- Elderberry can have many benefits for your heart and immune system due to its high concentration of vitamins and antioxidants.
- Elderberries are beneficial because they contain antioxidant pigments that both support your immunity and may prevent flu viruses from reproducing inside our bodies.
- The berries can also decrease inflammation, which may reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease or cancer.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Elderberry is an antioxidant-rich purple berry that has been used in folk traditions to treat colds, as well as a variety of other ailments. Ripe elderberries can be made into a variety of treats, from pies and jellies to sweet wines — and you can also purchase elderberry supplements.
Here are the major benefits of elderberry for your health.
Elderberry can boost your immune system
Elderberry contains a whole host of immune-boosting antioxidants, including vitamins A, B, and C. These antioxidants and vitamins can help keep your immune system strong and allow you to better fight off infections, such as common viruses like the cold or flu.
For example, a 2016 study found that 300mg elderberry supplement capsules, taken twice per day, a few days before and after long-haul flights significantly reduced the duration and severity of cold symptoms for travelers.
Another 2020 review of five elderberry studies concluded that, when taken within 48 hours of initial symptoms, elderberry supplements may reduce the length and severity of fever, headache, runny nose, and congestion associated with cold and flu.
Elderberry also contains anthocyanins — a pigment with antioxidant effects that give berries their red, blue, purple, or black coloring. Anthocyanins are thought to prevent flu viruses from reproducing inside our bodies, which may prevent the onset of flu or decrease the duration of its symptoms.
In fact, laboratory tests have shown that anthocyanins can inhibit neuraminidase, which is “a part of a virus that allows for budding, and thus replication, of a virus,” says Thomas Holland, MD, a physician-scientist in the departments of internal medicine and clinical nutrition at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
For example, the flu-busting antiviral oseltamivir, known by the brand name Tamiflu, is also a neuraminidase inhibitor and works to reduce flu symptoms by the same mechanism.
Elderberry can decrease inflammation
Holland says elderberry contains a variety of “bioactives” — anti-inflammatory compounds you might’ve heard of like tannins and flavonoids that can help prevent damage to our bodies’ cells.
Stress, polluted air, unhealthy foods, and substances like alcohol or tobacco can all cause inflammation in the body, which may contribute to cellular damage, Holland says. That cellular damage can in turn generate free radicals — harmful byproducts of the body that can lead to chronic diseases like
, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
“Taking foods, especially berries, that have these antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties can prevent that onset of cellular damage, or decrease the inflammation that’s happening,” Holland says.
Elderberry may benefit your heart health
In a small 2017 study, adults 50 to 70 years old who were given a bioactive-rich mixed berry drink (including elderberries) daily for five weeks saw a significant decrease in cholesterol levels overall and LDL cholesterol in particular compared to those given a placebo.
Possible side effects of elderberry
Holland says allergies to elderberry are rare, but only the fruit and flowers of elderberry are edible, and only the flowers can be eaten raw. The rest of the plant is toxic to humans, and ingesting raw or undercooked elderberry can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Elderberry should not be combined with laxatives or diuretics, as this could increase the effect of those medicines, Holland says. Elderberry should also not be taken in conjunction with diabetic medicines. Because of limited research data, pregnant and nursing parents should not take elderberry.
People taking immune-supressing drugs, like steroids or monoclonal antibodies, should also avoid elderberry supplements. Since elderberry may stimulate the immune system to return to normal function, Holland says, it could interfere with the original medication and increase the risk of cellular damage.
Holland says there isn’t a commonly recommended dosage when it comes to elderberry supplements, but he highly encourages people to follow the manufacturer’s suggested amounts. And, he says, “having a conversation with your primary care physician is always a great idea before starting any new supplement.”
There are many DIY recipes for elderberry syrup online, but unripe or undercooked elderberries can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, so if you decide to make your own, make sure the berries are thoroughly heated. And discard the leaves, stem and bark; when digested they can release cyanide, which is toxic.
Elderberry is packed with heart-healthy antioxidants that may be able to give your immune system a boost during cold and flu season. Just make sure to check in with your doctor before taking elderberry supplements to avoid any potential drug interactions or negative effects.