Is Elderberry Good for You?
References to elderberry appear in history books, fairytales and even modern-day fiction–but does it deserve a place in your medicine cabinet? Knowledge of the healthful benefits of this ancient berry has been passed down for centuries. Historians say Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” always kept it on hand, and records of its use as a health tonic date as far back as ancient Egypt.1 Researchers have even found evidence that our prehistoric ancestors may have cultivated elderberry.1 How’s that for earning your name?
Elderberries are the fruits of a flowering tree scientifically known as Sambucus, but the plant is more commonly called elder or elderberry. The berries are used throughout Europe for making dyes, elderberry extract, syrups, pies and a variety of beverages. Both the ripe berries and flowers of elderberry plants are used to make elderberry supplements and health tonics, but other parts of the elderberry plant (leaves, roots, seeds and stems) are toxic.2
Wait, is it Elderberry Tree, or Elderberry Bush?
If you are researching the health benefits of elderberry, you will probably see the terms “elderberry tree” and “elderberry bush” used interchangeably. Officially, elderberry is a bush, but it can be pruned and trained into tree form and some European varieties can grow 20 feet tall.3
There are many varieties of elderberry plants, but the type that is most frequently used in culinary and health applications is Sambucus nigra L.4 This species of elderberry plant has many common names worldwide, and we know it best as Black Elderberry. There are some species of elderberry plants that should not be consumed because of toxicity, like Sambucus emulous or dwarf elder.4
Black elderberry is a time-honored, herbalist tradition for supporting immune health. It’s an excellent tonic for promoting the body’s natural defenses in everyday health and seasonal wellness. Elderberries are a source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, calcium, potassium and iron.5 They are also a potent source of carotenoid pigments or flavonoids with antioxidant properties, including quercetin, which help protect cells from oxidative damage.6 According to the University of Maryland Medical center, “elderberry outranks blueberries, cranberries, goji berries and blackberries in terms of total flavonol content.”4
Elderberry is a concentrated source of anthocyanins, a particularly powerful class of antioxidant flavonoids that may boost immune health and help protect cells from damage.7
Elderberry could be considered one of the western world's most essential and enduring herbals for promoting immune health. Numerous, modern studies have shown the immune health benefits of elderberry,5 and the bioflavonoids, antioxidants and vitamin A in elderberry are great for skin health, too. Compounds in elderberry may also help eliminate excess water from your system.6
Elderberry Benefits Quick List:
- Immune Support
Many studies have highlighted the potential immune-boosting and health-promoting benefits of elderberry, and bioflavonoids may help strengthen cell membranes.6.8
- Healthy Skin
The bioflavonoids, antioxidants and vitamin A in elderberry are great for skin health,9 helping to fight free radical damage which is one of the primary mechanisms of aging.
- Fluid Balance
Elderberry may also have a diuretic effect, helping to eliminate excess water from your system.6
- Antioxidant Support
Elderberries are packed with antioxidant flavonoids, more so than many other berries that are antioxidant sources like blueberries, cranberries, goji berries and blackberries.4
You can get the benefits of elderberries from supplements in many forms, including elderberry juice, elderberry tea, black elderberry syrup, elderberry supplement capsules and even elderberry gummies. There are also formulations of elderberry syrup for kids that often have vitamin C and zinc added for immune support as well.
Elderberry supplements deliver the beneficial properties of elderberries in a potent form. Most elderberry supplements are derived both from the berries and flower of the black elderberry plant. Some elderberry juices and syrups also include other fruit extracts, like red raspberry.
Where to Buy Elderberry
It’s best to buy elderberry from a company you trust. Ripe, black elderberries and flowers are safe to use in elderberry supplements and elderberry syurps.6 Plus, it’s important to know your elderberry supplement is prepared from a quality manufacturer following good manufacturing practices and testing requirements. Read more on what to look for in your supplements in How to Choose Quality Supplements.
If you are looking for where to buy elderberry, here are a few of our favorites available at Swanson:
Swanson Premium Elderberry (SW1673)
An herbal immune system tonic for reinforcing the body's defenses. Each capsule delivers a potent 460 mg of elderberries and 115 mg of elderflowers.
Elderberry Extract Syrup (SWU691)
A liquid herbal supplement featuring black elder flowers and berries along with red raspberry leaves. Red raspberry is complimentary wellness herb with historical roots for supporting immune and digestive health.10
Swanson Ultra Elderberry Extract Syrup (SWU696)
Our modern version of this ancient herbal wonder made with the highest quality purified water and 800 mg of pure elderberry plus elderflowers and red raspberry leaf in every 1 teaspoon serving. The pleasant berry flavor makes it go down easy and the liquid form means it goes to work fast to produce rapid results.
Nature's Way Sambucus Original Syrup (NW661)
A delicious-tasting syrup for children and adults featuring a high potency of BioActives® that are proven to be "bioavailable" and active within the body for optimal effectiveness and provides year-round defense.
Nature's Way Black Elderberry (NW390)
Each two-capsule serving delivers 920 mg of elderberry fruit and 230 mg of elderberry flowers squeezed in the autumn for maximum nutrients, supported by the whole elderberry flower harvested in the summer months when they are in full bloom.
Nature's Way Sambucus Gummies Standardized Elderberry (NW883)
This gluten- and gelatin-free, standardized elderberry supplement combines black elderberry extract with vitamin C and zinc to promote immune system health. It s sweetened with tapioca and dried cane sugar, and contains no yeast, wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, artificial flavors or preservatives.
Elderberry tea can help support the immune system too. Try an organic, caffeine-free echinacea and elderberry tea.
Benefits of Elderberries
Elderberry may sound like something right out of a fairytale, but it has a long history of supporting health and wellness, and plenty of modern, scientific studies backing its benefits for immune support and antioxidant capacity to protect the body from the effects of oxidative stress.
Elderberry may help reinforce your body’s natural defenses and provide a healthy, everyday or seasonal wellness boost.
Looking for more ways to boost your immune health? Read Immune Support During the Winter Months.
Also, since 70% of your immune system is in your digestive tract,11 you might also want to learn about probiotics that support gut health in Trust Your Gut Health: Build a Healthier Gut with Probiotics.
About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products
Lindsey is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for pie. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food. Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.
Lindsey is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for ice cream. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food.
Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health Products.
1 Elderberry History. Pharmacare Europe. http://www.blackelderberry.info/elderberry-history/(Accessed 3/1/2018)
2 Common Elderberry. Sambucus nigra L. ssp. canadensis (L.) R. Bolli. United States Department of Agriculture. https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cssanic4.pdf (Accessed 3/1/2018)
3 Edible Landscaping - Edible of the Month: Elderberry. The National Gardening Association Learning Library. https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/4152/ (Accessed 3/1/2018)
4 Elderberry. University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/elderberry (Accessed 3/2/2018)
5 Elderberries, raw. United States Department of Agriculture. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2200 (Accessed 3/2/2018)
6 Elderberry. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, Daniel Safirman, and Mina Ferne. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. http://cms.herbalgram.org/heg/volume7/files/Elderberry.pdf (Accessed 3/2/2018)
7 Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) by-products a source of anthocyanins and antioxidant polyphenols. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926669016306872 (Accessed 3/1/2018)
8 Quick Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements. Helen Pensanti M.D. https://books.google.com/books?id=qJNaDQAAQBAJ (Accessed 3/2/2018)
9 Vitamin A. University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-a-retinol (Accessed 3/2/2018)
10 Red Raspberry. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-309-red%20raspberry.aspx?activeingredientid=309&activeingredientname=red%20raspberry (Accessed 3/1/2018)
11 Let’s Talk About Health: Adding Years to Your Life, and Life to Your Years By Ray Morgan Om.D Ph.D. https://books.google.com/books?id=LDdFDwAAQBAJ (Accessed 2/27/2018)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.