7 Health Benefits of Elderberry + Potential Dangers and Side Effects

7 minute read

Traditionally used to treat infections, elderberry is now one of the most commonly used medicinal plants across the globe. Used in both folk medicine and as a supplement to treat certain modern illnesses, elderberry is a popular plant.

While elderberry is known for its healing properties, there are also a few dangers to using elderberry that you should know. There may be numerous health claims out there supporting this berry, but knowing all the facts before trying it will keep you ahead of the game.

Getting Familiar With the Elderberry

Elderberry actually refers to a collection of flowering plants rather than a single berry. Originally native to Europe, these plants can now be found over most of the world.

The plants are known for having bunches of small white flowers and black or blue colored berry bunches. The berries are bitter tasting, and they should always be cooked as they can be poisonous when raw. The flowers have a delicate scent and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Over the centuries, elderberry flowers have been used to treat pain, swelling, and inflammation and the bark of the plants was a popular laxative and diuretic. Dried berries or juice from the elderberry has also been known to treat infections, headaches, sciatica, and nerve pain.

In additional to medicinal properties, elderberries were also popular for making jams, pies, chutneys, and elderberry wine.

Benefits of Elderberry

Given that the elderberry flowers, berries, and bark have been used for centuries to heal a variety of health issues, it would seem logical that they are beneficial. Studies support their health benefits, and you’ve likely heard stories about the healing properties of this ancient plant.

There are a number of reasons to add elderberries to your diet.

1. High Nutritional Value

Like all other berries, elderberries are low in calories and high in antioxidants. They are also a great source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.

These compounds all contribute to your health thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The nutritional value will vary across plants depending on ripeness and the environment where they grow.

2. Antioxidant Power

Free radicals are harmful molecules that are produced as a result of regular metabolism. The oxidative damage these can cause leads to serious diseases like diabetes and even cancer.

Elderberries contain several potent antioxidant compounds allowing them to scavenge these free radicals and protect you from damage effectively. It’s important to note that processing elderberries (heating or juicing) reduce the antioxidant content, so sticking with extract will be the more practical option.

3. Beat the Cold and Flu

The berry extracts and flowers have been proven to reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms. Recovery time from a common cold or the flu is reduced after consuming elderberry syrup or using elderberry lozenges.

After just 24 hours, individuals reported improvements in headaches, muscle aches, congestion, and fever.

4. Better Heart Health

Elderberry juice has the ability to reduce fat levels in the blood and can reduce overall blood pressure. Elderberries also reduce levels of uric acid, which in high concentration, can be damaging to your heart.

These protective activities allow elderberries to be potentially useful in preventing heart disease and promoting a healthier heart.

5. Immunity Booster

These berries are also known to improve white cell production and activity, which is an automatic immunity booster. They can also help fight certain bacteria by inhibiting growth, and they can help improve symptoms of bronchitis and sinusitis.

6. Help With Mental Health

Studies found that elderberry extract supplements showed improved mood and performance, which indicates it may have had some antidepressant properties.

7. Cancer Benefits

Berries from the European and American plants have been found to possess cancer-inhibiting qualities, but additional research is needed. In addition to this, you may be better protected against skin cancer, as elderberry extract has been known to have a sun protection factor too.

| Related: How to Protect Yourself From Skin Cancer With More Than Sunscreen |

Is It Too Good to Be True?

The elderberry plant seems to be a wonderful and natural therapy for several serious health issues. Despite the potential benefits, however, there are some dangers linked to consumption of elderberries that you should know.

1. Too Many Lectins

The bark, seeds, and unripe berries contain lectins that when consumed in large quantities, can cause stomach problems.

2. May Contain Toxins

The elderberry plant contains cyanogenic glycosides, which are known to release cyanide, a harmful toxin to human health.

It’s important to note that when cooked, there is no cyanide present, and no fatalities have been reported from eating cooked elderberries.

3. More Urine

While studies have only been done with animals, elderberry consumption has caused increased urination in rats as well as salt excretion. This may be a potential side effect in humans too, but studies are continuing to look at this.

4. Some Side Effects

Some people report adverse side effects after drinking elderberry juice, especially from freshly picked berries. Commonly reported symptoms include nausea, weakness, vomiting, dizziness, and stupor.

5. Not for Everyone

Elderberries are not recommended for anyone below the age of 18 or women who are pregnant or lactating. Because of the potential toxicity, these individuals are advised not to consume elderberry products without first consulting with their doctor.

It’s important to make sure you pick the right elderberries before consuming them. Those from either American or European plants are noted as being safe for consumption. Berries or leaves from other plants may be more toxic.

Be sure to always remove the leaves and bark before eating the berries, and cooking the berries is the best way to protect against any of the potentially harmful side effects.

The Bottom Line

Elderberries provide high nutritional value and several important health-boosting qualities. They can also work to protect you from serious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

With all good things in life, there are drawbacks, and it’s important to understand the potential dangers of elderberry consumption. With caution and cooking, there is no reason you cannot supplement your life with elderberries and experience the benefits that have been known through the ages.

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