ingredients like vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc, quercetin, and Siberian Ginseng extract. If you’re sick of being sick, elderberries will help you kick illness to the curb faster.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.