Today’s herbal spotlight covers a genus of plants, rather than a single herb. Elderberry, also known as Sambucus, is a potent plant whose fruit and flowers offer a number of benefits and is found in two of our blends, Hormone Balance and Victress.
The use of both elderberry and elderflower exists both in reality and fiction. According to certain myths, the elder tree helps to ward off witches, while others claim the opposite; when the tree is ripe with fruit, it actually becomes a site of congregation for witches.  Even in modern fiction the elder plant continues to live on. In the popular Harry Potter books and films, the all-powerful Elder Wand was crafted from the branch of an elder tree. 
Elderberry also has a history of culinary use. In France, Austria and Central Europe elderflower blossoms are extracted and used to make a sweet syrup for pastries. Over in Romania, elderflowers are the primary ingredient of socata (suc de soc), a refreshing, fermented fizzy drink consumed in the summer months of May and June. 
Aside from food, elderberry and its flowers have a long, historical use spanning hundreds of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is made into a medicinal wine prescribed for treating the pain from traumatic injuries and rheumatism. 
Berries are one of the richest foods to be found in nature. We all know about the benefits of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and the like, but did you know that elderberries belong on the list? They’re high in Vitamin C (with a single serving covering up to 60% of the RDI), Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Iron, Potassium, antioxidants (polyphenols, flavanols, and anthocyanins), and fiber (nearly seven grams per serving). 
But before you go picking these out in the wild, know that the raw, uncooked berries are poisonous. Therefore, look to consuming them after they’ve been thoroughly cooked.  Luckily though, most of us do not have access to wild elderberries, and can usually find them in jams, chutneys, sweets, and medicinal supplements, all of which contain properly prepared elderberries.
Cold and Flu
Perhaps the most famous use of elderberries comes with treating sickness. Whether it’s a seasonal cold or flu, elderberry is one of the top go-to remedies for bouncing back. While more research is required to confirm its effects, there are some studies that suggest it’s possible potency.
In one study, sixty people with influenza were divided into two groups: one was instructed to take 15 ml of elderberry syrup four times a day, while the other was closely monitored and treated conventionally without elderberry. At the end of the study, those taking the elderberry syrup improved symptomatically within two to four days, whereas those that were not took between seven to eight days. 
Another study involving sixty-four participants found that the group who took 175 mg of elderberry extract lozenges for two days experienced significant improvements in symptoms from the flu, like headaches, congestion, and fever. Better yet, after forty-eight hours, 28% were completely free of all symptoms. In contrast, the other group that was being treated with a placebo experienced absolutely no improvements, either maintaining their symptoms or actually getting worse. According to the conclusion of the study, “the proprietary elderberry extract used here is effective in controlling influenza symptoms and is complementary to current anti-viral agents. The safety and ease of administration warrant further investigation of its clinical efficacy in children, elderly and other high-risk patients of the proprietary elderberry extracts.” 
While you should always check with a doctor during any serious infection, taking elderberry as an adjunct or precautionary measure towards a cold or flu may help to lessen the severity of symptoms, and shorten duration.
While research has yet to confirm elderberry’s overall efficacy at supporting overall health, there are a few studies to prompt further investigation.
In rats fed with polyphenol extracts from elderberries, blood pressure levels were lowered, which reduced the risk of organ damage as a result of high blood pressure.  A mouse study found that consuming black elderberry was able to reduce cholesterol concentrations in the liver and aorta, though not the blood.  Another study on diabetic rats found that the administration of elderberry extracts caused improvements in blood sugar and helped to improve insulin resistance. 
All in all, despite the research being limited to animals, we could very well expect to see human-based studies with broader designs. So keep an eye out for any new promising outcomes from this super berry!
Elderberry is also a friend for our skin. Given its antioxidant status, it may help to fight inflammation and oxidative damage caused by environmental pollutants, toxins, and sunlight exposure. Furthermore, these antioxidants also support collagen health, preventing premature wrinkling. 
In skincare, elderberry flowers can improve one’s complexion thanks to its Vitamin A content, providing tone and softness. One study found that at least in the short term elderberry provided a “boost” to the skin by increasing blood flow, giving a glow-like effect. 
Don’t be surprised if elderberry becomes the next skin-superstar in the near future!
There are a variety of ways one can use elderberry. While foraging for the leaves, fruit, and stems is one way to access them, not everyone has the opportunity (or time) to do so. Thankfully, elderberry is now widely available in most pharmacies, and not just your local health food store.
Elderberry can be found as an extract in capsules or tablets, along with sprays, lozenges, syrups, jellies or jams, juices, astringents, liquid supplements, and teas. It’s important to pay attention to both quality and formulation though, especially since many brands choose to include added sugars and sweeteners to their products.
However, raw, uncooked elderberries are toxic due to their content of cyanogenic glycosides, which are cyanide-releasing compounds. 
For instance, in 1984, a group of twenty-five people consumed the juice of raw, uncooked elderberries, leaves, and stems, and were soon made sick by the consumption. Though all had managed to recover, one of them had to be hospitalized for having drank five glasses.  Luckily, the toxicity from raw elderberries can be negated when they’re thoroughly cooked.
Taking elderberry, whether as a supplement or juice, is for the most part safe. According to WebMD, a period of oral use spanning up to twelve weeks is possibly safe. That being said, the prolonged use of any herb or medicine must be taken with caution; always consult with a professional doctor or herbalist for recommendations. 
It’s unknown whether or not pregnant or breastfeeding women can consume elderberry, so it is best to err on the side of caution and speak with a healthcare professional.
Elderberry has mild diuretic effects, so if you are taking any water pills (diuretics) yourself, proceed with caution. 
Finally, there is a possible risk of elderberry over-stimulating the immune system in those with autoimmune disease, such as MS (multiple sclerosis).  Once again, consult with a healthcare provider prior to taking elderberry if you are in fact dealing with autoimmune issues. Better safe than sorry!
While we typically think of common foods like strawberries and blueberries whenever we think of berries, elderberries should definitely make the list of go-to herbs from a medicinal perspective. They’re rich in antioxidants, and can help us to fight the good fight when it comes to cold and flu. In the future we may also see elderberry gain prominent status as a potent measure against treating or preventing heart disease, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, and keeping our skin healthy and glowing. It’s all the more proof that if we know where to look, Mother Nature has our back. Open up her medicine cabinet and you’re bound to find the thing you’ve been looking for all along!