Elderflowers & Berries

Elderflowers & Berries

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, called the Elder his ‘medicine chest’.  More than 2000 years later, we are rediscovering its many benefits. The whole plant is medicinal but current research focuses on the flowers and berries.

Elderflowers are large, beautiful floral clusters whose smell and taste is wonderfully light and refreshing.  They are very popular in Europe and just beginning to find status in the US.  Traditionally they have been used in beverages such as cordials, sodas, wine, champagnes and liqueurs, vinegars & vinaigrettes and a variety of desserts.  They are also used medicinally in tinctures and teas.

Elderflower benefits (both medical research and anecdotal evidence) that have been reported include:

  • Immune support for colds and flu, lung and sinus issues, laryngitis, fevers
  • Allergy relief
  • Eye wash for reducing redness
  • External antiseptic wash for wounds
  • Lowering blood sugar (use caution if on medication)
  • Skin issues (acne, psoriasis, age spots)
  • Inflammation/rheumatism
  • Constipation and water retention

Similarly, elderberries have been widely used in Europe and have been making a name for themselves in recent years here in America. The berries have been traditionally used in juices, jams, syrups, wines, baked goods as well as in teas and tinctures.

Elderberries are one of the highest anti-oxidant berries and may provide the following benefits:

  • Cold and flu prevention and relief, 1995 study reported in Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine reported 90% of flu patients were symptom free after 2-3 days as compared to at least 6 days in placebo.
  • Reduction in inflammation/rheumatism
  • Cancer prevention
  • Allergy relief
  • Brain support
  • Stroke/nerve damage support
  • Reduce free radical damage that leads to all kinds of disease

European elderberries (S. nigra) contain glycosides to prevent pest damage.  Those glycosides can be metabolized into toxic substances but cooking the berries first will eliminate that potential issue.  Incidentally, recent research shows the American Elderberry (S. canadensis) does not to contain that substance.

Note that American elder (Sambucus canadensis) is different from the European elder (Sambucus nigra) and that appears to maybe be in our favor!  The American Elder produces berries that have slightly different profile that includes three extra antioxidants that have been identified.

“In addition, fractions of S. canadensis extract showed inhibition of ornithine decarboxylase, an enzyme marker related to the promotion stage of carcinogenesis. Analysis of active fractions using mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed, in addition to flavonoids, the presence of more lipophilic compounds such as sesquiterpenes, iridoid monoterpene glycosides, and phytosterols.”  J Med Food. 2006 Winter;9(4):498-504, A comparative evaluation of the anticancer properties of European and American elderberry fruits.

Here’s the catch, at least 90% of elderberries and products sold in the US are the European variety because the American variety is just getting developed commercially.  American elders grow as a bush rather than a tree, have lower yields and must all be picked and processed by hand making commercial ventures much less profitable.  Keep that in mind when purchasing elderberries (you can look at the label and see which variety you are buying: Sambucus nigra is European and Sambucus canadensis is American.  Just avoid Sambucus racemosa aka red elderberry).  At our farm, we only grow the American Elder, Sambucus canadensis.

Much more research remains to be done however, researchers are enthusiastic about the possible health benefits.   While elderflowers and berries are food and considered very safe when consumed in moderation, do your own research to determine if elderflower and elderberry products are right for you.

For those looking for some studies, here are a handful…

* Cold and flu prevention and relief: A 1995 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine reported 90% of flu patients were symptom-free after 2-3 days of using elderberry extract as compared to at least 6 days in placebo.

* The Journal of Internal Medicine reported a study in Mar-Apr, 2004 edition that “symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo.” Let’s not forget the flower!

* In the journal, “Molecules” published Apr 27, 2018, peptides discovered in elderflowers were found to have antimicrobial properties. “We postulate that these peptides exert their action by destroying the bacterial membrane.”

* Jan 6, 2017, the journal “Molecules” reported on the beneficial effects the flowers had on increasing glucose uptake in the cells in Type II diabetics. They reported that “elderflower might therefore be valuable as a functional food against diabetes.”

* “Nutrients,” a journal published Oct 8, 2016, reported that properties in the elderflower extract showed “promising results” in breast cancer research. “These findings suggest potential use of EFE [Elderflower Extracts] in breast cancer prevention and/or treatment and warrant further investigation.”

* The Journal of Internal Ethnopharmacology, Jul 12, 2017, published results showing their findings. “These results highlight potential therapeutic benefits of [elderflowers] … and provide insight into mechanisms by which an elderflower extract could suppress neurotoxicity elicited by environmental and genetic Parkinson’s Disease” related insults.”

* One more study concerning both flowers and berries… Published in the International Journal for Molecular Sciences (Mar 8, 2017), it states that “Elderberry and elderflower constituents may possess inflammatory modulating activity, which increases their nutritional value.”