is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world.
Traditionally, Native Americans used it to treat infections, while the ancient Egyptians used it to improve their complexions and heal burns. It’s still gathered and used in folk medicine across many parts of Europe.
Today, elderberry is most often taken as a supplement to treat cold and flu symptoms.
However, the raw berries, bark and leaves of the plant are also known to be poisonous and cause stomach problems.
This article takes a closer look at elderberry, the evidence supporting its health claims and the dangers associated with eating it.
Elderberry refers to several different varieties of the Sambucus tree, which is a flowering plant belonging to the Adoxaceae family.
The most common type is Sambucus nigra, also known as the European elderberry or black elder. This tree is native to Europe, though it is widely grown in many other parts of the world as well.
S. nigra grows up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall and has clusters of small white- or cream-colored flowers known as elderflowers. The berries are found in small black or blue-black bunches.
The berries are quite tart and need to be cooked to be eaten. The flowers have a delicate muscat aroma and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Other varieties include the American elder, dwarf elder, blue elderberry, danewort, red-fruited elder and antelope brush.
Various parts of the elderberry tree have been used throughout history for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Historically, the flowers and leaves have been used for pain relief, swelling, inflammation, to stimulate the production of urine and to induce sweating. The bark was used as a diuretic, laxative and to induce vomiting.
In folk medicine, the dried berries or juice are used to treat influenza, infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain and nerve pain, as well as a laxative and diuretic
Additionally, the berries can be cooked and used to make juice, jams, chutneys, pies and elderberry wine. The flowers are often boiled with sugar to make a sweet syrup or infused into tea. They can also be eaten fresh in salads.