By Christine Ruggeri
Elderberry has a long history of beneficial use, thought to date back to Hippocrates, who described, in essence, the plant as Nature’s health go-to because of its health benefits and versatility.
Today, the elder plant is recognized as an immune-supporting constituent that promotes overall health. It’s one of the most popular supplements in the natural wellness space — and for good reason.
What Is Elderberry?
Elderberry, or elder, is a species of Sambucus, a genus of flowering plants that belong to the Adoxaceae family. Both the berries and flowers of the elder plant can be used for health benefits. There are several varieties of elder cultivated for both health and culinary purposes, but Sambucus nigra is the most common.
The nutrition profile of elderberry fruit is quite impressive. It features flavonoids with powerful antioxidant properties and anthocyanidins, which are chemical compounds known for their immune-boosting effects. Together, these compounds are capable of supporting overall health and wellness.
Elderberries are also rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B6, iron and potassium, among several other essential nutrients.
Research on the Sambucus nigra plant has been conducted for the last 20 years, highlighting its antioxidant benefits and its unique performance. Perhaps most noteworthy is the plant’s immune-boosting potential, which explains why it’s become so popular within the wellness industry.
Here’s a breakdown of the plant and the berry’s top potential benefits:
1. Supports a Healthy Immune System
One of the most well-researched elderberry benefits is its ability to support a healthy immune system. The berries contain chemical compounds called anthocyanidins, which are the same pigmented antioxidants found in blueberries and cherries. These compounds have general immune-boosting effects, helping to boost your immune system’s natural response into gear when needed.
An often-cited major study showed that elderberry supplementation was able to perform well in immune systems. And elderberry use also showed high performance in another placebo-controlled study.
2. Contains Antioxidants
Elderberries have been consumed for centuries because of their impressive antioxidant profile. They contain quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant found in some of the healthiest foods, including blueberries, broccoli and leafy greens.
Quercetin is considered one of the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet and it’s known for its ability to act as a potent antioxidant while supporting a healthy response to inflammation.
Elderberries also contain anthocyanidins, an immune-supporting antioxidant that’s praised for its potent antioxidant effects. These antioxidant and healthy inflammation-supporting properties help to support healthy immunity and may help to support a healthy respiratory system, although more studies need to be conducted.
3. Helps Promote Healthy Digestive Function
Consuming elderberry may promote healthy digestive transit time and digestive health. While more studies need to be conducted, there are studies suggesting that it is beneficial in those key areas.
4. Supports Skin Health
Have you seen elderberry in skin health products? Recently, the herb has been used in body and skin care products because of its antioxidant properties and vitamin A content. Some researchers suspect that antioxidants in elder may promote the skin’s healthy structure, while boosting overall skin health.
5. May Support Heart Health
The studies on this potential elderberry benefit are mixed and more studies, including human clinical studies, need to be done, but there is some evidence that the presence of polyphenols may help with overall heart health.
Again, the antioxidant properties of elderberry may work to benefit overall quality of life because of its impact on so many body functions.
How to Use
Elderberry supplements come in many forms, with the most popular being capsules, gummies, teas and syrups. Let’s dive a little deeper into the ways to use elderberry and how they differ:
- Elderberry capsules: Capsules are made with elderberry extract. A good quality elderberry extract undergoes a fermentation process that breaks down the compounds within the herb and supports absorbency. It can then be combined with a tough probiotic strain, like it is in our Elderberry + Probiotics product, to deliver an immune-boosting and gut-supporting combination.
- Elderberry syrup: Elderberry syrup is made by simmering elderberries in water. An elderberry syrup will typically contain more ingredients than a capsule in order to create the sweet flavor and syrupy texture. Most will contain thickeners and natural preservatives, like potassium sorbate.
- Elderberry gummies: Elderberry gummies are usually made with syrup and gelatin, which acts as the sticky adhesive that keeps it together.
- Elderberry teas: Dried elderberries and flowers are simmered in hot water to make tea. To make your own, use one tablespoon of berries and flower for every eight ounces of water. You can also add honey, lemon, cinnamon or mint for flavor.
Although there is no specific time of day to take elderberry, you’ll maximize its benefits by using it consistently on a regular basis. You can choose whether to use it morning, afternoon or evening. It may be best to use elderberry for short periods of time to support healthy immune function, and then take a break.
The best times to supplement with elderberry are generally during seasonal changes, during extended periods of travel and when you’re feeling like you need a boost.
It’s also worth mentioning that sticking to a healthy, well-balanced diet, moving your body regularly and getting enough rest are lifestyle factors that will positively impact your results from all supplements, including elderberry.
You should always consult your healthcare professional before starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplements such as elderberry. Always follow label directions and suggested use guidelines.
- Elderberry extract is getting plenty of attention in the wellness space in the last few years, as more research points to its antioxidant and support for healthy inflammation potential.
- The berries from elder are known for their ability to support a healthy immune system by helping to support a healthy response to inflammation and oxidative stress.
- The best elderberry supplement will be made with high-quality elderberries, fermented to help increase absorption and even combined with tough strains of probiotics to boost gut health, which we know largely impacts immune function.
Christine is a writer and nutrition counselor based in New York. She's worked for Ancient Nutrition and the Dr. Axe team for five years. She has a degree in Education with a concentration in English from Iona College, and received her health coach certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.