6 Powerful Elderberries Benefits

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Zemira Barnes (MS)

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The important health benefits of elderberries include their ability to alleviate allergies, boost the immune system, protect against bacteria and infection, help with weight loss, and moderate the digestive process.

What are Elderberries?

Elderberries are the fruit of the flowering plant known as Sambucus, more commonly referred to as elder or elderflower. The full scientific name of the most common variant, from which we get the majority of our elderberries, is Sambucus nigra. You will primarily find elderberries in the Northern hemisphere, particularly in Europe and North America, although some southern species are grown in Australia.

The berries are black or very dark blue and have a sharp, sweet flavor that makes them highly preferred for desserts, syrups, jams, jellies, spreads, and as the base for various cocktails and beverages. Many people think that they lend this scientific name to Sambuca, but in fact, that is not true. Elderberry wine is very popular and can be made quite simply at home.

Fresh elderberries on a leaf on a wooden table

Elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutritional Value

According to USDA National Nutrient Database, elderberries are packed with nutrients including minerals like iron, potassium, phosphorus, and copper, as well as vitamins, such as vitamin A, B, and C, as well as proteins and dietary fiber. Add some of the beneficial organic compounds that function as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents in the body, and you have one powerful berry!

Nutrition Facts

Elderberries, raw
Serving Size :
Water [g]79.8
Energy [kcal]73
Energy [kJ]305
Protein [g]0.66
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.5
Ash [g]0.64
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]18.4
Fiber, total dietary [g]7
Calcium, Ca [mg]38
Iron, Fe [mg]1.6
Magnesium, Mg [mg]5
Phosphorus, P [mg]39
Potassium, K [mg]280
Sodium, Na [mg]6
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.11
Copper, Cu [mg]0.06
Selenium, Se [µg]0.6
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]36
Thiamin [mg]0.07
Riboflavin [mg]0.06
Niacin [mg]0.5
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.14
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.23
Folate, total [µg]6
Folate, food [µg]6
Folate, DFE [µg]6
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]30
Vitamin A, IU [IU]600
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.02
16:0 [g]0.02
18:0 [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.08
18:1 [g]0.08
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.25
18:2 [g]0.16
18:3 [g]0.09
Tryptophan [g]0.01
Threonine [g]0.03
Isoleucine [g]0.03
Leucine [g]0.06
Lysine [g]0.03
Methionine [g]0.01
Cystine [g]0.02
Phenylalanine [g]0.04
Tyrosine [g]0.05
Valine [g]0.03
Arginine [g]0.05
Histidine [g]0.02
Alanine [g]0.03
Aspartic acid [g]0.06
Glutamic acid [g]0.1
Glycine [g]0.04
Proline [g]0.03
Serine [g]0.03
Sources include : USDA

Health Benefits of Elderberries

Elderberries have many health benefits. Let us look at some of them in detail:

Aid in Digestion

Dr. Paulo D Picon and his team of researchers published a report in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine that stated that although most fruits and vegetables can help hit our fiber goals for the day, few fruits can boast more than 40% of our daily requirements for fiber in a single serving. Elderberries are packed with dietary fiber that can help eliminate constipation, reduce excess gas, and generally increase the health of your gastrointestinal system. Fiber can also help increase the nutrient uptake efficiency in your gut so you get more out of your food!

Improve Heart Health

A study published in the Phytotherapy Research revealed that high fiber levels in elderberries help eliminate excess cholesterol from the system and make room for HDL (good) cholesterol that the body needs. This can help eliminate the chances of developing atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular issues. Additionally, a diet rich in flavonoids like anthocyanins has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease. The high level of potassium in elderberries also protects the heart by relaxing the tension of blood vessels and arteries. As a vasodilator, potassium can significantly reduce blood pressure and keep your heart healthy!

Improve Respiratory Health

When it comes to clearing up a sore throat, a cough, cold, bronchitis, or any other issue that affects your respiratory system, elderberry juice might be your best choice. Like many cough syrups, elderberry syrup contains active ingredients (bioflavonoids like anthocyanins, to be exact) that can soothe inflammation and irritation. The syrup also acts as an expectorant and clear out phlegm that can trap foreign agents in your glands. Elderberry has been credited with reducing swelling in the mucous membrane, relieving nasal congestion. Elderberry juice is even recommended for people with asthma. According to a study in the Journal of International Medical Research, flu patients who were given a dosage of elderberry syrup recovered in 3-4 days earlier than those who were not given these supplements.

Boost Immunity

Elderberry syrup has certain antibacterial and anti-infectious qualities and is very commonly used to ward off influenza during bad seasons where it seems like everyone is catching it. Furthermore, elderberries can protect against the effects of autoimmune disorders, even alleviating certain symptoms and the associated pain of AIDS. A 2011 paper published in the Romanian Biotechnological Letters, cited a study in which rats who were given elderberry polyphenols were found to aid immune defenses by raising the number of WBCs.

Improve Bone Health

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds found in elderberries can help alleviate joint pain and soreness from inflammation. The high levels of essential minerals help promote bone strength and the development of new bone tissue. Osteoporosis is a condition that millions of people face in the later years of their life, but increasing bone density during your younger years can delay the onset considerably.

An infographic on the health benefits of elderberries

Native Americans and European herbalists have long used elderberries for their health benefits. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Skin Care

Elderberry makes its way into a lot of cosmetic applications, primarily because the bioflavonoids in elderberries can boost your skin health. The antioxidant activity, combined with its significant levels of vitamin A, make elderberries perfect for preventing or lessening wrinkles, helping age spots to fade, and generally improving the glow and tone of your body’s largest and most visible organ!

Weight Loss

With the high level of dietary fiber, combined with the metabolism-speeding effects of a solid vitamin and mineral injection, elderberries aid in weight loss. The fiber keeps you feeling full, the low-calorie count doesn’t affect your intake too much, and you get dozens of other health benefits as well! Elderberry extract contains compounds called anthocyanins that work to stabilize the metabolism. Anthocyanins can help regulate the balance of glucose, lipids, amino acids, and control inflammation in the body, impacting the management or prevention of obesity.

Elderberries Side Effects 

The major side effects of elderberries include the following.

  • Since most of the berries in the genus Sambucus are toxic, caution is suggested and cooking the elderberries before consuming is always a wise choice. The branches, leaves, and twigs of all species contain trace elements of cyanide, which can build up in your body and eventually kill you, so be careful! Considering that so few species are edible, don’t pick wild elderberries and it is always wise to find elderberries in a licensed and reputable store.
  • Furthermore, being allergic to plants in the honeysuckle family is not uncommon, so be careful about being up-to-date on your food allergies before adding elderberries to your diet.
  • Finally, they are known to act as diuretics for some people, so if you are already struggling with kidney problems, then elderberries may exacerbate them.

However, despite the implicit risks of elderberries, they are packed with beneficial nutrients, so they have been a part of traditional medicine for hundreds of years, and some of the health benefits have even made it to the mainstream.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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