At the end of the 19th century a sailor accidentally discovered that cheap port wine coloured with elderberries relieved his arthritis. This may have been the basis for a number of experiments on the medical benefits of elderberries.
Sambucus nigra – European or black elder – may be the cultivar most often used for medicinal purposes throughout the world and over decades and centuries of application. Modern research holds that elderberries may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti cancer properties.
They contain flavonoids which place elderberries in the category of “antioxidant-rich,” capable of preventing cell damage. One study suggested that the elderberry extract called Sambucol could shorten flu duration by up to three days.
Other traditional uses of elderberry flowers are as external antiseptic washes and poultices to treat wounds, and as an eye wash for conjunctivitis and eye inflammation. It’s been used for cosmetic purposes for millennia due to the reputation of distilled elderberry flower water to soften, tone, and restore the skin and lighten freckles. The flowers can also be steeped in oil to make a lotion that relaxes sore muscles and soothes burns, sunburn, and rashes.
Chemicals in both the flowers and berries may help diminish swelling in mucous membranes like sinuses and help relieve nasal congestion. Herbalists still use it to soothe children’s upset stomachs and relieve gas. Elderberries are reputed to have diuretic and detoxifying properties, and therefore considered good for weight management.
Some doctors recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid eating elderberries.
Elderberries are a very good source of vitamin A, providing 17 percent of the daily value, but that is eclipsed by it’s infection-fighting vitamin C content giving a massive 87 percent – reportedly more than any other plant besides black currants and rosehips. Other prominent ingredients in elderberries include iron (13 percent of the daily value) as well as potassium, vitamin B6, and lots of betacarotene.
The Food Standards Agency recommends cooking elderberries to destroy toxins present in the raw berries – some people find that eating raw elderberries makes them feel nauseous, while others suffer no ill effects.
Looking for things to do with elderberries – here are a few ideas from Wildcraft Vita