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Is Elderberry Good for the Immune System?

Posted by Dr. Matt Hand on Feb 25, 2021 5:53:24 PM


The elderberry plant has long been revered for its medicinal properties and was even considered a magic plant across cultures. Packed full of antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and other key nutrients, elderberry is most commonly used today to defend the immune system.*

Often paired with zinc for additional immune support, you can find elderberry in extracts, syrups, lozenges, and teas for both kids and adults.* It’s important to reap this medicinal plant’s benefits from a professional-grade source to ensure quality and purity. 

What are Elderberries?

Elderberries are the fruit of the Sambucus tree, which is a flowering plant of the Adoxaceae family. The small black or blueberries come in bunches, and in their raw form, can be poisonous, potentially causing severe stomach upset. For this reason, elderberry must be prepared by a knowledgeable herbalist or professional laboratory, and with DIY formulations, extreme caution must be taken.

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Does Elderberry Boost the Immune System?

Elderberry has historically been used to support a robust immune response and upper respiratory tract defense.*

Studies suggest that elderberry’s unique nutritive content might offer certain immune health benefits that defend against common signs of a depleted immune system.*[1]

Elderberry extract may also help with the onset of seasonal discomforts and lessen their duration.*[2]

The primary nutrients that work to support immune health include vitamin C, phenolic acids, flavonols, and anthocyanins.* These vitamins and phytonutrients have been shown to modulate the body’s immune and inflammatory response, and immune immune susceptibility in both children and adults.*

Polyphenols are naturally-occurring plant compounds high in antioxidants, and the specific polyphenol make-up of elderberry might increase white blood cell count.[3] Experts believe that elderberry works to fight free radicals and modulate inflammation by inhibiting the cellular load of foreign invaders by blocking their entrance into cells.[4]

What are Other Benefits of Elderberry?

Respiratory support is always important. Elderberry has been studied for its lung-supportive properties, and integrative doctors are learning more about the gut-lung axis, which refers to certain strains of gut bacteria in the microbiome that directly impact lung health.* The anthocyanins in elderberry are thought to support strong and healthy lungs.

Similarly, due to its high antioxidant and flavonoid content, many people have relied on elderberry for clear skin.* Due to its relatively high levels of vitamin A, elderberry might also help with the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.*

Anecdotally, elderberry has been used for centuries to induce sweating, promote bowel movements, support immune and inflammatory response, and stimulate urine production.*[5]

Who Should Take Elderberry?

Elderberry supplements can offer benefits for kids and adults alike. It is available in kid-friendly forms like syrups, tinctures, and dissolvable tablets, and is shown to be suitable for children on a short-term and as-needed basis.

Adults can take elderberry for its immune-boosting properties and other health benefits, but must be sure to avoid raw berries.* While elderflowers can be eaten raw or cooked, raw elderberries and seeds contain the toxins cyanide and lectin, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.

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How to Use Elderberry

For maximum benefits and safety, choose professional grade elderberry syrups, lozenges, capsules, or extracts. Liposomal elderberry in particular can provide superior absorption and effectiveness as an immune support product.* As with any supplement, it’s always recommended to check with your integrative doctor for appropriate dosage and any safety concerns or questions you have.

Final Thoughts

Elderberry might be a powerful immune support supplement to have on-hand for the entire family.* In addition, this plant is thought to promote a healthy respiratory tract, keep sinuses comfortable, maintain health during cold winter months and possibly lessen duration of immune-related discomforts should they occur.*

Support Immune Health

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.2729

[2] Tiralongo, E., Wee, S. S., & Lea, R. A. (2016). Elderberry Supplementation Reduces ... in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients, 8(4), 182. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8040182

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464614002400

[4] Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent ... in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.06.003. Epub 2009 Aug 12. PMID: 19682714.

[5] Ulbricht C, Basch E, Cheung L, Goldberg H, Hammerness P, Isaac R, Khalsa KP, Romm A, Rychlik I, Varghese M, Weissner W, Windsor RC, Wortley J. An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2014 Mar;11(1):80-120. doi: 10.3109/19390211.2013.859852. Epub 2014 Jan 10. PMID: 24409980.


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