Will Elderberry Prevent Illness? Research Review

Elderberry Background

Elderberry (Sambucas nigra) contains flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants that protect from toxins. These supplements are most often used for influenza, the common cold, and general immune stimulation.

Buyer Beware

Elderberry tablets, capsules, syrups, and gummies are considered herbal supplements and are therefore not FDA-approved. The potency and purity of all herbal supplements are unknown.

Four Small Studies on Elderberry

In a trial of 64 participants between the ages of 16 and 60 with flu symptoms (fever, headache, muscle aches, cough, mucus discharge, and nasal congestion), those given an elderberry extract (ViraBloc®) experienced significant improvement in four out of six symptom scores at 24 hours and in all six scores after 48 hours.

In another study of 60 adults with flu symptoms given Sambucol®, symptom relief occurred significantly faster in the treatment group, achieved by day 3 or 4 of illness, vs. the placebo group, which didn’t report symptom relief until day 7 or 8. The treatment group also needed significantly less rescue medication. Another small study utilizing Sambucol® demonstrated significantly shorter persistence of fever in the treatment group.

Keep in mind that in the three studies discussed above, a total of 77 participants received the treatment, which means that we can’t make any firm conclusions about the effectiveness of treatment. These studies also relied on subjective reports of symptom severity.

In a company-funded trial, 312 adults were given 600 mg of black elderberry each day for nine days before traveling by airplane followed by 900 mg a day for seven days after travel. Those participants who received the treatment were no less likely to catch a cold than participants given a placebo. However, among those who got the cold, the placebo group participants had a significantly longer duration of cold episode days and a considerably higher average symptom score.

Warnings

Never consume the leaves, stems, unripe fruit, or uncooked fruit of the elderberry. No one on immunosuppressants should take elderberry products.

In Summary

No large randomized, controlled trials have evaluated the effectiveness of elderberry for the prevention or treatment of influenza or the common cold. In vitro and small studies indicate that it may have some positive effects on various virus strains.

Sources

Elderberry for influenzaMed Lett Drugs Ther. 2019;61(1566):32.

Holst L, Havnen GC, Nordeng H. Echinacea and elderberry-should they be used against upper respiratory tract infections during pregnancy? Front Pharmacol. 2014;5:31. Published 2014 Mar 4. doi:10.3389/fphar.2014.00031

Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, et al. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B virusesBMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11:16. Published 2011 Feb 25. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-16

Młynarczyk K, Walkowiak-Tomczak D, Łysiak GP. Bioactive properties of Sambucus nigra L. as a functional ingredient for food and pharmaceutical industryJ Funct Foods. 2018;40:377-390. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2017.11.025

Simonyi A, Chen Z, Jiang J, et al. Inhibition of microglial activation by elderberry extracts and its phenolic componentsLife Sci. 2015;128:30-38. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2015.01.037

Tiralongo E, Wee SS, Lea RA. Elderberry supplementation reduces cold duration and symptoms in air-travellers: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trialNutrients. 2016;8(4):182. Published 2016 Mar 24. doi:10.3390/nu8040182