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Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is native to North Africa, Europe and Asia. The berries grow on deciduous trees that can reach 30 feet in height and bloom in late summer or early fall. The earliest references to elderberry for medicinal purposes can be traced back to Hippocrates circa 470-410 BCE. It has been used in traditionally for immune health, and recently, promising clinical research has emerged to confirm this usage. In addition to its medicinal purposes, elderberries have been used for flavoring, and to make wines and pies.
Elderberry has been the subject of strong clinical research both in-vitro and in-vivo in recent years. An in-vitro study found that elderberry extract binds to H1N1 virions (swine flu particles) and blocks the ability of the virus to infect host cells. This activity is similar to that of well-known anti-influenza drugs, such as oseltamivir, the generic form of Tamiflu®, and amantadine. Another study showed elderberry to possess antimicrobial activity against both gram-positive bacteria and gram-negative bacteria in liquid cultures. The elderberry extract also displayed an inhibitory effect on the propagation of human pathogenic influenza viruses.
A study on the immune effects of elderberry was conducted on people who travel by air and are particularly susceptible to colds and upper-respiratory infections. A 2009 study evaluated passengers traveling from Australia; the 312 passengers were split into two groups, one receiving placebo, and another receiving 900mg per day of elderberry extract. The participants were tested at baseline, just before travel, and again 4 days after travel. There were more cold episodes in the placebo group; however, not a significant amount more (17 in the placebo group, 12 in the elderberry group). Elderberry takers did show a much shorter duration of their cold symptoms: those in the placebo group spent 117 days feeling sick, and those in the elderberry group spent 57 days feeling sick.
- Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.Nutrients,2016
- Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses.BMC complementary and alternative medicine,2011