Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on Dec 7, 2022 10:49:30 AM
Elderberry syrups and tinctures have been used around the world for centuries, by adults and children alike. What is so special about this popular remedy?
When properly sourced and prepared, the elderberry (sambucus nigra) is a beneficial source of vitamins, minerals, and a variety of powerful antioxidants. Its long history of use has made elderberry products a go-to for supporting immune function and reducing upper respiratory discomforts.*
A small, round, blackish purple berry, the elderberry is generally considered safe to use when fully ripe and properly cooked. It is widely available now, not just in its native regions of North America and Europe, but around the globe. However, those who grow and prepare elderberry syrups and tinctures at home need to be cautious; using the berries when under-ripe or uncooked is paradoxically toxic due to their cyanide compounds.
Preparations of elderberry commonly include tinctures, syrups, gummies, or dissolvable tablets—all generally child-friendly formats. The berry itself is slightly sweet and bitter, so it is often sweetened for palatability, particularly for children. Always pay attention to the sugar content on ingredient labels.
In 400 BC, Hippocrates, known historically as the Father of Medicine, referred to elderberry as his “medicine chest”, due to its many applications in health and wellness. Native Americans used this indigenous berry to fight infections and as a general tonic for health and vitality, highlighting its effectiveness and safety in long-term use.
In traditional Chinese Medicine, elderberry is called jie gu mu and is believed to release the exterior, clear heat, dispel wind, resolve damp, tonify the lungs, and expel phlegm. Generally speaking, it is used to strengthen respiratory function, which aligns with its most common indications for use in western healthcare.
Elderberry is a complex plant, full of active compounds and antioxidants that are now being identified and studied using modern science. Although the leaves, stems, and roots are always considered toxic, the ripe berries are safe for consumption and have many benefits.
Like all plants, we are still discovering and mapping the active and inactive compounds found inside the elderberry. Because of the beneficial synergy within the elderberry, it is used not only in dietary supplements but as a safe coloring and flavoring agent in processed food and beverage products.
Despite elderberry’s long history of usage in children, there is arguably a lack of clinical research to substantiate it. While research in adults generally indicates it is safe to use and often shows benefit in shortening or reducing respiratory symptoms, more studies are needed to clarify safety and efficacy in pediatric populations.*
Dosing varies by product formulation, usually around 150 mg daily for children in lozenge form, such as immuni-z + elderberry, which combines elderberry with zinc and Vitamin D for immune support or 50 mg daily as part of a children’s multivitamin like Mightiest Vite.
Long-term, daily use of elderberry supplements is also sparsely documented in children, though it traditionally and observationally seems well tolerated. In a 2020 randomized controlled trial in the midwestern health system, emergency room doctors administered 15 ml of elderberry extract orally to children ages 5-12, twice daily for five days, with no adverse effects reported.
The use of elderberry formulations for children is considered generally safe, but, as always, it’s important to keep quality in mind. Source your product carefully to ensure it was harvested when ripe and formulated to ensure no harmful levels of cyanide compounds are present.
While research in pediatric populations is limited, studies show benefits for supporting immune function, mitigating microbial access to our cells, and reducing respiratory discomfort.* Similarly, while there is not a ton of research on long-term usage as a preventative approach, there aren’t known side effects, either.
Elderberry can be an important part of the supplement plan for children, with a growing number of reputable products on the market to choose from.
 Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory…: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb;42:361-365. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Epub 2018 Dec 18. PMID: 30670267.
 Manoharan S, Guillemin GJ, Abiramasundari RS, Essa MM, Akbar M, Akbar MD. The Role of Reactive Oxygen Species in th…A Mini Review. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:8590578. doi: 10.1155/2016/8590578. Epub 2016 Dec 27. PMID: 28116038; PMCID: PMC5223034.
 Wieland LS, Piechotta V, Feinberg T, Ludeman E, Hutton B, Kanji S, Seely D, Garritty C. Elderberry for…a systematic review. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2021 Apr 7;21(1):112. doi: 10.1186/s12906-021-03283-5. PMID: 33827515; PMCID: PMC8026097.
 Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Feb;42:361-365. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Epub 2018 Dec 18. PMID: 30670267.
 Macknin M, Wolski K, Negrey J, Mace S. Elderberry Extract Outpatient..for Emergency Room Patients Ages 5 and Above: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Nov;35(11):3271-3277. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06170-w. Epub 2020 Sep 14. PMID: 32929634; PMCID: PMC7661609.
Subscribe to get email notifications about the latest Davinci blog posts