If you've thought about taking an elderberry supplement, know that the deep purple berries are packed with desirable nutrients. Elderberry is known for its digestive and immune system support, and can promote better skin health. These little fruits may also help you combat the common cold.
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Elderberry: Culinary and Historical Uses
If you appreciate foods that are pleasing to your taste buds and that also seem to offer health benefits and practical uses, you're likely acquainted with black elderberry. Also called black elder or American elder, this prolific shrub is known for its small deep purple berries that typically ripen in late summer, notes Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Since ancient times, elderberry has received mention for its health-enhancing properties, states the American Nutrition Association. During the fifth century B.C., Greek physicians and philosophers wrote of the elder tree's healing abilities. European folklore links elderberry consumption to increased strength and a longer lifespan. Elderberry also figures prominently in Native American medicine.
After you find (and harvest) those much-valued little berries, try canning several jars of elderberry jam, or stir them into a tasty homemade pie. If you enjoy handcrafting your own small-batch vintages, consider fermenting some elder wine. Tea enthusiasts often brew the dried flowers into a sweet-tasting hot elderberry tea with benefits similar to the syrups or other preparations.
Enjoy Several Elderberry Supplement Benefits
Sometimes, good things do come in small packages. That's the case with elderberry, as these tiny purple berries are rich in nutrients your body needs, says the American Nutrition Association. For starters, elderberries contain vitamins A, B6 and C. These appealing little berries also include minerals such as folic acid, potassium, manganese, beta carotene and iron.
Elderberry is also a fiber superstar, as you can meet over 40 percent of your daily fiber requirements by eating this unassuming little fruit. Increased fiber consumption has been shown to improve your gastrointestinal system function. This positive development leads to better overall health.
Beneficial elderberries are also packed with flavonoids, which function as antioxidants that protect your body's healthy cells from damage by free radicals. Compared to other types of berries, elderberry is the clear winner. These powerful little berries have a higher flavonol content than blueberries, blackberries, cranberries and goji berries. You can receive these benefits from taking an elderberry supplement.
If you're concerned about skin health, elderberries' substantial vitamin A content can help to improve the appearance of wrinkles and age spots. Elderberries' flower extracts can help to soothe your skin after sunburns and rashes. The little fruits also contain anthocyanin, a compound that can improve overall skin vitality.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
Can Elderberry Relieve Cold Symptoms?
Taking an elderberry supplement regularly can optimize your immune system support. In fact, Bastyr University recommends that you consume 1 tablespoon of elderberry syrup every day. If you make your own syrup, rather than buying it in a health food or grocery store, you can safely store it in the refrigerator for three months.
But what happens if, despite your best efforts, you become affected by annoying common cold symptoms? Can you take elderberry syrup for colds? Dr. Irina Todorov, an integrative medicine physician with the Cleveland Clinic, is cautiously optimistic about elderberry's benefits. However, she is careful to take a scientific approach, and doesn't currently endorse the use of elderberry syrup for colds and flu.
Dr. Todorov notes that for hundreds of years, herbalists have advocated using elderberry syrups and teas to combat upper respiratory infections. Although some studies suggest that elderberry can provide some symptom relief, larger-scale research is needed in order to prove the efficacy of using elderberry syrup for colds.
However, the U.S. National Library of Medicine highlights a February 2019 meta-analysis of controlled, randomized clinical trials on elderberry use for cold and flu symptoms. Collectively, this analysis included 180 participants with upper respiratory symptoms. Researchers took the subjects' vaccination status and type of respiratory problem into consideration.
Each subject took elderberry supplements during their respective study. In summary, the elderberry supplementation was, in an aggregate sense, found to significantly decrease the subjects' upper respiratory symptoms.
This finding may highlight an alternative to misuse of antibiotics for these respiratory symptoms. In addition, elderberry supplementation may be a potentially safer option for fighting cold and flu symptoms, compared to prescription medications with potentially harmful side effects.
Read more: 8 Foods That Boost Your Immune System
View Possible Elderberry Side Effects
Although elderberry seems to offer some encouraging health benefits, use care in taking this (or any) nutritional supplement. First, check the package for the daily recommended dosage, and don't exceed that amount, states the University of Rochester Medical Center. In addition, stay alert for potential elderberry side effects.
If you decide to make your own elderberry syrup or similar product, obtain instructions from a reputable source and follow the directions exactly. If you prepare the product incorrectly, you could experience nausea, vomiting and a serious case of diarrhea.
Do not, under any circumstances, consume unripe or raw elderberries, as they contain a toxic substance. The shrub's stems, leaves and other parts are also off limits for the same reason.
Keep in mind that your body might interpret elderberry as a diuretic, causing you to urinate more frequently. If you already take diuretic medications, speak to your physician before consuming any elderberry supplement. Also, if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, do not take elderberry in any form.
Be aware that elderberry has not been connected to any negative interactions with specific foods or medicines, stresses the Mayo Clinic. Specifically, elderberry is not on the list of herbal supplements known to interact negatively with widely used heart medications.
Because taking this nutritional supplement could potentially result in elderberry side effects, err on the side of caution. Consult with your physician before taking an elderberry supplement.
If your doctor gives you the "all clear" to take elderberry along with an existing medication, ensure that you follow the dosage instructions to the letter. Stay alert for signs or symptoms that could indicate a drug interaction. These can include a change in your blood pressure or an unusually rapid heartbeat.
- Cornell Cooperative Extension: “Respect Your Elders”
- American Nutrition Association: “What Acne Sufferers need to Know About Elderberry”
- Bastyr University: “Echinacea and Elder”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Elderberry: A Natural Way to Boost Immunity During Cold and Flu Season?”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) Supplementation Effectively Treats Upper Respiratory symptoms: A Meta-analysis of Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials”
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Elderberry”
- Mayo Clinic: “Herbal Supplements and Heart Medicines May Not Mix”