Often-overlooked in the United States, the elderberry (Sambucus) has had a global reputation for its natural health-bringing properties since antiquity.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, called the berry his “medicine chest” because it could replace all other drugs in the world.
European (or black) elder – Sambucus nigra – is the species most often used medicinally. It is a sun-loving shrub or small tree that can grow as tall as 30 feet in either wet or dry soil.
The fruit is delicious and, according to Organic Facts:
“The berries are black or very dark blue and have a sharp, sweet flavor that makes them highly preferred for desserts, syrups, jams, jellies, spreads, and as the base for various cocktails and beverages.”
The list of health conditions people treat with elderberries is impressive. WebMD mentions these: immune systems disorders (including HIV/AIDS and herpes cold sores), pain (sinus, back, leg, and nerve), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS),hay fever, and constipation.
Cuisine & Health notes that elderberries are “most associated with diseases of the respiratory system: bronchitis, asthma, coughing, choking in the chest, the initial stage of pneumonia, inflammation and infection of the throat.”
Elderberries and flowers are both used medicinally. The berries must be cooked before ingesting them because the raw berries contain a chemical similar to the deadly poison cyanide.
The active compound in an elderberry is called Antivirin. The name suggests its virus-fighting abilities. Equally useful for all types of flu – seasonal or otherwise – elderberries also treat the common cold.
It is the flavonoids in elderberries which have antioxidant properties, fighting free radicals and protecting the body’s cells. Would it surprise you to know that an elderberry has more flavonol content than blueberries, cranberries, goji berries, or blackberries?
You can even make your own syrup. Here’s the recipe from Pharmacy Times:
“Basic elderberry syrup…can last in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months if stored in a glass bottle: take .5 to 1 tablespoon daily for adults to prevent illness; or if the flu does strike, take .5 to 1 tablespoon every 2 to 3 hours, instead of once a day, until symptoms disappear.”
Elder tea is another option. The University of Maryland Medical Center published this recipe:
“Steep 3 to 5 g dried elderflower in 1 cup boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and drink three times per day.”
Regarding nutrition, raw elderberries are mostly water (80%), 18% carbohydrates, and less than 1% each of protein and fat. A 100-gram serving (about 3-1/2 ounces) of elderberries has a mere 73 calories. Delivering 43% of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, elderberries also contain some vitamin B6 (18% DV) and iron (12% DV).
If you can’t find a local source for elderberries, there are many online outlets available for mail order.
As a cautionary note, be careful using dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus) because it can be toxic. All species of Sambucus have trace elements of cyanide in their branches, leaves, and twigs. Over time, this poison accumulates in the body until it reaches a lethal level.