Historical or Traditional Use
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 to be pain relieving and to promote healing of injuries when applied as a poultice1. Native Americans used the Plant for infections, coughs and skin conditions. In folk medicine, the flowers have been used for their diuretic and laxative properties and as an astringent. Various parts of the elder have been used to treat cancer and host of other unrelated disorders1.
The flavonoids, including quercetin, are believed to account for the therapeutic effects of the elderberry flowers and berries. According to laboratory research, an extract from the leaves, combined with St. John’s Wort and soapwort, inhibits the influenza virus and herpes simplex virus2. A study in humans determined that an extract of elderberries is an effective treatment for influenza3.
How Much Should You Take?
Liquid elderberry extract is taken in amounts of 5 ml (for children) to 10 ml (for adults) twice per day. A tea made from 3-5 grams of the dried flowers steeped in 250ml (cup) boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes may also be drunk three times per day.
One report of severe illness following the ingestion of juice prepared from elderberries has been recorded by the Centers for Disease Control.7 Persons attending a picnic who ingested several glasses of juice made from berries picked the day before reported nausea, vomiting, weakness, dizziness, numbness and stupor. One person who consumed five glasses of juice was hospitalized for stupor. All recovered. Although cyanide levels were not reported, there remains the possibility of cyanide induced toxicity in these patients. While elderberries are safe to consume, particularly when cooked (uncooked berries may produce nausea), leaves and stems should not be crushed when making elderberry juice.
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press,1985, 4232. Serkedjieva J, Manolova N, Zg6rniak-NowosieIska I, et al. Antiviral activ-icy of the infusion (SHS-174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra L., aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria offiéinalis L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses. Phytother Res 1990;4-97-100., 3. 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 1995; 1:361-69.4. Mascolo N, Autore G, Capasso G, et al. Biological screening of Italian medicinal plants for anti-inflammatory activity. Phytother Res 187;1:28-31.