Elderberry Extract Review
Elderberry Extract is a natural compound that has been used for centuries to treat wounds. The herb – also known as elder – is taken orally and is thought to work by reducing swelling in body tissues.
What Are Elderberries?
Elderberry has more recently made headlines for its ability to fight the common cold and flu. One study showed that elderberry was nearly as effective as the flu shot when treating influenza.
Today, there are several different species of elder grown throughout the world.
However, only one species – Sambucus nigra – is typically used in medicine. Sambucus nigra is also known as European elder or black elder.
As the name suggests, the elder plant is native to Europe. Over the years, it’s also been grown in Africa and parts of Asia. More recently, it’s become widespread throughout the United States and Canada.
Another common species of elder – dwarf elder, or Sambucus ebulus – is actually toxic when ingested orally and has compounds similar to cyanide. So if you’re going foraging in the woods to make elder medicine, make sure you grab the right one.
The tree itself grows up to 30 feet fall. It can grow in wet or dry soil in sunny locations. It produces berries which start as green berries before turning red and finally black when they ripen.
Why Are Elderberries Dangerous?
Just because elder is used in medicine doesn’t mean all parts of the plant are safe to ingest. In fact, the opposite is true! Elderberries are incredibly dangerous when eaten raw and contain a chemical similar to cyanide. When ingested in large amounts, this chemical can lead to acute poisoning.
As a result, berries must be cooked before they are ingested. Avoid eating elderberries directly from the tree.
Traditional medicine uses both the berries and flowers of elderberries as medicine.
Benefits of Elderberries
When taken safely, elderberry has led to some surprising health benefits.
However, elderberry on its own has a low bioavailability. The body struggles to absorb its nutrients and flavonoids. That’s why most pharmaceutical forms of elderberry are considered to be elderberry extract. Manufacturers have taken raw, natural elderberry and extracted its ingredients into a more bioavailable formula.
Manufacturers also add additional herbs and vitamins – like vitamin C – to the formula to boost the illness-fighting properties.
Here are some of the studied benefits of this unique natural compound:
Cures Cold and Flu
Elderberry has been shown to reduce congestion, which helps to clear up cold and flu symptoms. Elderberry may also be used to increase sweating. In one study, standardized elderberry extract in the form of Sambucol was able to shorten the duration of the flu by 3 days. However, it’s important to note that Sambucol contains other herbal ingredients and vitamin C, and it’s possible that these ingredients also helped to alleviate flu symptoms with or without the help of elderberry.
The groundbreaking study on Sambucol – a black elderberry extract – was published in 2002. The study involved 60 patients who had been suffering from the flu for 48 hours or less. 90% of patients were infected with the A strain of the flu, while 10% were infected with the B strain. Half the group was instructed to take 15 milliliters of Sambucol while the other group took a placebo four times per day for five days.
93% of the patients who took Sambucol were completely symptom-free within 2 days, while those taking a placebo took an average of 6 days to recover.
You may have also read the headlines about elderberry curing swine flu: in laboratory testing, one study suggested that elderberry could kill the H1N1 virus in test tubes. However, researchers expressed doubt about the ability of elderberry to treat H1N1 in human subjects.
Treats Sinus Infections
Elderberry extract may also be used to treat sinus infections, also known as bacterial sinusitis. Patients given elderberry extract in the form of Sinupret (along with antibiotics) were able to relieve their sinus infection faster than those who just took antibiotics.
Just like with the study above, researchers weren’t sure if elderberry extract definitively cured the sinus infection: Sinupret contains other herbs, so it’s unclear whether or not elderberry extract actually helped.
How to Take Elderberry Extract
Elderberry is available in the form of a liquid, syrup, and tincture. You can also buy it from pharmacies and drug stores in the form of a capsule or lozenge.
The two most popular pharmaceutical forms of elderberry extract are:
— Sambucol: Standardized to contain 38% elderberry extract for adults and 19% for children. You take 4 tablespoons of Sambucol per day to treat colds and flus.
— Sinupret: Contains 18mg of elder flower. Dried elder flower is typically standardized to contain about 0.8% flavonoids. You take two tablets of Sinupret three times per day to treat bacterial sinusitis (sinus infection).
There’s also a third common way to take elderberry extract: in the form of a tea. Some people steep 3 to 5 grams of dried elder flower in one cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, they strain the tea and drink it three times per day. This tea can be used for its anti-inflammatory benefits, or it can be used to treat cold and flu symptoms.
Elderberry Extract Side Effects
Elderberry extract has been well-tolerated in all studies performed thus far. However, it’s important to remember that unripe and uncooked elderberries are often poisonous.
Since elderberry extract has not been extensively studied, it’s recommended that pregnant and nursing women err on the side of caution and avoid taking elderberry.
It’s also important to note that most elderberry studies have lasted for relatively short periods of time (5 to 10 days) and prolonged exposure to elderberry has not been extensively tested. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Elderberry appears to have few side effects when used properly for short periods of time (up to 5 days).”
With that in mind, you should avoid gathering elderberry on your own. Instead, buy elderberry extract made from trusted pharmaceutical manufacturers like Sambucol and Sinupret. You avoid the risk of poisoning and get to enjoy the pure, extracted benefits of the elderberry fruit.