The Many Benefits Of Elderberry

I hope you’re having a fantastic summer!  With the new school year about to get underway and with cold and flu season just around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to share some information about a great herbal medicine called Elderberry.

Elderberry is the common name for a group of flowering plants that belong to the genus ‘Sambucus’.  There are many types of Sambucus species, but we commonly use Sambucus nigra, which means ‘Black Elderberry’ or ‘Black Elder’.  Black Elderberry is the most common type of elderberry that is found in Europe and North America.  Black Elderberry is also the type of elderberry that is most commonly used in Elderberry supplements.

Black Elderberry has been utilized as an herbal medicine for centuries to treat colds, influenza, sinusitis, and more.  The berries were traditionally used to make elderberry wine, pies, and flavourings.  Elderberry is now one of the most widely-used plant medicines worldwide!  Studies suggest elderberry can improve mood and reduce body weight, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and more.  Elderberry has also  been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory, immune stimulating, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties.    Elderberry has recently garnered a lot of attention for its treatment of colds and flus and there have been many studies proving Elderberry’s efficacy in treating upper respiratory tract infections, and more.

When used correctly, elderberry supplements have a great safety profile and minimal reports of side effects.  However, not all parts of the Elderberry plant are safe to consume.  In fact, there are only two species (including Black Elderberry) of elderberry flowers that are considered to be safe by the USDA.  Uncooked berries can result in vomiting and diarrhea and the elderberry leaves, stems, flowers, and roots can contain poisonous alkaloids.  Because of this, it’s important to mention that standardized elderberry supplements are a much safer option than ‘home remedies’ or ‘home-made’ elderberry products.  

Elderberry contains many different nutrients, including many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and flavonoids.  Flavonoids are phytonutrients that are found in many fruits and vegetables and give them their colours.  Flavonoids stimulate the immune system by increasing production of cytokines.  The flavonoids in elderberry have been shown to boost the immune system and have antimicrobial and antiviral properties.  Some of the most important antiviral flavonoids in the elderberry plant are:
1) Kaempferol
2) Quercetin
3) Epicatechin

Another set of compounds that are responsible for elderberry’s antiviral properties are Sambucus Nigra Agglutinins, aka “SNAs” These compounds are anti-viral and they prevent pathogens from binding to cells.  Elderberry has been shown to inhibit the influenza virus from attaching to our cells and these “SNAs” are one of the main ways Elderberry achieves this.

In one study, Zakay-Rones et al. (2004), showed that patients with influenza who took a black elderberry supplement had symptomatic improvement in only 2 to 4 dayscompared to the untreated group that saw improvements in influenza symptoms in 7 to 8 days.  This study also found that the group that supplemented with elderberry used significantly less medications to manage their symptoms.

A more recent study by Tiralongo et al. (2016) had subjects take elderberry extract before and after air travel to prevent cold & flu symptoms.  Elderberry supplementation was found to reduce the duration of colds & flus by 2 days.  The subjects taking elderberry also had significantly lower severity of cold & flu symptoms.  In addition, the treatment group did not experience a drop in their physical health while travelling, which had occurred in the untreated group.

Elderberry continues to be a very widely-used herbal medicine around the world, and for good reason.  It has traditionally been used to stimulate the immune system and treat colds and flus.  Studies are now proving what many have known for thousands of years – that elderberry has antiviral properties capable of reducing the duration and severity of colds, flus, and other viral infections.  At our Naturopathic Clinic, we are emphasizing the importance of immune support with all of our patients before we enter the cold and flu season.  If you would like to discuss how to strengthen and support your immune system with a Naturopathic Doctor, please contact our clinic.

Yours in health,

Dr. Michael Morsillo, H.B.Sc., N.D.
Newmarket Naturopathic Doctor

16655 Yonge St., Newmarket, ON
905-898-1844 ext. 135



1) Zakay-Rones, Z et al. 2004. Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections.  Journal of International Medical Research 32: 132-140.

2) Tiralongo E, et al. 2016. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients 8: 182.