Elderberries have been used in traditional medicine for millennia and it’s not new news that there is plenty of potential in these powerful purple fruits. Elderberries are used both in medicine and in food across the world, and there are studies that have shown their potential to prevent viruses from entering our system with their antiviral properties, alongside having the capacity to decrease pain and reduce inflammation.
Studies have even shown that elderberry syrup can specifically shorten the duration and reduce symptoms of respiratory infections. We explore science-researched health benefits of this marvellous plant, with a vested interest in the nature of how these plants operate within and for our body.
What is an Elderberry?
Elders and elderberries belong to the Adoxaceae family of plants, within this is the elderberry genus, known as Sambucus containing more than 30 diverse species of plants and trees. The European version (also known as Sambucus nigra) is the one most closely tied to your health and healing. In 400 BCE, Hippocrates referred to the elder tree as his "medicine chest" and many other historical healers regarded the elder as one of nature's greatest healing plants. We even have a Tonic Health vitamin drink flavour dedicated to this bountiful berry.
Elderberries and Travelling...
Travel is not something that is happening right now in the current climate of quarantine and lockdown, but it is worth noting that when we are able to travel again, there have been studies that have shown elderberries can reduce the duration of a cold. A 2016 study from Australia reported that, among 312 long-haul airline passengers, those using elderberry from 10 days before travel until 4–5 days after arriving overseas on average experienced a 2-day shorter duration of the cold and also noticed a reduction in cold symptoms. Physical health may also stabilise during air travel due to elderberry, but further studies are needed to confirm.
Could Elderberries Be Used to Treat the Flu?
Elderberry has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza. However, more studies are required, but in Norway, a study investigated the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry syrup for treating influenza infections A and B. Sixty patients suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 h or less were enrolled and received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms. The study showed that symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier in those receiving elderberry extract compared with a placebo.
What is in an Elderberry?
A lot of elderberry's health benefits are due to an antioxidant named anthocyanin. It operates in the body by fighting off free radicals that can cause damage to cells at the DNA level. With the power of this antioxidant it may be able to exert anti-inflammatory effects, reducing swelling and pain by tempering the body's immune response. In this study, elderberry liquid extract showed to be active against human pathogenic bacteria, as well as influenza viruses, suggesting that this natural product has the potential to be tested as a therapy for patients. Anthocyanins that reduce inflammation, may in turn be able to reduce any pain.