A traditional medicine used by both the Native Americans and ancient Egyptians, elderberries are still a popular natural remedy every year around cold and flu season. Though the raw berries are poisonous (they cause nausea and stomach upset), cooked and dried elderberries can be prepared at home for their natural and powerful health components. Come with us as we explore the benefits of elderberry syrup, the potential side effects, and give you a homemade recipe to try the next time you or your loved ones are suffering from cold or flu symptoms.
What Are Elderberries?
Elderberries refer to many varieties of the Sambucus tree, but the most commonly known one is Sambucus nigra, aka the European black elder. Elderberries are very tart and must be cooked before they’re eaten, but they have a long history of culinary and medicinal use.
The leaves and flowers of the elderberry tree have been used to relieve inflammation, pain, and swelling, while the bark of the tree has been used as a laxative, diuretic, and vomit-inducing agent. The berries, dried or juiced, can help treat maladies as diverse as toothache, headache, sciatica, infection, and influenza, as well as nerve pain. Modern clinical research has confirmed many of these uses.
Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Elderberries
Here are the health benefits you can expect from the safe use of elderberries and elderberry syrup.
1. High in Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients
Low in calories and full of antioxidants, elderberries are packed with these top nutrients:
- Vitamin C: A serving of 100 grams of elderberries can provide 60% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C, ideal for preventing the common cold.
- Dietary fiber: With 7 grams of fiber per 100 grams of fresh elderberries, you can gain a quarter of your recommended daily intake of fiber.
- Phenolic acids: These are powerful antioxidant compounds that can prevent and reduce damage from oxidative stress and free radicals in the body.
- Flavonols: The antioxidant flavonols quercetin, isorhamnetin, and kaempferol can be found in elderberries.
- Anthocyanins: These anti-inflammatory compounds give elderberries their signature dark blackish-purple color.
2. Help Relieving Cold and Flu Symptoms
Black elderberry extracts can reduce the length and severity of the flu. Elderberry cold and flu treatments can be purchased in capsule, lozenge, liquid, and elderberry gummies form, but according to a 2004 study of 60 people with the influenza virus, elderberry syrup may be the most powerful concoction. Researchers found that 15 milliliters of elderberry syrup administered 4 times per day showed significant improvement between 2 and 4 days, compared to the control group that took 7-8 days to show improved symptoms. And a 2016 study of air travelers taking 300 milligrams of elderberry extract 3 times a day found that those who did get sick experienced shorter illness durations and milder symptoms.
3. Enhanced Heart Health
Elderberry syrup and juice may improve heart and blood vessel markers. For example, this 2014 study with elderberry juice shows that flavonoids like those contained in elderberries can help reduce the risk of heart disease. A 2015 mouse study showed that dietary black elderberry reduced the amount of cholesterol in their livers and aortas. Furthermore, rat studies have found that those fed food with polyphenols derived from elderberry extract had reduced levels of hypertension and damage resulting from high blood pressure.
4. Improved Blood Sugar Control
Elderberry use can help increase insulin secretion and improve your blood sugar levels, as seen in this 2016 study using diabetic rats. Researchers concluded that elderberries can be used in diabetes management. Elderberry flowers have done likewise, inhibiting the enzyme α-glucosidase and improving blood sugar control.
5. Possible Anti-Cancer Attributes
Elderberry Side Effects
Always keep in mind that raw elderberries are toxic to human beings. When cooked or properly dried, they have amazing immune-boosting effects, but raw berries, leaves, and bark can cause stomach issues due to certain ingredients.
- The unripe berries and seeds of elderberry plants contain lectins that cause stomach upset in humans.
- Raw elderberry plants also contain cyanogenic glycosides that can sometimes release cyanide, the same toxins found in almonds and apricot seeds.
- The Sambucus mexicana variety of elder trees has been reported to cause dizziness, vomiting, weakness, nausea, and numbness in those who consumed its juice.
These toxic substances are removed from commercially sold elderberry products and can also be removed by properly cooking the berries. If you’re at all concerned about these side effects, seek medical advice on alternative natural treatments, or for doctor-recommended elderberry products. Should you experience any of these side effects after taking an elderberry product, at the first sign of illness discontinue use and seek medical treatment.
Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe
Here is a DIY, kid-friendly Cold & Flu Elderberry Syrup recipe from author Monique at Divas Can Cook. You’ll need the following ingredients:
- Dried organic elderberries
- Cinnamon sticks
- Fresh ginger
- Cold/flu formula teabags
- Apple cider vinegar
- Raw honey
- Purified water
Follow the link to find the instructions for this homemade elderberry syrup recipe. The cook time can be completed in less than 20 minutes, and the elderberry syrup you make can be kept in a glass jar in your refrigerator for up to 6 months’ worth of elderberry benefits.
The Wisdom of the Elderberries
The health benefits of elderberry fruit, leaves, and bark have been highlighted in many clinical trials, but the side effects of raw elderberry products can be quite unpleasant. If you’re seeking cold and flu relief, you may be more comfortable trying other homemade cold symptom remedies like cinnamon, carrot juice, or ginger tea, but for the antioxidant impact of dark berries, you may find elderberry too promising to pass up. Be safe in preparation, and get well soon!