This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Elderberry has been used for hundreds of years by various cultures to treat a variety of health issues. In this article, we will discuss its many uses, potential side effects, dosage suggestions, and provide a homemade elderberry recipe.
Elderberry is a berry that has been used to treat a variety of health issues for centuries. In 400 BC, Hippocrates called the elder his “medicine chest.” During the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century), elderberries were thought to be a “Holy Tree,” a key to keeping good health and longevity. There are over two dozen types of elder trees and plants, but the European elder tree offers the most health benefits. Elderberries contain high amounts of vitamins and antioxidants, which can help strengthen the immune system.
Elderberries are believed to have many health benefits. Some of the most popular reasons elderberries are consumed include the following:
- Immune Boosting. Elderberries increase the production of inflammatory cytokines in the body. These substances (along with immune cells and white blood cells) are produced to help fight infection. In addition to antiviral properties, studies indicate elderberry extract can increase cytokine production. This helps to activate a healthy immune system. 
- Cold & Flu Remedy. For centuries, elderberries have been used to treat colds, sinusitis, and influenza. A study on sixty individuals with influenza-like symptoms found that elderberry was “an efficient, safe, and cost-effective treatment for influenza.” 
- Aids with Constipation. Constipation is defined as a situation where a person has difficulty emptying the bowels, often caused by hard feces. Constipation is a common problem, with 16 out of 100 adults experiencing symptoms. Elderberries may help with constipation by promoting digestive health and regularity. One hundred grams of fresh elderberries contain seven grams of fiber. Studies have shown dietary fiber intake can increase stool frequency in patients with constipation. 
- Treat Joints. Elderberries are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant that is believed to help fight inflammation and joint pain. Common joint pain issues are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies on anthocyanins indicate they may help with other health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. 
Elderberry is considered “likely safe” when consumed normally in food. Elderberries that are ripe and cooked are considered safe when consumed in moderation. However, unripe and uncooked elderberries can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps, partly due to their laxative effects.
It should be noted that while elderberries are suitable for eating, the elder leaves and stems are listed as “possibly unsafe.”
When consumed as an extract, elderberry is believed to be “possibly safe” when taken for up to 12 weeks. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to refrain from taking any supplements during that time.
Individuals with the following autoimmune disorders should avoid using or consuming elderberry:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Elderberry might increase activity in the immune system. Taking it while on medication designed to suppress the immune system could decrease the effectiveness of those medications.
Individuals who are allergic to elderberries may have trouble breathing or get a rash when consuming it. In each of these situations, a physician should be notified before taking elderberry.
One of the most popular ways to consume elderberry is in syrup form. Dosages can vary between adults and children per the following:
- Immune system support. Adults: 1 tablespoon daily; Children: 1 teaspoon daily
- The flu (influenza): Adults: 1 tablespoon 4x daily for 4 days; Children: 1 teaspoon 2x daily
Elderberry syrup is a concentrated form of elderberries. In addition to purchasing elderberry syrup, another option is to make your own:
- 3/4 cup elderberries (dried)
- 3 cups of water
- Cinnamon: 1 teaspoon (dried) or 1 cinnamon stick
- Cloves: 1 teaspoon (dried) or 1 drop clove essential oil or 4 whole cloves
- Ginger: 1 tablespoon (fresh) or 1 teaspoon (dried) or 1 drop ginger essential oil
- 1 cup raw honey
- Bring the elderberries, water, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger to a boil in a large pot.
- Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer about 40-45 minutes until the liquid has been reduced by half.
- Let the liquid cool, then drain using a fine-mesh strainer.
- Using the back of a wooden spoon, press the liquid out of the berries.
- Add the raw honey and mix thoroughly.
- Pour contents into an airtight glass container and place it in the refrigerator.
- The syrup can last up to two months.
References: V Barak, T Halperin, I Kalickman. The Effect Of Sambucol, A Black Elderberry-Based, Natural Product, On The Production Of Human Cytokines: I. Inflammatory Cytokines. Eur Cytokine Netw. Apr-Jun 2001;12(2):290-6. [PMID: 11399518]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11399518/  Z Zakay-Rones 1, E Thom, T Wollan, (et al.). Randomized Study Of The Efficacy And Safety Of Oral Elderberry Extract In The Treatment Of Influenza A And B Virus Infections. J Int Med Res. Mar-Apr 2004;32(2):132-40. doi: 10.1177/147323000403200205. [PMID: 15080016].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15080016/  Jing Yang 1, Hai-Peng Wang, Li Zhou (et al.). Effect Of Dietary Fiber On Constipation: A Meta-Analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Dec 28;18(48):7378-83. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378. [PMID: 23326148] PMCID: PMC3544045.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23326148/  Basharat Yousuf 1, Khalid Gul 2, Ali Abas Wani, (et al.). Health Benefits of Anthocyanins and Their Encapsulation for Potential Use in Food Systems: A Review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Oct 2;56(13):2223-30. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2013.805316. [PMID: 25745811]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25745811/
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.