Common Names: European elder, black elder, elderberry, elder flower, sambucus
Latin Names: Sambucus nigra
- Elderberry is the dark purple berry of the European or black elder tree, which grows in the warmer parts of Europe, North America, Asia, and Northern Africa.
- Elderberry has been used in folk medicine to treat colds and flu.
- Elderberry is promoted as a dietary supplement for colds, flu, and other conditions. It has also been promoted for COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus), but there is no good evidence to support its use.
How Much Do We Know?
- A small number of studies in people have evaluated elderberry for flu and other upper respiratory infections. Little research has been done on other uses of elderberry.
What Have We Learned?
- Some preliminary research suggests that elderberry may relieve symptoms of flu or other upper respiratory infections.
- No published research studies have evaluated the use of elderberry for COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have taken action against companies that marketed products with unsubstantiated claims of effectiveness for COVID-19.
- There’s not enough information to show whether elderberry is helpful for any other health purposes.
What Do We Know About Safety?
- Raw unripe elderberries and other parts of the elder tree, such as the leaves and stem, contain toxic substances (e.g., sambunigrin) that can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; cooking eliminates this toxin. Large quantities of the toxin may cause serious illness.
- Little is known about whether it’s safe to use elderberry during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Keep in Mind
- Don’t rely on elderberry or other dietary supplements for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. They have not been shown to be effective.
- Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.
- Adams KK, Baker WL, Sobieraj DM. Myth busters: dietary supplements and COVID-19. Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 2020;54(8):820-826.
- Elderberry. Natural Medicines website. Accessed at naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com on June 22, 2020. [Database subscription].
- Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, et al. Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2019;42:361-365.
- Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. A systematic review on the sambuci fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytotherapy Research. 2010;24(1):1-8.
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