Several species of Sambucus produce elderberries. Most evidence refers to Sambucus nigra. American elder and European elder have often been studied together, since they have similar parts and uses.
European elder may grow up to 30 feet tall. It is native to Europe, but has been brought to the Americas. The flowers and leaves have been used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. They also been used to improve mucus and urine production. The leaves have been used in baths. The bark has been used to improve urine flow or bowel movements, as well as to induce vomiting. The berries have been used as food.
The flowers and blue or black berries are most often used as medicine. They contain compounds that may help treat the flu, sinus infections, or bronchitis. However, more evidence is needed. Information is lacking on the possible benefits of elder used alone.
The bark, leaves, seeds and raw fruit contain sambunigrin, a compound that may be toxic.
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Selected combination products: OptiBerry IH141 (contains wild blueberry, strawberry, cranberry, wild bilberry, elderberry, raspberry extracts), Sinupret® (contains Sambucus nigra flowers, gentian root, verbena, cowslip flower, and sorrel), Sambucol® Active Defense (contains elderberry extract, vitamin c, zinc Echinacea angustifolia, and propolis), Sambucol® Immune System (contains elderberry, Echinacea angustifolia root, Echinacea purpurea, propolis, vitamin C, zinc), Sambucol® for Kids (contains elderberry, Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia root, propolis). A phytotherapic compound contained Pimpinella anisum, Foeniculum vulgare, Sambucus nigra, and Cassia augustifolia.
Note: Several species of Sambucus produce elderberries. Most evidence refers to Sambucus nigra. Other species with similar chemical parts include the American elder or common elder (Sambucus canadensis), antelope brush (Sambucus tridentata), blue elderberry (Sambucus caerulea), danewort (Sambucus ebulus), dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus), red-fruited elder (Sambucus pubens, Sambucus racemosa), and Sambucus formosana. American elder (S. canadensis) and European elder (S. nigra) have often been studied together, since they have similar parts and uses.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Early research suggests that elder may have antiviral benefits. One study found that elderberry juice may improve flu symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough, and aches, in less than half the usual recovery time of the flu. However, the study was small, and it should be noted that the berries must be cooked to prevent nausea or poisoning. In another study, elderberry appeared to improve cough, fever, headache, mucus discharge, muscle aches, and nasal congestion. More research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.
Evidence on the use of elder alone for bronchitis is lacking. The combination product Sinupret®, which contains elder, has been used to treat acute bronchitis and sinus infection. There is some evidence that Sinupret® may have benefits for this condition compared to other medications. More information is needed.
Early study suggests that a combination product containing elder may help treat chronic constipation in as little as two days. More research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.
Elder has been used in combination with other products to reduce gum disease and inflammation. Significant results were seen four days after treatment. A combination mouthwash containing elder significantly decreased gum disease when used three times daily for 14 days. Further study is needed on the possible effects of elder alone.
Heart disease prevention
Early study suggests that long-term elderberry use may lack heart health benefits in postmenopausal women. More research is needed in this area.
Evidence on the use of elder alone as a treatment for high cholesterol is lacking. One study reports that elder may have benefits for people with this condition. However, more research is needed in this area.
Limited study has looked at elder for sinus infection in humans. Combination products containing elder (such as Sinupret®) have been reported to have benefits when used with antibiotics. Research suggests that such products may help improve swelling, drainage, headache, and nasal congestion. More evidence is needed on the possible benefits of elder alone.
Elderberry has been studied for possible weight loss benefits. A significant difference has been seen in body weight, blood pressure, and quality of life. However, further study is needed before conclusions may be made.