In folk medicine, elderberry is known to treat various ailments, from swelling and inflammation to cold and flu symptoms. Traditionally, the ancient Egyptians used it for healing burns, while Native Americans used it for treating infections. It’s still gathered and used across Europe in various forms, with the intention of improving general health conditions. While scientific research on the benefits of elderberry supplements is ongoing, some studies have shown the plant’s effectiveness in helping ease respiratory symptoms, boost immunity, reduce high blood pressure, and prevent cardiovascular disease.
What is Elderberry?
Elderberry, a.k.a. the Sambucus tree, is a flowering plant that belongs to the Adoxaceae family. There are several varieties of elderberry, but Sambucus nigra, or black elder, is the one that’s most closely linked to healing. It’s native to Europe and it can grow up to 30 feet. Black elder has clusters of white flowers and black fruit, which have various culinary and medical uses.
The flowers of elderberry have a slight muscat flavor and they can be eaten either raw or cooked. They can be infused into tea or boiled with sugar to make a sweet syrup. You can also use fresh flowers to make salads. On the other hand, elderberry fruit is quite sour and it needs to be cooked before eating. You can cook the berries to make jams, pies, chutneys, juice, and elderberry wine.
Elderberry Health Benefits
Historically, different parts of elderberry plant have been used for different purposes. The bark was used as a laxative and a diuretic, while the leaves and flowers were used to treat swelling, pain, inflammation, urinary infections, and even to induce sweating. Today, dried berries are used in folk medicine to alleviate the symptoms of flu, headaches, and dental pain among others.
Elderberries are packed with Vitamin C and dietary fiber, which accounts for their high nutritional value and the potential to strengthen immunity. They are also rich in flavonols and anthocyanins, antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body and prevent damage to the cells. Elderberry supplementation is used by many, but what does science have to say about it?
It Helps Treat Respiratory Symptoms
Elderberry supplements have been shown to improve cold and flu symptoms. In 2016, a study of 312 air passengers found that elderberry extract capsules taken daily eased cold and flu symptoms and sped up the recovery process. Another study published in 2019 showed that black elderberry fruit substantially reduced upper-respiratory symptoms. Despite the small scale of these studies, the findings seem promising when it comes to future research on how the immune system and respiratory health may benefit from elderberry supplementation.
It’s Good for the Heart, Immunity, and Joints
Elderberries contain high levels of antioxidants, which may prevent the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. According to a study published in 2017, elderberry plays an important role in stimulating the immune system and reducing high blood pressure. The study also showed that elderberry helps prevent diabetes and reduce the levels of uric acid in the blood. The accumulation of uric acid in the body can cause gout, a form of arthritis which can be extremely painful. It can also cause the development of kidney stones, so using elderberry supplements can combat multiple issues.
While more large-scale studies are necessary to provide a firm scientific proof, elderberry remains a promising field of research when it comes to respiratory issues and cardiovascular disease. With new findings, we’ll be able to gain more insight into elderberry as effective supplementation for increasing immunity and improving heart health. And on top of that, what better way to cool off during warmer months than mixing elderberry syrup with water. Tasty!
Photo: Sebastian Maćkiewicz via Wikimedia Commons
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