Health benefits of the elder plant include naturally improving:
- sinus issues
- nerve pain
- chronic fatigue
- even cancer
Research published in the Journal of International Medical Research suggests that when it’s used within the first 48 hours of onset of symptoms, the plant may even help relieve and shorten the duration of cold and flu. For this reason, the government actually employed the use of elderberry to fight the flu during the 1995 Panama flu epidemic.
Does it really work? What exactly does it do, and how can you use it to promote better health?
1. Provides Cold and Flu Relief
One of the most well-studied elderberry supplement benefits is its powerful immune-boosting properties. The berries contain chemical compounds called anthocyanidins, which have been found to possess immunostimulant properties.
Research actually shows that elderberry is a safe, efficient and cost-effective treatment for the common cold and flu. A 2021 systematic review screened 1,187 records and five randomized trials on elderberry for the treatment or prevention of viral respiratory illness. Researchers found that elderberry may reduce the duration and severity of symptoms related to colds and influenza, and there’s no evidence that it overstimulates the immune system.
A 2016 study published in Nutrients showed that elderberry supplementation was able to reduce cold duration and symptoms in people using air travel. People using this herb from 10 days before travel until four to five days after arrival overseas experienced, on average, a two-day shorter duration of their colds as well as a noticeable reduction in cold symptoms.
Several studies have found benefits to support the use of elderberry for flu symptoms as well. Specifically, the flavonoids in the berries bind to the H1N1 human influenza virus as well as the H5N1 avian influenza virus.
A 2009 study randomized patients into two groups. One group was given four doses of 175-milligram proprietary elderberry extract daily, and the other group received a placebo for two days.
The group treated showed significant improvement in most signs of flu, while the placebo group showed no improvement in symptom severity. Researchers concluded that the extract is effective in controlling influenza symptoms.
Another study published in the Journal of International Medical Research referenced above suggests that when elderberry is used within the first 48 hours of the onset of signs of flu, it can shorten the duration of flu symptoms by an average of four days.
2. Reduces Sinus Infection Symptoms
With elderberry’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it makes sense that it can help treat sinus issues and diseases related to respiratory health. A sinus infection is a condition in which the cavities around the nasal passages become inflamed, and this antiviral herb has promise as a sinus infection remedy.
A study conducted by the Institute of Complementary Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine at the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland examined the use of a product called Sinupret, which contains elderberry extract. The researchers used Sinupret to treat bacterial sinusitis along with an antibiotic (doxy cycline or vibra-mycin) and a decongestant. Interestingly enough, those who took the combination did better compared to those who did not take Sinupret at all.
3. Lowers Blood Sugar
Both the elder flower and the berry have traditionally been used to treat diabetes. Research has confirmed that extracts of elderflower stimulate glucose metabolism and the secretion of insulin, which could potentially help lower blood sugar levels.
Research published in the Journal of Nutrition evaluated black elderberry’s insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions in vitro. The study found that an aqueous extract of elder significantly increased glucose transport, glucose oxidation and glycogenesis without any added insulin.
Glycogenesis is the process by which excess sugar is cleared out of the bloodstream and into your muscles and liver to help maintain normal blood sugar.
Furthermore, a 2017 animal study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences noted that elderberries can serve as a potential source of bioactive compounds for formulations used for the management of diabetes. Researchers found that both lipophilic and polar extracts of the berry lowered insulin resistance in rats with type 2 diabetes.
4. Acts as a Natural Diuretic
A diuretic is a substance that promotes the production of urine. Research indicates that elder leaves, flowers and berries were used for their diuretic properties in rural populations as natural medicine. Even the bark of the plant was used for its diuretic and slimming effects.
Doctors prescribe diuretics when the body retains too much fluid, which is a common problem in older adults. Thanks to its ability to act as a safe diuretic, elderberry has been shown to promote both urination and bowel moments to help protect against fluid retention.
5. Promotes Regularity
In traditional or folk medicine, the elder plant was used as a laxative to relieve constipation. It was added to herbal mixtures to improve regularity.
Some research suggests that elderberry tea benefits constipation and can help support regularity and digestive health. A small, randomized trial found that a specific compound containing elderberries along with several other plants could act as an effective natural laxative for the treatment of constipation.
Unfortunately, however, there are currently no studies evaluating elderberry itself for constipation relief, so more research is still needed.
6. Supports Skin Health
Elderberry has made its way into cosmetic products, and for good reason. Its content of bioflavonoids, antioxidants and vitamin A makes it awesome for skin health. Not only that, but researchers also suspect that a compound found in the berry could give a natural boost to skin.
Anthocyanin is a type of natural plant pigment found in elderberry that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Some researchers suspect that this compound may improve skin’s structure and condition to enhance overall skin health.
7. Eases Allergies
In addition to using elderberry syrup for colds, the flowers of the elder plant are also known to be an effective herbal allergy remedy. Since allergies involve an overreaction of the immune system as well as inflammation, research suggests that the herb’s ability to improve immune function and calm inflammation can help provide allergy relief.
Some herbalists put black elder flower on the list of most effective herbs used for treating hay fever-like symptoms. It can be used for allergies on its own or in combination with other herbs and natural remedies.
8. Could Have Cancer-Fighting Effects
Edible berry extracts like elderberry extract are rich in anthocyanins and have been shown to have a broad spectrum of therapeutic, pharmacologic and anti-carcinogenic properties. In vitro studies specifically indicate that the elderberry has some chemopreventive properties, which can help inhibit, delay or reverse cancer formation.
One study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food compared the anticancer properties of European and American elderberry fruits. European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is known for its medicinal use and contains anthocyanins, flavonoids and other polyphenolics, which all contribute to the high-antioxidant capacity of its berries. American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) has not been grown or promoted as a medicinal plant like its European relative.
This study tested extracts of both berries to assess anticancer potential and found that both demonstrated significant chemopreventive potential. Additionally, the American elder extract showed inhibition of ornithine decarboxylase, which is an enzyme marker related to the promotion stage of cancer formation.
Thus, elderberries show potential as cancer-fighting foods.
9. May Improve Heart Health
Although studies have found mixed results, some research suggests that elderberry extract may improve heart health.
For example, one animal model showed that giving mice with high cholesterol and HDL cholesterol dysfunction anthocyanin-rich black elderberry extract helped reduce hepatic cholesterol levels and improved HDL function. This may be due to the presence of anthocyanins, which are polyphenols that have demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.
Another study found that elderberry extract may have beneficial effects on high blood pressure. When polyphenols extracted from the plant were administered with renin inhibitors to rats with hypertension, they reduced arterial pressure.
Researchers suggest that using polyphenols to lower blood pressure may also help reduce the side effects of blood pressure-lowering medications and improve overall quality of life.