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The Ultimate Guide to Elderberry

May 03, 2021 8 min read

The Ultimate Guide to Elderberry

Elderberry is one of the oldest and most widely used plants in traditional medicine. And, with a renewed focus on immune health, the plant's popularity has surged exponentially in recent times.

What is elderberry exactly, and (more importantly) why is it so popular and held in high regard?

We’ll discuss that and a whole lot more as we take a deep dive into all things elderberry!

What is Elderberry?

Elderberries come from several different varieties of the Sambucus tree, a flowering plant belonging to the Adoxaceae family that is native to Europe. [1] 

The most common type (and the form you’ll find used in most dietary supplements) is Sambucus nigra, known as the black elder or European elderberry.

The berries and flowers of these Sambucus trees are edible; however, elderberries need to be cooked before consumed. In their raw state, elderberries are toxic and can lead to unwanted GI effects, including nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. [1,2]

Once cooked, the berries have a very tart flavor.

While the berries need to be cooked before ingestion, the flowers can be eaten raw or cooked and have a delicate muscat aroma. [2]

Why Do People Use Elderberry?

Over the centuries, traditional medicine practitioners and healers have used the flowers and leaves of the elderberry tree as a natural remedy for [1]:

  • Inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Pain Relief

Parts of the plant (including the leaves and bark) have been used as a natural diuretic and thermogenic agent to help stimulate urine production and induce sweating. [1,2] 

Other medicinal uses for the berries and their juice include:

  • Nerve Pain
  • Sciatica
  • Heart Pain
  • Dental Pain
  • Laxative

And, as you probably know, elderberries also have a long history of use for addressing cold and flu symptoms. [3,4]

Elderberries contain a wide variety of bioactive chemicals, including anthocyanins (primarily cyanidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-sambubioside), which support immune function and exhibit anti-viral effects. [5,6] 

As such, elderberry supplementation has become a popular dietary supplement for upper respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, nasal congestion, nasal discharge, sore throat, etc.).

What Are the Benefits of Elderberry?

Elderberry supplements are fairly ubiquitous these days, and when you consider the long history of use of the ingredient, it makes sense.

But what does the research have to say specifically about elderberry supplements?

Let’s discuss!

High in Micronutrients

Like other berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.), elderberries are nutritional powerhouses, rife with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including: 

  • Vitamin C
  • Fiber
  • Antioxidants -- quercetin, kaempferol, and other phenolic acids
  • Anthocyanins -- cyanidin 3-glucoside (C3G) and cyanidin 3-sambubioside

As you likely know, antioxidants are essential molecules found in nature and produced by the body that can neutralize reactive molecules like reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). 

Research indicates that diets high in antioxidants may help combat oxidative stress induced by free radicals, and by extension, reduce the likelihood for chronic disease brought on by oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. [7,8]

Interestingly, some research indicates that elderberry is one of the most effective antioxidants. [9,10]

May Reduce Cold & Flu Symptoms

Far and away, the most common reason an individual would supplement with elderberry (or even consider the possibility of using it) is for its history of use in reducing symptoms associated with infections.

So, what does science say?

Overall, the research is positive as various studies note that elderberry extracts have been shown to reduce the severity and duration of influenza. [11,12]

A 2016 study found that individuals supplementing 300 mg of elderberry extract three times per day helped reduce cold duration and severity significantly. [13]

A recent 2019 meta-analysis concluded that:

"Supplementation with a standardized elderberry extract is significantly effective at reducing the total duration and severity of upper respiratory symptoms, as compared to a placebo group. The effect of elderberry supplementation is larger among cases of the flu than the common cold, but supplementation successfully reduces the symptoms regardless of an underlying cause." [1] 

One reason that elderberries may help reduce symptoms associated with the common cold and flu is their inhibitory effects against various microorganisms.[14] Elderberries are also known to possess immunomodulatory effects, and studies indicate that the plant may stimulate the immune systems of the weak or immune-compromised.

Supports Cardiometabolic Health

Since elderberries are high in antioxidants and flavonoids, including anthocyanins, they may benefit from cardiovascular and metabolic health markers.

Research indicates that elderberry juice may help reduce lipid and cholesterol. [15]

Furthermore, research has found that diets high in polyphenols and flavonoids, such as those found in elderberries, may reduce the risk of heart disease. [16] 

Anthocyanins, in particular, have been found to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease via inhibiting the inflammatory process, aiding endothelial function, and supporting NO production. [17]

Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants.

Oxidative stress is a key factor in tissue injury leading to cardiovascular disease that occurs due to an imbalance between the generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) and the body's antioxidant defense systems.

The antioxidant properties of anthocyanins include suppression of reactive species formation via enzyme inhibition or the sequestration of trace elements involved in the production of free radicals. [18] 

RONS attack molecules in the body, including DNA, lipids, and proteins, which further contribute to previously inflicted tissue damage, as well as triggering cell death pathways.

Not only do elderberries contain natural antioxidants and polyphenols, but they're also known to increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the blood plasma, including also glutathione -- a "master" antioxidant in the body. [20]

Additionally, elderberries may help lower levels of uric acid in the blood.

Uric acid is a waste byproduct formed when your body breaks down purine nucleotides, which are found in some foods. Most uric acid is excreted in the urine. However, elevated uric acid levels are associated with increased blood pressure and negative effects on heart health. [19]

Elderberries may also support blood sugar control, an escalating problem in the modern day with the reliance on packaged and processed foods high in calories and low in protein and essential micronutrients.

Specifically, elderberries are known to improve insulin secretion and improve blood sugar levels. [20]

Additional studies find that the flowers of the elderberry tree can inhibit the enzyme α-glucosidase, which may help lower blood sugar levels by limiting the number of carbohydrates digested. [21]

Takeaway

Elderberry has a long history of use in traditional medicine for treating a number of conditions, including the common cold. The berries themselves are rich in polyphenols and flavonoids, known to have a number of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory effects, supporting overall health and wellness.

Specifically, regarding the common cold, research supports its use to reduce the length and severity of cold and flu symptoms.

What’s the Best Elderberry Supplement?

As with every supplement on the market, not all products (or ingredients) are created equal. There are better quality options available to consumers than others, and with the tremendous surge in elderberry popularity, there's no shortage of suspect (poor-quality) elderberry supplements on the market.

That’s why SteelFit® uses Eldermune®.

Eldermune ®is a novel elderberry supplement containing elderberry juice concentrate combined with Sunfiber® -- a prebiotic soluble fiber. This synergistic combination of Elderberry and Sunfiber® supports whole-body immunity and digestive health while also aiding the absorption of the elderberry nutrients. 

Eldermune® contains a high elderberry concentration ratio of 65:1 (65 grams of pure elderberry fruit makes 1 gram of the elderberry concentrate).

Eldermune® is an ultra-premium concentrate free of solvents and fillers like maltodextrin, but it retains all the essential elderberry components, including polyphenols and anthocyanins.

References

  1. Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb;42:361-365. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Epub 2018 Dec 18. PMID: 30670267.
  2. Ulbricht C, Basch E, Cheung L, Goldberg H, Hammerness P, Isaac R, Khalsa KP, Romm A, Rychlik I, Varghese M, Weissner W, Windsor RC, Wortley J. An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2014 Mar;11(1):80-120. DOI: 10.3109/19390211.2013.859852. Epub 2014 Jan 10. PMID: 24409980.
  3. Blumenthal, M. (2003). The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. American Botanical Council.
  4. Roxas M., Jurenka J. (2007). Colds and influenza: A review of diagnosis and conventional, botanical, and nutritional considerations. Alternative Medicine Review,(12)25–48.
  5. Vlachojannis, J. E., Cameron, M., & Chrubasik, S. (2010). A systematic review on the sambuca fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytotherapy Research: An International Journal Devoted to Pharmacological and Toxicological Evaluation of Natural Product Derivatives, 24(1), 1-8. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.2729
  6. Knudsen, B. F., & Kaack, K. V. (2013, June). A review of human health and disease claims for elderberry (Sambucus nigra) fruit. In I International Symposium on Elderberry 1061 (pp. 121-131). DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2015.1061.12
  7. Willcox JK, Ash SL, Catignani GL. Antioxidants and prevention of chronic disease. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2004;44(4):275-95. DOI: 10.1080/10408690490468489. PMID: 15462130.
  8. Loizzo MR, Pugliese A, Bonesi M, Tenuta MC, Menichini F, Xiao J, Tundis R. Edible Flowers: A Rich Source of Phytochemicals with Antioxidant and Hypoglycemic Properties. J Agric Food Chem. 2016 Mar 30;64(12):2467-74. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b03092. Epub 2015 Aug 19. PMID: 26270801.
  9. Wu X, Gu L, Prior RL, McKay S. Characterization of anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins in some cultivars of Ribes, Aronia, and Sambucus and their antioxidant capacity. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Dec 29;52(26):7846-56. DOI: 10.1021/jf0486850. PMID: 15612766.
  10. Rupasinghe, H. P. V., & Clegg, S. (2007). Total antioxidant capacity, total phenolic content, mineral elements, and histamine concentrations in wines of different fruit sources. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 20(2), 133–137. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2006.06.008
  11. Porter RS, Bode RF. A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigra L.) Products. Phytother Res. 2017 Apr;31(4):533-554. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.5782. Epub 2017 Feb 15. PMID: 28198157.
  12. Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40. DOI: 10.1177/147323000403200205. PMID: 15080016.
  13. Tiralongo E, Wee SS, Lea RA. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(4):182. Published 2016 Mar 24. doi:10.3390/nu8040182
  14. Wermig-Morgan, J. (2020). Elderberry is anti-bacterial, anti-viral and modulates the immune system: anti-bacterial, anti-viral and immunomodulatory non-clinical (in-vitro) effects of elderberry fruit and flowers (Sambucus nigra): a systematic review.
  15. Vlachojannis, J.E., Cameron, M. and Chrubasik, S. (2010), A systematic review on the sambuca fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytother. Res., 24: 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.2729
  16. Wang X, Ouyang YY, Liu J, Zhao G. Flavonoid intake and risk of CVD: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jan 14;111(1):1-11. DOI: 10.1017/S000711451300278X. Epub 2013 Aug 16. PMID: 23953879.
  17. Reis, J.F., Monteiro, V.V.S., de Souza Gomes, R. et al. Action mechanism and cardiovascular effect of anthocyanins: a systematic review of animal and human studies.J Transl Med 14, 315 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-016-1076-5
  18. Pagano PJ, Chanock SJ, Siwik DA, Colucci WS, Clark JK. Angiotensin II induces p67phox mRNA expression and NADPH oxidase superoxide generation in rabbit aortic adventitial fibroblasts. Hypertension. 1998;32:331–7.
  19. Hwu CM, Lin KH. Uric acid and the development of hypertension. Med Sci Monit. 2010 Oct;16(10):RA224-30. PMID: 20885365.
  20. Sidor, A., & Gramza-Michałowska, A. (2015). Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review. Journal of Functional Foods, 18, 941–958. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2014.07.012
  21. Loizzo MR, Pugliese A, Bonesi M, Tenuta MC, Menichini F, Xiao J, Tundis R. Edible Flowers: A Rich Source of Phytochemicals with Antioxidant and Hypoglycemic Properties. J Agric Food Chem. 2016 Mar 30;64(12):2467-74. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b03092. Epub 2015 Aug 19. PMID: 26270801. 

Rob Kaufman
Rob Kaufman

As a former collegiate athlete, I’ve has always had a passion for all things health and wellness. SteelFit® is a culmination of all my years of education, training, and passion combined. I create, formulate, and educate daily. I am always thinking of how to give our customers the latest and greatest products to help them achieve their goals. Some of my best ideas come when I’m at the gym. When I’m not doing all those, I love spending time with my wife Jessica, my son Logan, our three puppies, and playing daily fantasy sports. I love to travel and am always up for a good cheat meal.



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