Herb Spotlight: Elderberry

Have you noticed how many people are feeling poorly this winter? It seems that every week this winter someone I know is getting sick. This makes it the perfect time of year for Winter Comfort, an immune supporting tisane. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is one of the herbs in the blend.

Elderberry is commonly used for respiratory illnesses, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections.(1) In England, this large shrub was often called “nature’s medicine chest” (2) as the flowers and berries were taken internally and the leaves and branches used for external applications. It is commonly grown in North America and is native to Europe. You will also find Elder (as it is also called) in Western Asia and North Africa.

The elder was seen as a protective plant. (3) It grows up to 25’ tall and can be found on stream and river banks and open spaces. The white-cream flowers are star-shaped and grow in clusters. Both the flowers and the berries are used in teas and tinctures with the berries also used for jam, wine, syrup, and pie. (4)

Part of this herb’s effectiveness is that it helps to reduce congestion, stimulates sweating, is mildly laxative, and diuretic. Research has shown that elderberry can block cell recognition of the H1N1 virus which prevents it from entering the cell. Elderberry can help lessen the amount of time not feeling well. (5)

Because of the compounds found in elderberries, you want to make this tea hot in order to cook the berries to enhance both the benefits of the berries and their taste. The leaves and branches are poisonous and should not be taken internally. (6) Avoid if pregnant. Be aware that the effects of elderberry may affect medications for diabetes and lupus as well as laxatives and diuretics.




(2)Balch, Phyllis, CNC. Prescription for Herbal Healing. 2nd edition. Avery. 2012. p.63

(3)Johnson, Rebecca; Foster, Steven; Low Dog, Tieraona, M.D.; and Kiefer, David, M.D. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs. National Geographic. 2010. p.71-72

(4)Common Elderberry. Retrieved on January 10, 2017. Retrieved from https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_sanic4.pdf 

(5)Elderberry. Retrieved on January 10, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/elderberry-01

(6)Fetrow, Charles W., Pharm. D. and Avila, Juan R., Pharm. D. The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines. Pocket Books. 2000. p.192