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Elderberry

European Elder
© Steven Foster

Common Names: European elder, black elder, elderberry, elder flower, sambucus

Latin Names: Sambucus nigra

Background

  • 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.

For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

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Website: https://nccih.nih.gov/

Email: info@nccih.nih.gov (link sends e-mail)

PubMed®

A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.

Website: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH)

ODS seeks to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, supporting research, sharing research results, and educating the public. Its resources include publications (such as Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know), fact sheets on a variety of specific supplement ingredients and products (such as vitamin D and multivitamin/mineral supplements), and the PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset.

Website: https://ods.od.nih.gov/

Email: ods@nih.gov (link sends e-mail)

Key References

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NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: August 2020