Common names: European elderberry (black elderberry), North
Botanical name: Sambucus nigra
© Steven Foster
Parts used and where grown
Numerous species of elder or elderberry grow in Europe and North America. Only those with
blue/black berries are medicinal. The flowers and berries are both used. Species with red
berries are not medicinal.
Elderberry has been used
in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual
health concern for complete information):
Historical or traditional use (may
or may not be supported by scientific studies)
Elderberries have long been used as food, particularly in the dried form. Elderberry wine,
pie, and lemonade are some of the popular ways to prepare this plant as food. The leaves were
touted by European herbalists to be pain relieving and to promote healing of injuries when
applied as a poultice.1 Native American herbalists used the plant for infections, coughs, and skin conditions.
Flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic
actions of the elderberry flowers and berries. These flavonoids include anthocyanins that are
powerful antioxidants and protect cells
against damage according to test tube studies.2 According to laboratory research,
an extract from the leaves, combined with St.
John’s wort and soapwort, inhibits the
influenza virus and herpes simplex
virus.3 The effect on influenza of a syrup made from the berries of the black
elderberry has been studied in a small double-blind trial.4 People receiving an
elderberry extract (2 tablespoons [30 ml] per day for children, 4 tablespoons [60 ml] per day
for adults) appeared to recover faster than did those receiving a placebo. Animal studies have
shown the flowers to have anti-inflammatory properties.5 These actions have not
been verified in human clinical trials.
How much is usually taken?
A syrup of black elderberry extract (1 teaspoon–1 tablespoon [5–15 ml] for
children, 2 teaspoons–2 tablespoons [10–30 ml] for adults) can be taken twice
daily. A tea made from 1/2–1 teaspoon (3–5 grams) of the dried flowers steeped in
1 cup (250 ml) boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes may be drunk three times per
Are there any side effects or interactions?
The safe internal use of elderberry is limited to the use of the dried flowers or syrups
made from the ripe berries.7 The roots, stems, leaves, and unripe berries may
contain poisonous constituents that can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.8 Preparations containing any of
these parts of the elder plant should be avoided.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC
Press, 1985, 423.
2. Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Incorporation of the elderberry
anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free
Radical Biol Med 2000;29:51–60.
3. Serkedjieva J, Manolova N, Zgórniak-Nowosielska I, et al.
Antiviral activity of the infusion (SHS-174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra L.,
aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria officinalis
L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses. Phytother Res
4. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. Inhibition of several
strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract
(Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Alt Compl Med
5. Mascolo N, Autore G, Capasso G, et al. Biological screening of Italian
medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res
6. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal
Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 1116–7.
7. Foster S. 101 Medicinal Plants. Loveland, CO: Interweave
Press, 1998, 72–3.
8. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide
for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 104–5.