We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

What Are Elderberries Good For? [Proven & Unproven Benefits]

Elderberries hanging from a bush, both ripe and unripe ones
Pick the ripe, black one's and leave the rest for later

Many people consider the elderberry plant one of the most powerful for preventing and treating colds and influenza and believe in its antiviral properties.

Some studies show that elderberries have significant benefits against respiratory illnesses like cold and influenza among other things.

In the middle ages the elderberry was considered a Holy Tree, capable of restoring good health, keeping good health, and as an aid to longevity.

In this article we’ll go through what science has to say about the elderberry’s healing properties.

And as you might have suspected, the hundreds of year old belief does have some scientific grounding.

We've written several articles about elderberries which we've put in a category aptly named Elderberries for a Healthier Lifestyle if you're interested in learning more about elderberries.

Table of Contents

What Are Elderberries?

Elderberry is a big bush that produces beautiful white flowers and black, poisonous berries, that's been used for a long long time in many different ways.

The elderberry bush is sometimes called a tree, probably because of its size. It can reach over 26 feet (8 meters) high.

The berries of the elderberry are both nutritious and toxic, an exciting combination indeed!

The Elderberry bush is also used in gardens where it serves as a beautiful ornament.

Health Benefits Of Elderberry

Elderberries are actually toxic, but can still provide you with a wealth of benefits.

It's a strange combination.

But if you prepare them right they transform into one of the most beneficial and potent berries on the planet.

Elderberries are particularly rich in flavonoids, especially anthocyanins which is why the berries have that beautiful deep purple, almost black, coloring.

And just like other berries such as blueberries and black berries that also have a high content of anthocyanins the coloring can stain quite a lot.

Anthocyanins are known to be one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. Berries are one of the richest sources of anthocyanins and elderberries are one of the anthocyanin richest berries.

Elderberries and other berries have been shown to play a beneficial role as antioxidants in humans in both in vitro (test-tube experiments) and in vivo (whole living organism/cell testing) models using dietary supplementation with various berries, and the most potent antioxidants may well be the anthocyanins. (source )

These powerful antioxidants work to keep your immune system strong and resilient.

Elderberries are also rich in nutrition such as vitamin C and beta carotene. (source )

Large evidence-based systematic review

The Natural Standard Research Collaboration conducted a large evidence-based systematic review of Elderberry and Elderflower, Sambucus nigra.

They used safety and efficacy data available in the scientific literature using a validated, reproducible grading basis.

They found quite a lot of intriguing properties of elderberries.

We chose the ones that we thought were the most important. Here’s some of the findings in the review.

If you want to read more about this review by the natural standard research collaboration, you can find the whole article here, with all research included: researchgate.net .

Elderberries can help you combat viruses

The European elderberry has antiviral effects by inhibiting influenza viruses types A and B, and the herpes simplex 1 virus.

There are also studies that show that elderberry juice may improve influenza-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough, and aces, in half the time it takes to normally recover from influenza.

Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup - Daily Immune Support with Antioxidants, Organic Sambucus Elderberry Supplement, 5.4 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)
Click here for price, availability and user reviews on Amazon #ad

Additional research is needed for the researchers to be able to say for sure that elderberry can help in these situations.

But as I bet you’ve heard before, there are plenty of anecdotal, n=1, stories about the effectiveness of elderberries, especially when consumed in syrup form.

We have an article about elderberry syrup and how effective it can be named What Is Elderberry Syrup Good For? Does It Really Work? if you're curious.

We also have a recommended elderberry syrup #ad that's available through Amazon if you're interested in buying one your self.

It's a well known brand with high quality standards.

Elderberry alleviates bacterial sinusitis

Elderberries have shown that it reduces excessive sinus mucus in laboratory studies.

The research suggests that herbals supplements containing elderberry may result in less swelling of mucous membrane, better drainage, milder hadaces, and less nasal congestion.

But you should take this finding with a grain of salt as the research is lacking when it comes to the results of taking elderberry alone for treatment or if it's a combination with other treatments. More clinical trials are needed.

Elderberries Used As Supplement

The elderberries or the elderberry flowers are often used in dietary supplements.

The supplements are sold in the form of tea, syrup, extract and capsules.

Research shows elderberry supplements can alleviate colds

Research has shown that supplements made from elderberry helps in alleviating the symptoms of some illnesses such as colds.

A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial made on air-travellers.

Air travel can be stressful, especially for respiratory health.

They found that eating supplements made of Elderberries significantly reduced cold duration and symptoms. (source )

Elderberry can alleviate constipation very quickly

A randomized clinical trial suggests that a combination product containing elderberry can help treat chronic constipation in as little as two days.

The research showed significant results.

Elderberries are also used in folk medicine to help with constipation.

As eating poisonous elderberries, among other negative effects, causes gastrointestinal disorders, it's not far fetched to believe that eating elderberries might be able to alleviate constipation.

Although, in my humble opinion, poisoning yourself might not be the best way to go about it.

Still, as I mentioned before there is researched based evidence that alleviating constipation with elderberry does work. (source )

Other traditional uses of elderberries

Elderberries have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, for example treating rheumatism and pain from traumatic injury.

Historically, elderberry was a highly valued plant, because almost all the different parts of the plant were used, for various purposes, both as food and in folk medicine in Europe.

A decoction of dried elderberries or a tea made from fresh elderberries was used as a laxative.

Elderberry in the form of syrup

Elderberry syrup has traditionally been used against the common flu in parts of Europe, but also to treat constipation. (source )

There are also some significant health benefits to be gained from elderberry syrup but you have to be careful with it.

Read all about elderberry syrup and it's amazing potential in our article named What Is Elderberry Syrup Good For? Does It Really Work?.

Conclusion: Elderberries are packed with amazing benefits

Elderberry is a unique plant. It's both amazing and at the same time a bit confusing. The flowers are edible, the berries are toxic but edible if prepared right.

But the elderberry is also a beautiful bush that some have in their yards only for ornamental reasons.

There is proven research that shows some health benefits of elderberries. Used properly for the common cold or that it can cut a influenza duration in about half.

Even though we’d love to see some more research done. It seems that this plant has enormous potential to help in people's everyday life.

Remember to prepare them the right way and also don’t eat food or products made from elderberries every day, then you get to enjoy the rich taste of elderberries and probably get your fair share of health benefits from them.

But you need to remember that they are toxic when raw and you can't just go and eat them straight from the bush.

We’ve written an article about the elders toxicity if you want to know more about how to select the right elderberry and also how to prepare it to be able to enjoy the benefits they can provide.

Frequently asked questions about elderberries and their health benefits

What are elderberries?

Elderberries come from elder which is a big green bush or a tree that can reach over 26 feet high. When in bloom the elder has beautiful white flowers that later turn in to deep purple, almost black, elderberries.

Are elderberries poisonous?

Yes, elderberries are poisonous. The whole elder is toxic; the leaves, bark and root. The unripe berries and the kernels in the ripe berries contain the toxic substance, which means that the berries shouldn’t be eaten raw. If the berries are boiled for at least 20 minutes, the toxic effect disappears.

Is there something called false elderberry?

Grape Elder and Summer Elder are two false elderberry bushes. If you’re unsure what kind of elder you have, put it through the up-side-down test. Genuine elder flowers have flattened flowers which means if you put them up side down in your hand, the genuine flower will stand, while both of the false will fall.

What can you do with elder?

You can make a delicious juice of the elderflowers. It has a fresh and somewhat tart taste which make the flavor quite unique. You can also make a juice out of the berries but it’s even more common to make elderberry syrup out of the berries. Elderberry syrup is a very popular home remedy for colds and flues. You can also make elderberry jam of the berries.

Sara Niemelä

co-founder Care Omnia, Head Content Creator

Author Image of Sara Niemelä

Nutrition is my passion. I've spent thousands upon thousands of hours reading, analyzing, categorizing and comparing research studies.

I’m a wife and a mother of three. I enjoy the outdoors, cooking, and spending time with my family.