For centuries, elderberry has been used as a popular folk remedy in North America, Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. Elderberry is the fruit of the elder tree. Although the tree has several varieties, European elder, also called black elder, is the most common type used in herbal supplements. Science has recently started to unravel the mystery of the herb and the potential health benefits it might have on the human body.
There is limited research to explain how elderberry works in the body. What is known is that elderberry contains flavonoids and is a good source of Vitamin C (an antioxidant). Flavonoids have antioxidant properties that may reduce the amount of damage to the body’s cells from free radicals, a by-product of normal metabolic reactions in the body. The antioxidant properties contained in elderberry are also thought to help reduce inflammation.
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Some research suggests that a chemical in elder flower and elderberry may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, such as the sinuses, and may help relieve nasal congestion. Thus, sometimes used as a remedy for the congestion brought on by cold and flu symptoms. One study suggested that using a standardized elderberry extract could shorten the duration of the flu by approximately 3 days. But because that extract used in the study also contained other herbs, as well as vitamin C, researchers were unable to determine if elderberry by itself would have had the same effect.
Another study found that when a lozenge containing elderberry extract was taken within 24 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, the severity of symptoms was reduced.
Limited data has suggested that elderberry may also have an effect on the H1N1 virus (“swine flu”). One study suggested that elderberry could kill the virus in test tubes, but researchers haven’t determined if elderberry would be effective against H1N1 in people.
Although these small studies have shown that elderberry may help relieve symptoms of cold and flu there is still not enough evidence that support its use and further research is needed.
Because elderberry has also been used as a remedy for sinus infections, researchers have attempted to determine whether or not it is effective. One study looked at the use of a proprietary product containing elderberry as a remedy for bacterial sinusitis. When the product was taken along with an antibiotic and a decongestant, the people who took it fared better than those who didn’t. But the findings regarding elderberry’s role in this improvement were not conclusive, because the supplement also contained other herbs.
There is no standard dose of elderberry, but the supplement is available as a liquid, syrup, and tincture, as well as in capsule, lozenge, and tea forms. It is not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Consult with your physician first before incorporating any supplements or herbs into your diet. Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, herbal and dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health professional. You should read product labels and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider before adding elderberry into your diet. BACK TO TOP »
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