THE HERBAL CORNER - "Elderberry" (Sambucus nigra)

ELDERBERRY, is a shrub-like tree now native to North America. The European elder grows much taller and has been naturalized in the United States and elsewhere. Called the "medicine chest of the common people," man has known of its usefulness for hundreds of years. Elderberry can be found growing both as a wild and cultivated plant, and can grow up to 30 feet tall.

The berries, of course, make a delicious wine and jam, and are rich in vitamins A and C. But elderberry has had an extensive reputation as a healing plant throughout history. The leaves, flowers, bark, and berries have all been used in healing, although all but the berries contain poisonous alkaloids and should not be used internally.

Traditionally, the plant's leaves and bark were used to make topical remedies, such as ointments, mouthwashes, and eyewashes. It was used to induce sweating, stimulate circulation, and act as a laxative. Elderberry is used today to alleviate many cold and flu symptoms including a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fevers, and muscle pain.

Recent findings. Israeli scientists tested a standardized extract of the berry on 40 people and found that it caused a significant improvement in symptoms of the flu or a complete cure in approximately 90 percent of cases within two to three days, compared to six days for a control group. Given the widespread nature of flu epidemics, and the relative paucity of reliable over-the-counter remedies, studies such as this one have boosted elderberry sales in recent years.

Do scientists know how Elderberry works? A pigment in elderberry can help the plant relieve the painful nerve disorder trigeminal neuralgia. The flowers contain flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, an essential oil, mucilage, and tannins which reduce fever and promote sweating. Other compounds in the berry bind to the flu virus and prevent it from penetrating cell walls. The berries are rich in vitamin C that may prevent flu infection.

Elderberry is available in tinctures, liquid extracts, lozenges, syrups, standardized extract capsules, and throat sprays. Although products made from berry extracts are safe when used internally, herbal formulas made from the leaves or bark of the elderberry tree should not be taken internally.

Please note: the information contained herein has been compiled from various sources. The above statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. We make no claims, either expressed or implied, that any treatments mentioned in this newsletter will cure disease, replace prescription medication, or supersede sound medical advice.


The Olive Branch, On the Net since 1996