Elderberry – What is it and What are the benefits?

By: Sydney Levine

As we enter into the peak winter months, not only are we still facing rising numbers of COVID-19 infections, we are also faced with the dreaded cold and flu season. This reality has us all looking for ways to stay healthy and boost our immune systems. Our immune system plays a vital role in protecting us from harmful substances like germs and viruses – it’s what helps us fight off illnesses and recover faster. During these times I’m sure we have been stocking up on Vitamin C supplements, immunity boosting supplements, and maybe other home remedies. However, there is a plant that dates back to 400 BC that has been used to treat cold and flu symptoms, inflammation, and boost the immune system (Pathak, 2020). If you are into home remedies and natural supplements/treatments, the elderberry is an ancient plant that has been known to have positive effects in treating certain infections and other ailments while helping to stimulate our immune response.

Elderberry – What is it?

Referred as the “Father of medicine”, elderberry is known as a medicinal plant in which its use can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians (Pathak, 2020). The plant comes from a tree type known as Sambucus. This tree produces berries and flowers that are edible, but the elderberry that it produces must first be cooked in order to be safely consumed. There are around thirty different types of elder plant around the world, making it one of the world’s most versatile plants (Pathak, 2020). Throughout history and today, elderberry is used to help illnesses, pains, and other ailments.

The benefits of elderberry:

The elderberry has several antiviral properties that aid in reducing the duration and severity of certain symptoms that accompany colds, the flu, and other illnesses (Wong, 2020). Rich in antioxidants the elderberry plant is said to help boost your immune system, fight cold and flu symptoms, and help reduce joint/muscle pain, headaches, and even stress. Additional properties of the plant include Vitamin C, fiber, and anthocyanins –an antioxidant known to have anti-inflammatory effects (Mandl, 2018). Preventing inflammation is crucial in order to prevent the body from developing certain diseases. Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, cancer, muscle pain, and type 2 diabetes (Santos-Longhurst, 2018). While elderberry has not been proven to prevent or lower the risk of actually contracting the flu or colds, two studies show that it has worked to minimize the severity and period of the symptoms (Z Zakay-Rones et al, 2004). Those participants in the study who received doses of elderberry syrup four times a day reported symptom relief four days sooner than those participants who did not receive the dosage (Z Zakay-Rones et al, 2004). Elderberry supplements are considered to be dietary supplements rather than “treatments”. Further research is needed to test for further benefits and treatment properties within a medical setting.


Elderberry cannot be consumed without some manipulation. Without cooking the plant first, elderberry is toxic and dangerous to consume (Fenneld, 2020). In addition to simply cooking elderberry, it has been processed and sold commercially in the form of syrups, gummies, pills, jams, and even wine. Be careful not to consume too much of the plant – if taken incorrectly the results could potentially include diarrhea and stomach pains/cramps (Wong, 2020).

While further research needs to be conducted in order to test for true significance of the elderberry plant on the human body, several studies have shown that the plant is useful in reducing the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms. Adding elderberry, whether it’s in the form of a syrup, gummy, or pill, to your routine will provide you with a good dose of antioxidants and Vitamin C. Now more than ever I think we could all benefit from a boost to our immune systems.

Reference List:

Fenneld. (2020, September 28). Is Elderberry Really an Effective Cold and Flu Cure? Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-elderberry-really-an-effective-cold-and-flu-cure/

Mandl, E. (2018, March 08). Elderberry: Benefits and Dangers. Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/elderberry#bottom-line

Pathak, N. (2020, September 21). Elderberry: Health Benefits, Risks, Uses, Effectiveness. Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/diet/elderberry-health-benefits#1

Santos-Longhurst, A. (2018, July 27). Chronic inflammation: Definition, symptoms, causes, and treatment. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-inflammation

Wong, C. (2020, March 27). Can Elderberry Prevent or Reduce Cold Symptoms? Retrieved January 19, 2021, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/elderberry-for-colds-and-flu-can-it-help-89559

Zakay-Rones, Z., Thom, E., Wollan, T., Wadstein, J., 2004. Randomized Study of the Efficacy            and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections. Journal of International Medical Research 32, 132–140.. doi:10.1177/147323000403200205

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