Elderberry: The Anti-Viral SuperFruit that Fights the Flu

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Elderberry, infamous in Pagan folklore, is the antiviral super-fruit that fights the flu and battles inflammation! Tweet This.

Super Powers & Health Benefits of Elderberry

  1. Immune Boosting
  2. Anti-Cancer
  3. Anti-Inflammatory
  4. Flu Fighter

Secret Compounds in Elderberry

  1. Anthocyanin – A specific class of immensely powerful anti-oxidants.
  2. Vitamins - Vitamins C, E and A.
  3. Carotenoids - Organic compounds that exhibit anti-oxidant properties.
  4. Antioxidants - Flavonoids and organic pigments that rid the body of free radicals and protect from cellular damage.

Identifying Elderberries

Elderberries are the sinful fruit of the Sambucus nigra. This small shrub is native to Europe and has the most stunning white micro-flowers when in bloom. The berries are a deep, luscious, dark purple and are about 0.3-0.5cm in diameter.

The fruit itself is poisonous when unripe and all green parts of the plant are poisonous too! The elderberries themselves are edible only after cooking as the heat denatures come of the poisonous compounds thereby rendering them harmless.

The Nom-nom Factor

The elderberry has wide range of culinary applications throughout Europe. The flower of the elderflower is common in many soft drink beverages. Along with the berries, the flowers can also be used to make wine and some premium liqueurs. The berries are used to make jams, sauces and chutneys while parts of Scandinavia use the berries to make a traditional soup.

The only challenge is consuming it in a way that delivers all the nutritional benefits. As earlier mentioned, this is a fruit that is only edible when cooked and cooking tends to denature some of the powerful anti-oxidants found in the fruit. It may be wise to consume elderberry extract or elderberry syrup if you’re looking to get the most nutritional value from this fruit.

Elderberry: The Fruits of Ancient European Medicine

Elderberries seem to be more medicinal than nutritional. For many centuries, they have been used in the treatment of wounds, respiratory illnesses and stomach disorders.According to Pagan folklore, the elderberry has some seriously bad mojo. Back in the day, people believed the berries were capable of bringing on a host of negative omens. For example, sleeping directly under the fruit-bearing tree was thought to bring dreams of death1! Destroying or burning the wood from this plant practically guaranteed a visit from evil spirits…spooky stuff.

Of course, while this is all very interesting and enlightening, we really want to find out what gives the elderberry its super fruit status. Is it well deserved? How does it compare to other super fruits in this regard?

Elderberry Research from the Lab

Immune boosting. There is solid evidence to show that elderberries help boost the immune system thanks to their high content of anthocyanin, which is an immensely powerful antioxidant2. Much like the other super fruits, elderberries contain generous doses of Vitamins. You’ll find large quantities of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin A.

Anti-Cancer. Anthocyanin and carotenoids which are identified as organic compounds that exhibit antioxidant properties are thought to give elderberries their unique anti-cancer properties3. Other antioxidants found in elderberries include flavonoids and organic pigments that are believed to rid the body of free radicals and protect it from cellular damage. In fact, one study investigating a specifically formulated anthocyanin-rich compound showed a 50% reduction in tumor growth4.

Anti-inflammatory. Elderberries also seem to display anti-inflammatory properties that help a great deal when managing symptoms for inflammatory conditions like gout and arthritis5. In a scientific review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, both animal and human studies were found to support the hypothesis that elderberries have strong immunomodulatory effects8. In other words, they contain compounds that complement the immune system’s functioning. In one study, extracts given to subjects significantly reduced swelling of the joints. Perhaps more interesting, one double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial found that subjects who were given the extract displayed more viral anti-bodies than the control group.

Flu Fighter. A clinical study6 published in 1994 revealed that elderberry syrup reduced the duration and severity of flu like symptoms in patients. 93% of patients given the extract were completely free of flu like symptoms within two days while those who took a placebo recovered in about six days. Another study published more recently showed that one particular liquid elderberry extract was equally effective at preventing bacterial super-infections during a bout with flu7.

Elderberry Research References

  1. Berries as symbols and in folklore.
  2. Ozgen M, Scheerens JC, Reese RN, Miller RA. Total phenolic, anthocyanin contents and antioxidant capacity of selected elderberry (Sambucus canadensis L.) accessions. Pharmacogn Mag. 2010 Jul;6(23):198-203. PubMed [citation] PMID: 20931079, PMCID: PMC2950382
  3. Zafra-Stone S, Yasmin T, Bagchi M, Chatterjee A, Vinson JA, Bagchi D. Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Jun;51(6):675-83. Review. PubMed [citation] PMID: 17533652
  4. Bagchi D, Sen CK, Bagchi M, Atalay M. Anti-angiogenic, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic properties of a novel anthocyanin-rich berry extract formula. Biochemistry (Mosc). 2004 Jan;69(1):75-80, 1 p preceding 75. Review.PubMed [citation] PMID: 14972022
  5. Oberbaum M, Schlesinger M. “Scientifying” herbal medicine. Isr Med Assoc J. 2002 Nov;4(11 Suppl):944-6. Review. No abstract available. PubMed [citation] PMID: 12455186
  6. Kinoshita E, Hayashi K, Katayama H, Hayashi T, Obata A. Anti-influenza virus effects of elderberry juice and its fractions. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2012;76(9):1633-8. Epub 2012 Sep 7. PubMed [citation] PMID: 22972323
  7. Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, Imirzalioglu C, Domann E, Pleschka S, Hain T. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011 Feb 25;11:16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-16
  8. Borchers AT, Keen CL, Stern JS, Gershwin ME. Inflammation and Native American medicine: the role of botanicals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Aug;72(2):339-47. Review.
  • Neff Ronny

    I had no idea elderberries were poisonous without being cooked! What is the best way to prepare this super-food to keep most of its amazing nutrients? I know you can find syrups, but are there any other forms of elderberry on the market?