Elderberries Benefits and Side Effects

[toc]Elderberries are one of nature’s most versatile healers. With a history that spans as far back as 400BC, the elder flower and its berries have been used to help heal and ease symptoms of any medical condition. Even Hippocrates, called the elder tree his “medicine chest”.

The elderberry and the elderflower is full of antioxidants and vitamins that may help boost your immune system, lower stress levels and inflammation, as well as protecting your heart. Not only that, but some medical experts even prescribe elderberries to help with cold and flu-like symptoms.

However, it should be noted that the elderberry, like all other home remedies help ease symptoms, they do not completely prevent, nor eradicate any disease or condition at all, and must be taken with the recommendations of your local doctors and medical experts.

Here are a few benefits and side effects to having elderberries and elderflowers, in your diet and health plan.

Elderberry And Elderflower Properties

Amongst other things, the elderberry and the elderflower contain a lot of nutrients, and can be used for many health conditions, from boosting the immune system to relieving stress. They are packed full of antioxidants and vitamins that can be introduced into your diet, through food, drinks, and lotions. Below are some of the properties of elderberries and elderflowers.

High in Vitamin C – its vitamin C content can account for 57% of your daily intake value if you have 1 cup’s worth of the fruit.
High In Fibre – 10 grams can contain around 36% of your daily intake of fibre.
Good Source of Antioxidants – both the fruit and the flower contain both phenolic acids and flavonols to help combat oxidative stress, meaning the amount of oxidised compounds in your body that can be harmful to your systems. The flower contains more flavonols than the berries.
Anti-inflammatory – the compound anthocyanins give the berries the dark purple colour and can help reduce inflammation.

Elderberries And Flu Symptoms

It’s been proved through several studies, that taking elderberries, or extracts of the fruit, can help relieve and reduce cold and flu-like symptoms. It can even reduce the severity and the longevity of influenza, by taking the fruit through lozenges, gummies, capsules, and liquids.

However, these studies were performed on commercial products that included extracts of elderberries and elderflowers. There is very little information about home remedies and their efficacy.

Elderberries As Antioxidants

As a result of metabolic processes, reactive molecules, or oxidised compounds, are released into the body and can oxidative stress that can cause harmful reactions in the body, such as cancer cells or Type 2 diabetes.

However, by having fruits and vegetables, you can reduce the number of these molecules, and thus reduce the effects of oxidative stress, which can prevent chronic diseases. Both elderberries and elderflowers are packed with such antioxidants, and lab studies have proven that elderberries are one of the most effective antioxidants, amongst other fruits.

It is also known that antioxidants can help with inflammation as well as oxidative tissue damage. However, most of the lab studies that produced these results were performed on extracts and elderberry juice, and the process of making them can reduce the antioxidant properties of the elderberry. So, more studies need to be performed on unprocessed elderberries, to expose the true potential of the fruit and its flowers.

Elderberries And Hearth Health

Although it is still speculation, elderberries can prove be a benefit to heart and blood vessel health. There have been studies that show that elderberries can reduce levels of fat and lower blood cholesterol. Not only that but having a diet with high flavonoid levels can help reduce the risk of heart disease, and those with polyphenols extracts can reduce blood pressure.

Furthermore, elderberries are known to reduce the amount of uric acid in the blood, which is known to elevate blood pressure which can have a negative effect on the heart. They are also known to increase insulin secretion, which can help with blood sugar levels that affect the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Other Benefits

There are also some other speculated benefits, of elderberries such as:
They reduce the risk of cancer – there have been some test-tube studies, where cancer inhibiting properties were found.
They fight bacteria – some studies have proven that elderberries contain anti-bacterial properties, which can help with conditions like sinusitis and bronchitis.
They boost the immune system – studies in rats show that elderberries can help white blood cell production, which can help fight infections and diseases.
They can protect from UV rays – some lab studies have shown that lotions containing elderberries have an SPF factor of 9.88

Although many of these studies have given positive results, they have either been carried out in lab experiments, rats, and controlled conditions. Also, most of the products that were tested either contained extracts of elderberries, or were juices and syrups, which reduces the antioxidant properties of the fruit.

So, the efficacy of home remedies and the use of unprocessed elderberries cannot properly be recognised. Of course, it is because of this, there is also a danger of overuse of elderberries, elderflowers, and their extracts and juices.

Health Risks and Dangers

If the berries are unripe, or you digest the bark and seeds of the elderberries, you might end up having stomach problems, as they contain a substance called lectins, which do affect the digestion process.
Not only that, some elderberries carry a substance called cyanogenic glycosides, which can release cyanide, a dangerous poison that’s also found in apricot seeds and almonds. Some studies have proved that 100 grams of fresh berries can contain 3mg of cyanide, which is 3% of the fatal dose for the average human.

Elderberries are not recommended for children or adolescents under the age of 18, or even pregnant or lactating women. Because of a lack of information, there is no guarantee that having elderberries in a child’s diet, or in the diet of a pregnant or lactating woman, is safe.


Some of the studies that were carried out, testing the efficacy of elderberries, contained the juice of freshly picked elderberries, and those who had participated experienced nausea, vomiting, weakness, dizziness, numbness, and stupor, which can be the effect of the toxins in the berries. There have also been reports of diarrhoea, which are also linked to the juice of fresh berries. However, these issues can be overcome, by cooking the berries and flowers.

It is recommended not to cook the roots, branches, leaves, or the bark of the elderberry plant, no matter which type, as there is no significant data to really determine whether they are safe or not.

If you are picking your own elderberries, make sure you know if they’re American or European, or if they’re from other parts of the world. While most elderberries contain some mild toxicity, those outside of the American or European species can contain more cyanide toxicity, than those that are American or European.

Also make sure you don’t take any drugs that can be affected by the properties of the elderberries, as there are 28 drugs that are known to have a mild reaction to the fruit, according to DO. John P. Cunha from RxList (n.d.).

What To Do With Elderberries

If you’re unsure whether you’re able to include elderberries into your diet, and if you’re taking medication, that could have a mild reaction to the fruit, or not, it is always best to speak to your doctor, or your local physician. They’ll know if there are properties in your medication, or whether you have an allergy or not, to the fruit. They’ll also be able to recommend to you how much elderberries you can take, if your daily medication does have a reaction.

Remember to always cook the berries and flowers, before eating, juicing, or drinking them, to completely remove the risk of the toxins in the fresh berries and flowers. You should also remember to remove the bark, roots, and leaves of the elderberry plants, as they are not made for human consumption.

Also, while there have been studies and tests to prove the efficacy of the berries, they have been performed under lab conditions, or controlled environments, as well as on extracts of elderberries, so the full potency of the berries themselves cannot really be accounted for.

In Summary

Elderberries have the potential to be beneficial to human health, as they provide lots of antioxidants, which can help maintain a healthy lifestyle, by boosting the immune system, protecting the heart and blood vessels, reduce inflammation, stress, and blood cholesterol, and relieve cold and flu-like symptoms. The fruit can also help with blood sugar levels, which can help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

However, because of its toxicity, there are side effects, to the elderberry and the elderflower, such as nausea, weakness, dizziness, stupor, numbness, and even diarrhoea. Also, if you take daily medication, there might be a reaction between your medication and the fruit or flower, so be sure you know what type of medication you take, and whether they will react or not. Consult your doctor before adding elderberries to your diet.

Finally, if you’re picking your own elderberries and elderflowers, be sure you remove any bark, leaves, roots, and branches, before using them, and cook the berries and flowers, before eating, or juicing them, to remove any toxicity in them.

Also, be sure you know what species you’re picking from, as the American and European species of elderberries are the ones with less toxic substances. If you’re still unsure about including elderberries in your diet, consult your doctor.