Elderberry, a rangy shrub that produces large clusters of small, dark berries, has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb. European, or black elder, is the most commonly used of the 30 species of elderberry. Because the raw berries contain a cyanide-like substance, they must be cooked before use, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Black elderberry syrup offers many potential health benefits.
Black elderberry syrup may reduce the duration and severity of your next cold or flu by decreasing congestion and increasing sweating, which helps your body rid itself of infection, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. A test tube study published in the December 2011 issue of the journal "Phytomedicine" found that a commercial herbal preparation containing elderberry, gentian, primula flower, sorrel and verbena showed effectiveness against a broad spectrum of respiratory viruses. The form of the supplement produced different results in some instances, with the dried form -- capsules or tablets -- showing significantly greater effect than oral drops.
Bacterial infections, such as H. pylori, the bacterium the causes stomach ulcers, may respond well to treatment with black elderberry extract, according to the University of Texas at El Paso. Elderberry also enhances the effectiveness of the antibiotic clarithromycin. A study published in the February 2011 issue of the journal "BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine" found that black elderberry inhibited several species of streptococcus, a type of bacteria that commonly causes respiratory infections.
Antioxidant properties of black elderberry help protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to cancer, according to Purdue University. Elderberry possesses among the highest levels of antioxidants of all berries and small fruits. A study published in the April 2012 issue of the journal "heptogastroenterology" found that black elderberry extract inhibited invasiveness and metastasis of gallbladder cancer.
Black elderberry contains proteins that inactivate certain types of cell reproduction and may offer anticancer benefits, according to a study published in the May 2011 issue of the journal "Toxins." Researchers noted that the elderberry proteins are less toxic than other proteins, such as ricin, a highly toxic derivative of the castor oil plant, and may represent a viable lower-risk option for cancer treatment and prevention.
Blood Sugar and Fat
A compound in elderberry, called ursolic acid, may help regulate blood sugar and discourage fat storage, according to a laboratory animal study published in the November 2011 issue of the "Journal of Medicinal Food." In the study, 15 weeks of supplementation with ursolic acid resulted in decreased body weight, abdominal fat and blood sugar levels. Researchers concluded that elderberry extract may offer a natural means to favorably alter metabolism to help decrease the risk for obesity and diabetes.
Elderberry's blood sugar-lowering effects may increase the effects of diabetes medications and cause dangerously low blood sugar. Elderberry also acts as a diuretic encouraging your body to release fluids and should not be used together with diuretic drugs. Similarly, its immune-stimulating activity makes it work against drugs that suppress the immune system, such as steroids and other drugs used to treat autoimmune conditions. Consult your doctor for guidance on the proper use of elderberry.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Elderberry
- Phytomedicine: Antiviral Activity in Vitro of Two Preparations of the Herbal Medicinal Product Sinupret® Against Viruses Causing Respiratory Infections
- University of Texas at El Paso: Black Elder
- BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Inhibitory Activity of a Standardized Elderberry Liquid Extract Against Clinically-Relevant Human Respiratory Bacterial Pathogens and Influenza A and B Viruses
- Purdue University: Elderberry as Medicinal Plant
- Hepatogastroenterology: Association of Immunostaining of Galectin-3 and Sambucus Nigra Agglutinin with Invasion, Metastasis and Poor Progression of Gallbladder Adenocarcinoma
- Toxins: Use of Ribosome-Inactivating Proteins from Sambucus for the Construction of Immunotoxins and Conjugates for Cancer Therapy
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Ursolic Acid, a Pentacyclic Triterpene from Sambucus Australis, Prevents Abdominal Adiposity in Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet
Tracey Roizman, DC is a writer and speaker on natural and preventive health care and a practicing chiropractor. She also holds a B.S. in nutritional biochemistry.