When early European settlers came to the Americas, they only brought with them the essentials — axes, shovels, livestock, as well as agricultural and medicinal plants and seeds. One of their favorites was the European elder plant (Sambucus nigra), a flowering shrub that produces delicious berries. Europeans used these elderberries since ancient times to make wine, pies, jam, and medicine.
A sixteenth-century doctor called the elder plant “the medicine chest of the people,” so when these colonists arrived to North America, they must have been pleasantly surprised to find indigenous elder plants (Sambucus canadensis) were already in use by the Native Americans. In fact, people from both sides of the Atlantic had been using elderberries for centuries to alleviate a wide range of ailments.
What Do Elderberries Do?
To this day, elderberries are often used as an alternative or a complementary remedy to support the natural process of recovery. Scientific studies have started to verify what traditional healers and classical physicians observed for generations — that people who took elderberry supplements experienced a reduction of the severity and duration of their cold or flu. The nutritious and antioxidant-rich berries are especially good at supporting upper respiratory health, but also support a healthy heart, circulatory system, brain, and eyes.
How Do Elderberries Work?
Elderberries are packed with phytonutrients that benefit our health in many ways.
Some of the nutrients in elderberries include:
- Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B9, C and E
- Minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium
- Anthocyanins, carotenoids, phytosterols, and polyphenols
Anthocyanins are a type of pigment found in certain plants that make them look red, purple, blue, or black. And, you guessed it, dark purple elderberries are packed full of these compounds. Anthocyanins are not only powerful antioxidants, but research indicates that some of these compounds found in elderberries may also help prevent viruses from invading our cells and help block them from replicating. This is thought to be one of the key mechanisms by which the berries shorten the severity and length of an illness.
Elderberries also help defend our health by supporting the release of cytokines. These are chemical messengers that the immune system uses for communication to coordinate a more efficient response against an invading bug.
Where Do Elderberries Grow?
Elder plants are prevalent in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. They grow along rivers and lakes, on the edge of forests and fields, and are a common garden shrub.
Elder bushes can grow from six to thirteen feet tall. They get covered in clusters of tiny white flowers in late spring which mature into berry clusters by the end of summer.
Can I Eat Elderberries?
Elder flowers are used to make tea and other beverages, while the berries are used for a host of recipes — from pies and jams, to syrups, lozenges, and herbal extracts. You can find plenty of elderberry recipes online, just be sure to always cook them first since uncooked berries contain toxins that can cause nausea and other digestive complaints. The leaves, stems, and other parts of the plant are considered toxic and should not be consumed.
Elderberry supplements and extracts have grown dramatically in popularity. So much so, that you can go to most supermarkets or health food stores and find elderberry products lining the shelves, especially during cold and flu season. But remember that the way a plant is grown and processed is just as important as the botanical itself.
At Pure Synergy® we use this herbal favorite in several of our formulations including: Rapid Rescue®, Organic Berry Power™, Eye Protector®, and PureNatal®. We adhere to the strictest, certified organic standards in both the growing and SuperPure® processing of our elderberry extract. After peak harvesting, the fresh berries are filtered and concentrated into a rich syrup then carefully low temperature dried into a powder to maintain all the active goodness inside. The result is a high potency elderberry extract of the finest caliber yielding a standardized percentage of the valuable immune-supporting polyphenols and anthocyanins.
Does Elderberry Interact with Medications?
Elderberry products are generally considered safe. However, since elderberries may stimulate the immune system, they may interfere with medications that tamp down the immune response. So, people taking immune-dampening drugs should avoid elderberry products.
Wherever you live, you can enjoy encountering nature’s “medicine chest” on hikes or in your garden. You can honor our ancestors by making elderberry recipes from Martha Washington’s cookbook, “The Art of Cookery.” Or you can keep it simple by taking Pure Synergy products that include elderberry, and partake of its many health benefits in a pure and potent form.