A versatile herb, black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been known throughout the ages as a potent immune booster -- tackling colds and influenza, heart disease and even cancer. Used for centuries as a folk remedy in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa, modern science has begun to take notice of the exceptional healing properties of this berry. Jammed packed with organic pigments, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals, elderberry is an excellent addition to any herbal medicine chest.
Time-honored healing fruit
Traditionally, the incredible therapeutic benefits of elderberry have been enjoyed in preserves, wine and medicinal extracts. Only ripe, cooked berries and the flowers are used for preparations since stems, leaves and unripe berries contain poisonous levels of cyanic glucosides. Elderberries are rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and vitamin B6 as well as the flavonoid quercetin.
Elderberries have a long history of use. Evidence of its cultivation has been indicated in ancient Italian and Swiss village sites. Hippocrates held elderberry as a prominent healing plant while Native Americans used it for sciatica, coughs and rheumatism along with ailments and injuries of the skin. Known as "nature's medicine chest," elderberry is a popular hedge plant in England. A hardy shrub, it can be grown in a variety of environments and is pest resistant.
Fighting colds and influenza naturally
Famous for its capacity to prevent and treat upper respiratory infections and fever, elderberry is a top notch medicinal herb. Israeli researcher Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center has made it a life mission to study the healing properties of elderberry. She found 20 percent of individuals suffering from the flu had significant relief within 24 hours when elderberry extract was consumed -- sore throat, coughing, fever and muscle aches were reduced. Seventy-three percent felt better after the second day. Within three days, 90 percent were completely cured. Compare this with the usual week or so it takes the average person to recover from the flu without intervention.
Additionally, a British in vitro study found that black elderberry extract was over 99 percent effective in combating avian bird flu (H5N1). And in Panama, elderberry juice was successfully used to treat the 1995 flu epidemic.
Elderberry also enhances the immune system. Scientists at the Bundesforschungsanstalt Research Center for Food in Karlsruhe, Germany found that high levels of anthocyanins in elderberry improve immune function by boosting cytokine production. These proteins act as messengers within the immune system, helping to regulate immune response. For those contending with HIV or a suppressed immune system, this is promising news.
Alleviating cardiovascular disease and cancer
Not only effective for infectious disease, elderberry supports cardiovascular health and mitigates cancer as well. The University of Graz in Austria discovered that elderberry extract diminished the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Since oxidation of LDL cholesterol contributes to arteriosclerosis, elderberry is powerful medicine against heart disease.
Tumor growth is constrained by elderberry too. It is an exceptional antiangiogenic (hinders the formation of unwanted blood vessels) and antioxidant. Research has shown that elderberry, when combined with other anthocyanin-rich berries, curbs cellular mutations and tumor growth. In clinical studies, the berry extract decreased tumor growth by more than 50 percent.
During this season of compromised immunity and illness, beat the odds by using elderberry to remain healthy and fit. Whether suffering from a simple cold to a more complex flu bug, or serious diseases like cancer and AIDS, elderberry is an excellent ally to have on your side.
Photo Credit: Edal Anton Lefterov