What is elderberry?

If you follow superfood hype, you’ve probably heard of elderberry. This mysterious food has a reputation for healing acne, curing colds and flu, and even preventing COVID-19. But can it back up those claims?

Elderberrymysterious superfood, or marketing hoax?

Elderberry, as the name suggests, is a berry grown from the Sambucus tree. In the summer, these trees blossom brilliant star-shaped flowers. Because the Sambucus tree grows fast, its foliage is a popular landscaping border. But its blueish black berries are its true claim to fame.

Both the Sambucus tree flowers and berries are edible but must be cooked first before consumption. In raw form, the berries are toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Today, you can find this beloved berry in nearly any physical form, from syrups to powders to gummies to tablets. Its rich, dark color and pretty name add to its intrigue, and its cross-cultural influence spans from Indiginous peoples to Europeans to many nations of Asia. Even ancient Egyptians turned to these berries to help improve complexion and soothe burns.

How elderberry became popular 

Despite its trendiness in modern culture, elderberry has been touted as a mega-food for nutritional and medicinal use for centuries. Its European origin began in Scandinavia and spread throughout the world from there. Some ailments it’s been used for include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Hay fever
  • Headaches
  • High cholesterol
  • Sciatica
  • Sinus infections
  • Toothaches
  • Upper respiratory infections

So, what’s true and what’s folklore?

Benefit #1: Immunity

Arguably the biggest draw to the elderberry market is its alleged immunity boost. Prior studies have shown that elderberries show signs of antioxidant and antiviral properties and may reduce the severity and longevity of cold and flu symptoms. Other studies have shown an apparent link to elderberry easing upper respiratory issues. While some experts suggest that more research is needed, many people claim that elderberry does help ease these ailments.

Benefit #2: Reducing acne

Next, elderberry has high amounts of flavinoids, making it a strong contender for a skincare product. Flavinoids have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – great for clearing free radicals that cause skin issues…so much so that the American Nutrition Association (ANA) has identified elderberry face wash as a viable option for clearing acne.

Benefit #3: Nutritional value

Elderberry does contain several important nutrients. These include Vitamins A and C, potassium, folate, calcium, and iron (great for women, who are more prone to iron deficiencies).

It’s also dense in fiber, which improves bowel function, prevents constipation, and reduces blood pressure and blood cholesterol.

Elderberry and COVID-19

Some people have claimed that elderberry can also act preventatively against infection from COVID-19. This is misinformation; there is no evidence supporting elderberry having any affect on preventing or mitigating COVID-19. The FDA, in fact, has sought legal action against companies that have promoted these claims about elderberry to curb the spread of misinformation.

Bottom line

Elderberry has several nutrients that make it a great supplemental addition to your diet. While you should always stick with the old-fashioned way to feed your body the nutrients it needs-with fruits and vegetables-elderberry can act as a helpful supplement, for the same reason you might take a daily vitamin. While elderberries are not harmful to consume (so long as they’re cooked first), and in fact can be helpful in providing an immunity boost.

Consult your physician if you suspect you may have a deficiency and may benefit from taking a supplement.

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