March 1, 2019
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Emma Stafford, APN-C contributes to topics such as Integrative Health & Medicine.
By Natalee Ruddock-Gorousingh
Getting the flu or a bad cold is just awful. In addition to making sure you get your flu shot every year, which is the most effective method of prevention, there’s a natural tool that you can keep in your medicine cabinet that may help provide some additional relief – elderberry.
Although elderberry has been around for centuries, it has recently catapulted into the spotlight, but why? First, let’s look at the background of the plant, then talk through how it might benefit our health.
What is elderberry?
Elderberry is a plant from a tree known as the Sambucus nigra. Widely grown in Europe, it is also commonly found in North America. Low in calories and packed with vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber – elderberry was considered a holy tree in the middle ages – capable of restoring and maintaining good health and supporting a long life. The elderberry plant consists of berries and flowers. The ripe berry is tart and is typically sweet, but should only be consumed if cooked. It is important to note that raw berries are poisonous and dangerous if consumed.
What are the health benefits of elderberry?
Emma Stafford, APN-C, an integrative medicine nurse practitioner at Hackensack Meridian Health sings high praises for elderberry because of its many benefits.
“Elderberry can help clear sinus infections, it’s also a natural diuretic and laxative and can ease symptoms of allergies,” Stafford says. “The flowers can be placed in tea, eaten raw or cooked – it is entirely up to personal preference. Although the berries are dangerous to eat raw, the flowers are perfectly fine,” she adds.
Some other benefits include:
- The potential to shorten the duration of the cold and flu. A small study showed symptoms lasted half as long as they normally do with consuming elderberries.*
- Elderberries are low in calories, high in vitamin C and dietary fiber and packed with antioxidants known to help reduce stress.
- They may help protect against viral infections by boosting your immune system.
- Studies have also suggested that it improves cardiovascular health, though research is still underway.
How should you consume elderberry?
It is recommended that you start taking elderberry once you have symptoms. Elderberries can be consumed in various forms such as syrup, tea, jam, juice, wine and pies. The most commonly used method to consume elderberries is through a syrup. Elderberry can be purchased in a medicinal syrup form at most drug stores.
If you are consuming elderberry tea, Stafford recommends 1-3 cups daily, if your preference is the syrup – check the product details for recommended dosage, eating the flowers – no more than 8 daily.
Elderberry does not require a prescription from your doctor.
Are there risks?
While there are some benefits to elderberries, there are some risks. Some people have experienced symptoms related to diarrhea and headaches. Stafford also warns against using elderberry on a long-term basis. “Elderberry should not be taken for more than five days since studies of long term use have not been done.”
Individuals 18 years and younger and lactating mothers are encouraged to check with their doctor before consuming elderberry.
It’s important to keep in mind that the use of elderberries should not replace your flu shot. Flu shots are the best defense against getting the flu!
Emma Stafford is a board certified adult holistic nurse practitioner with Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine. Learn more about Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine.
If you can’t kick your cold or infection, Hackensack Meridian Health has several convenient care options, including urgent care and retail locations as well as telemedicine. Learn more, or find a location near you.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
*Findings may need to be confirmed in a larger study.