Probably the most interesting properties of elderberry extracts were reported by Zakay-Rones et al. (1995). Following earlier work done by Konlee (1998), these authors reported that a mixture containing elderberry extract had an inhibitory effect on haemagglutinin found in mycovirus. More work done by Barak et al. (2001, 2002) have shown that such a mixture could inhibit the replication of 11 strains of the influenza virus and increase cytokines production.
Zakay-Rones, Z., N. Varsano, M. Zlotnik, O. Manor, L. Regev, M. Schlesinger, and M. Mumcuoglu. 1995. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in-vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza b in Panama. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 1:361–369.
Folk medicine has been around for millennia exploiting first wild then cultivated plants to prevent or cure a myriad of illnesses. Black elder have been used for centuries in Europe (French 1651), northern Africa, and some parts of Asia for such purposes as to keep the evil spirits away, to prevent or cure numerous ailments and health problems. Early settlers brought some of this knowledge to America where a closely related plant, the American elder, could easily be found in the wild. Native Americans also have a tradition of using elderberry for its healing properties (Borchers et al. 2000) and particularly to treat fever and rheumatism (Moerman 1986). While many of the reported effects lack adequate scientific validation, there are an increasing number of studies supporting important medicinal or therapeutic properties associated with American and black elders.
In folk medicine, elder berries have been used for their diaphoretic, laxative and diuretic properties and to treat various illnesses such as stomach ache, sinus congestion, constipation, diarrhea, sore throat, common cold, and rheumatism. The flowers are said to have diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, diuretic, and topical anti-inflammatory actions. Some of these properties seem justified since elderberry fruits contain tannins and viburnic acid, both known to have a positive effect on diarrhea, nasal congestion, and to improve respiration. Leaves and inner bark have also been used for their purgative, emetic, diuretic, laxative, topical emollient, expectorant, and diaphoretic action.
Caution: Only the berries are suitable for human consumption
The indigenous elder tree of the western United States, Sambucus mexicana, can grow to 30 feet and produces small (1/4-inch), globular, nearly black berries that can be covered with a white bloom at maturity. The berries are juicy and edible when mature. The cooked berries are commonly eaten in pies and jams, and berry juice can be fermented into wine. The fresh leaves, flowers, bark, young buds, and roots contain a bitter alkaloid and also a glucoside that, under certain conditions, can produce hydrocyanic acid. The amount of acid produced is usually greatest in young leaves. There may be other toxic constituents in this plant. The root is probably the most poisonous and may be responsible for occasional pig deaths; cattle and sheep have died after eating leaves and young shoots.
To download the scientific article published in Phytochemistry in 2009 about how Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro, visit the Herbal Science Group’s website.