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Elderberry (or elder) is the common name for a group of shrubs and trees of the genus Sambucus, which includes roughly 20 to 30 species found throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and North Africa. The European elder (or black elderberry) Sambucus nigra, the species most used for health purposes, is a deciduous tree reaching up to 9 meters in height, common throughout much of Europe and parts of Asia. The black elderberry has large, compound leaves, each made up of pairs of elliptical, serrate-edged leaflets attached to a central leaf stem. The leaves give off a strong, unpleasant odor when bruised. The tree flowers in early summer, producing large clusters of small white blossoms, which are eventually succeeded by clusters of blue-to-black colored fruit. Black elderberries typically ripen in late summer, from August to September.
Active compounds in elderberries include lectins, vitamin C, tannins, and a variety of antioxidant flavonoids. The flowers contain volatile oils.
For the common cold, Germany's Commission E recommends 10 to 15 grams of the dried flowers in teas administered throughout the day. For fluid extracts of the flowers, the recommendation is 1.5 to 3 grams per day. Liquid extracts of the berries are commonly taken in doses ranging from 3.5 to 15 grams per day. The fresh, cooked, or dried berries are consumed liberally with no adverse reactions reported. Toxic compounds found in the wood, leaves, and roots of the black elderberry tree are not present in the berries.