Elderberry: The Superfood Worthy of Respect
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If elderberry sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve probably seen it as syrup at your local pancake house, a sweet wine at a spirits shop, or in your pharmacy’s supplement section. Here’s everything you need to know about this increasingly popular supplement.
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What is Elderberry?
A dark purple berry from the European elder tree, elderberries can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked into jams and pies. The most popular edible variety Sambucus Nigra or Black Elderberry comes from the Sambucus shrub, whose drupes grow in delicate clusters holding hundreds of deep violet berries. Elderberry is currently a popular ingredient in a host of products, from healthy teas to swanky liqueurs.
Why is it so popular? Raw elderberries boast some lofty nutritional content including:
- Vitamin B-6
- Dietary Fiber
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
What are the Health Benefits of Elderberry?
People have relied on elderberry for medicinal purposes for centuries. Commonly used as a homeopathic cold remedy, regular consumption of elderberry may also have health benefits.
Elderberry contains flavonoids
We consulted Atlanta area Registered Dietitian Dr. Nina Hall RDN, LD of Nina’s Nutritional Values, to find out more about the health benefits of elderberry.
“We get the phytochemicals our bodies need from the foods eat. Not only does working elderberry into your diet help meet your daily fiber needs, but it also provides essential vitamins and minerals,” said Hall.
Flavonoids are found in nearly all fruits and vegetables, as well as the products we make from them — like tea and wine. Regular consumption of foods containing flavonoids may have health benefits.
While much of the research remains preliminary, some studies suggest elderberry may have some additional beneficial properties. Further research is needed.
Elderberry may be good for colds
Elderberry doesn’t necessarily help prevent a cold or the flu. A study of 312 air travelers found that after taking a supplement containing 300 mg of elderberry extract three times daily, those who got sick had less severe symptoms and were ill for a shorter period than those who did not. While more research is needed, these initial findings are definitely interesting.
Are There Risks Associated with Elderberry?
Dr. Hall notes that any substance which affects the body raises a certain level of concern and could complicate existing medical conditions; elderberry is no exception.
Exercise caution when preparing
Leave elderberry preparation to the experts. While the flowers and berries — preferably ripe and cooked — can be safely consumed, one should take caution, especially with homemade preparations, as some parts of the plant can be toxic. The safety and efficacy of home remedies are yet undetermined.
Elderberry bark, leaves, stems, and roots contain sambunigrin, a potentially toxic compound which is known to release cyanide. This substance is likely responsible for a few cases of elderberry juice poisonings on record. Some of which sourced from homemade elderberry juice where little care was taken to exclude leaves and stems from the mixture.
It is rare for elderberry to cause an allergic reaction. Poorly prepared or under-ripe elderberries can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. So purchase your elderberry supplements from a reputable retailer.
Ask your doctor before supplementing
Hall recommends looking to dark berries, like elderberry, to supplement a healthy diet, with a few caveats. She suggests consulting a medical professional before introducing any new supplement to your routine.
“It’s important to get additional information about how a particular supplement could interact with anything you are already taking,” she says. “I wouldn’t recommend elderberry to persons who take immunosuppressant medications, so those with autoimmune disease or people that have had organ transplants should probably steer clear.”
More research is needed to support recommending elderberry to both pregnant women and children.
Where Can You Find Elderberry
Fresh, raw elderberries may be challenging to find at your everyday grocery store, but you may be able to find them at smaller stores that specialize in organic produce. Dried elderberries, teas, and supplements are more common and are available at brick and mortar retailers as well as Amazon. Here are a few popular elderberry items available on Amazon:
- An Evidence-based Systematic Review Of Elderberry and Elderflower (sambucus Nigra) By the Natural Standard Research Collaboration www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24409980
- Fooddata Central Search Results fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171727/nutrients
- Advanced Research on the Antioxidant and Health Benefit Of Elderberry (sambucus Nigra) in Food – a Review www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614002400
- Anthocyanidins and Anthocyanins: Colored Pigments As Food, Pharmaceutical Ingredients, and the Potential Health Benefits www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5613902/
- Edible Flowers: A Rich Source Of Phytochemicals with Antioxidant and Hypoglycemic Properties www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26270801
- Flavonoids: an Overview www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28620474
- A Review Of the Antiviral Properties Of Black Elder (sambucus Nigra L.) Products www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28198157
- Elderberry www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501835/
- Poisoning from Elderberry Juice -- California www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00000311.htm