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    11 Lesser Known Health Benefits of Elderberry And How To Consume It

    Elderberry is the fruit of one of the most widely used medicinal [1] plants - the elder tree or Sambucus. The term elderberry is usually used as an umbrella term for the many different species that come under Sambucus. Even though there are other varieties like the red elder and dwarf elder, the most common type is the black elder or Sambucus nigra, which is found in abundance in the areas of Europe, central and western Asia, and northern Africa [2] .

    Elderberry

    While in the unripe state, the berries are usually green and gradually they turn into red and finally white towards the last stages of their growth. For a long time, the berries along with the other parts of the tree have been used by different civilizations for different purposes - native Americans used it for treating infections, ancient Egyptians used it for improving complexion [3] , others used it for treating conditions like sciatica, headaches and also as diuretics and laxative [4] .

    As a matter of fact, because of its medicinal properties, Hippocrates called the elder tree his 'medicine chest' [2] . Today, the black elderberry is not just hailed for its nutritional value, but it has also become a part of many tasty cuisines all around the world. Elderberries are astringent and in nature, and hence, eating them raw will cause toxicity and have adverse effects on health [3] . That's why they need to be cooked and can be consumed in different manners after that - jams, syrups, salads, tea, juices, wine, etc.

    Nutritional Value Of Elderberry

    The black elderberry or Sambucus nigra is a storehouse of important vitamins, minerals and other nutritious compounds. Moreover, it contains antioxidants in different forms such as phenolic acids which reduce oxidative stress, flavonols and flavonoids which help prevent cellular damage and anthocyanins which are anti-inflammatory and also stimulate the immune system to function properly.

    100 grams of black elderberries contain [4] [5]
    • 73 kcal energy
    • 0.66 g protein
    • 0.50 g fats
    • 0.00 mg cholesterol
    • 7 g dietary fibre
    • 65 mg vitamin B2
    • 18 to 26 mg vitamin C
    • 17 mg folic acid
    • 1.8 mg biotin
    • 0.36 mg β-carotene
    • 0.25 mg vitamin B6
    • 0.18 mg pantothenic acid
    • 1.48 mg nicotinamide
    • 288 to 305 mg potassium
    • 49 to 57 mg phosphorus

    Elderberry

    Health Benefits Of Elderberry

    1. Improves digestion

    Elderberries naturally have a high dietary fibre content [6] . Eating a diet rich in dietary fibres aids digestion and helps to reduce problems such as bloating by improving bowel movement. In addition to that, dietary fibre helps in maintaining a healthy digestive system overall. Better digestion means that your body gets the best and most of the nutrients that you eat.

    2. Promotes weight Loss

    Elderberries may look like small and simple fruits but if you're considering losing weight, these berries can be a great way to supplement your diet. This is because the amount of dietary fibre in elderberries is pretty high. Dietary fibres aid in weight loss by making us feel full just by consuming a small amount of food.

    3. Lowers blood sugar levels

    The elderberry has found a place of its own in traditional medicine as an effective treatment against diabetes. Keeping it in mind, this attribute of the fruit was evaluated in two different studies [7] [8] , both of which concluded that, in fact, elderberries are effective in treating diabetes and hold a potential place in the future of diabetes therapy. This is because of the fruit's ability to clear excess sugar from the bloodstream, lower insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels.

    4. Regulates bowel movements

    There is little evidence which shows that elderberry alone can help get relief from constipation. But a study found out that when elderberries are supplemented with certain other phytotherapic compounds, they exhibited laxative behaviour, thereby relieving the subjects from constipation [3] . Moreover, the dietary fibre present in the berries regulates bowel movements thereby bringing about a similar effect.

    5. Lowers the risk of UTIs

    UTIs or Urinary Tract Infections show a higher incidence among women than men. Most of the time, UTIs can be really painful and hard to bear - burning sensations, uncontrollable urges to urinate, etc. This is when diuretics become important. Black elderberries naturally possess diuretic properties [3]   as a result of which they increase the urination to reduce the load on kidneys and also help the kidneys flush away the toxins on time. This goes a long way in preventing as well as lowering the risk of UTIs.
    Not just that. Since elderberries are anti-inflammatory in nature, they will also reduce any pain or inflammation caused as a result of the UTI. Moreover, a 2017 study has confirmed the same [9] .

    6. Improves Brain Function

    Black elderberries may also be effective in improving our brain function. A study found out that the anthocyanins in most berries like the black elderberries are rich in antioxidants which play a crucial role in treating cognitive impairment and other related mental diseases [10] . Another study with mice [11] found that consuming berry diets are invariably linked to improving brain health.

    This was true especially in the case of elderberries which are high in antioxidants and therefore carry out impressive functions like reversing and preventing age-related neurochemical and behavioural changes, prevention of memory loss, motor and cognitive functions, etc.

    Elderberry

    7. Prevents cancer

    It is the anthocyanins, flavonoids and polyphenolics present in the black elderberry which make it rich in antioxidants and also allow it to act as a potent natural agent to fight cancer. A 2017 study regarding the effectiveness of Sambucus nigra or black elderberry conducted by scientists in India found out and suggested that SNA or 'Sambucus nigra agglutinin is a promising candidate for impeding (delay or prevent) the progression of ovarian cancer' [13] .

    Another study conducted in 2013 had come up with similar conclusions wherein they mentioned that the SNA is a feasible option in the treatment of cancer [14] .

    8. Relieves cold and cough

    Traditionally as well as in contemporary times, the elderberry has been used as a potent agent against diseases like common cold, and cold. With so many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other compounds power-packed into these berries, it is a given they are effective in preventing cough and cold. In fact, multiple studies have confirmed this property of the fruit [2] [4] .

    9. Improves immunity and eases allergies

    The main constituents of black elderberries - the anthocyanins and flavonoids, render them their antioxidant, immunostimulant, antiviral and antibacterial properties. As a result, when we consume elderberries in any form, it ends up boosting our immunity and also helps us steer clear of any minor allergies that we may have [14] [4] [6] .

    10. Promotes skin health

    There are chances that elderberry could protect us against harmful UV radiations that cause excessive damage. According to a 2010 study conducted by the scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the skin product containing the extract of elderberry supposedly had a 9.88 SPF or Sun Protection Factor [15] . From the number of vitamins present in elderberries, they sure make a great addition to cosmetics. Moreover, just like any other part of the body, our skin also needs antioxidants in abundance in order to look young and glowing.

    11. Improves heart health

    When it comes to heart health, the effectiveness of elderberry and elderberry products have been researched but the results have been mostly of a mixed nature. While Elderberry has a positive impact on some attributes of the heart - lowers blood fat and sugar level, lowers cholesterol, improves the overall health of the blood vessels - another study [16] found out that it lowers the cholesterol only in the aorta and liver but not in the blood. Even though there have been positive as well as negative results, the research has been limited to mice and it would take more time for science to answer whether or not elderberries have a role maintaining a healthy heart.

    How To Consume Elderberries?

    Well, there's always variety when it comes to intaking this storehouse of nutrients called as the elderberry. But hands down, the most common method among it is definitely the elderberry tea which tastes like a heavenly elixir. Nowadays, elderberry products like syrups, jams, jellies, powder and juices are easily and readily available to the people who want them. Another one of those products in much demand is the elderberry wine. Medically, the elderberries are available in the form of capsules and pills, ointments, astringents, sprays, etc.

    How To Buy And Store Elderberries?

    While picking your elderberries, the first thing you need to make sure is that they are ripe. If your berries are firm and have a deep, dark colour, then you are good to go. As the elderberries ripe, they change colour from the unripe red to ripe black/dark purple. Keep an eye out for the ones that may be mouldy. You must avoid the ones that are squishy, bruised or leaking.
    Once you've made your purchase, make room for it in your refrigerator for a week. You must wash the berries before using them in your diet. It is also advised that you cook your berries before consuming them in order to avoid potential risks and dangers.

    Healthy Elderberry Recipes

    1. Elderberry tea

    When you're feeling sick, there's nothing as good and comforting as a hot cup of tea. Add to it the amazing benefits of elderberries and you've already begun well on your recovery. Elderberries are naturally sweet and so will the tea be, but people with a sweet tooth can go for extra honey if need be.

    Ingredients - 30 ml water 2 tablespoons of dried elderberries, half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon powder. 1 teaspoon honey if need be.
    How to do - In a saucepan, heat the elderberries and water together. Add the turmeric and cinnamon powders to it. Let it boil and then simmer for 15 minutes so that the elderberries can steep well into the tea. Remove from the heat and let it cool down for 5 minutes. Sieve through a fine mesh strainer and pour honey if it isn't sweet enough for you. If you're more of a cold person, then you can also refrigerate your tea in a mason jar. But make sure you have it before a week's time.

    Recipe Courtesy [12]

    2. Simple spiced elderberry syrup

    Ingredients - 3 cups of water, 1 cup of elderberries, 1 cup of raw honey, 2 tablespoons of freshly sliced ginger, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of cloves.

    How to do - In a pot, pour all the ingredients except honey and bring it to a boil. Simmer it for an hour. Once that is done, remove the pot from the heat and strain the liquid using a sieve. After transferring the liquid to a jar, pour the honey into it and mix well. You can keep the jar sealed in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
    Recipe Courtesy [17]

    Precaution While Using Elderberries

    • All along the article, it was mentioned not to use the elderberries raw. Elderberries may be really nutritious and beneficial but there is another side to it too. Different parts of the elder plant, including the berries, contain trace amounts of lectin. Eating too many elderberries and eating them raw and unripe will cause lectin to trigger hypersensitivity in your body [3] .
    • Secondly, the plant also contains cyanogenic glycosides which under some circumstances may produce cyanide within your body, causing cyanide poisoning which can be very toxic and dangerous [3] . Symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea are very common with eating raw berries.
    • Possibly buy your elderberries instead of picking them yourself if you're not well aware of the plant as different varieties of elderberries may look similar out of which certain types are more toxic.
    • If you're below 18 years of age, if you're pregnant/breastfeeding, if you've had an organ transplant in the past, or if you've been taking prescription medicines for anything, kindly refrain from consuming elderberries. Consult your healthcare professional before doing anything.

    If you feel like you've been experiencing side effects or toxicity, visit your doctor immediately.

    View Article References
    1. [1] Porter, R. S., & Bode, R. F. (2017). A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder (Sambucus nigraL.) Products. Phytotherapy Research, 31(4), 533–554.
    2. [2] Krawitz, C., Mraheil, M. A., Stein, M., Imirzalioglu, C., Domann, E., Pleschka, S., & Hain, T. (2011). 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, 11, 16.
    3. [3] Ulbricht, Catherine & Basch, Ethan & Cheung, Lisa & Goldberg, Harley & Hammerness, Paul & Isaac, Richard & Purkh Singh Khalsa, Karta & Romm, Aviva & Mills, Edward & Rychlik, Idalia & Varghese, Minney & Weissner, Wendy & C Windsor, Regina & Wortley, Jayme. (2014). An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Elderberry and Elderflower ( Sambucus nigra ) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. Journal of dietary supplements, 11(1), 18–20.
    4. [4] European Medicines Agency. (2014). Assessment Report On Sambucus nigra L., Flos.
    5. [5] Elderberry nutrition facts. Retrieved from https://www.nutrition-and-you.com/elderberry.html
    6. [6] Sidor, A., & Gramza-Michałowska, A. (2015). Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review. Journal of Functional Foods, 18, 941–958.
    7. [7] Badescu, M., Badulescu, O., Badescu, L., & Ciocoiu, M. (2014). Effects of Sambucus nigraandAronia melanocarpaextracts on immune system disorders within diabetes mellitus. Pharmaceutical Biology, 53(4), 533–539.
    8. [8] Ciocoiu, M., Mirón, A., Mares, L., Tutunaru, D., Pohaci, C., Groza, M., & Badescu, M. (2009). The effects of Sambucus nigra polyphenols on oxidative stress and metabolic disorders in experimental diabetes mellitus. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, 65(3), 297–304.
    9. [9] S. Porter, Randall & F. Bode, Robert. (2017). A Review of the Antiviral Properties of Black Elder ( Sambucus nigra L.) Products: Antiviral Properties of Black Elder ( Sambucus nigra L.). Phytotherapy Research. 31(4), 533–554
    10. [10] Mecocci, P., Tinarelli, C., Schulz, R. J., & Polidori, M. C. (2014). Nutraceuticals in cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 5, 147.
    11. [11] Patton, C. J. (2013). First international symposium on elderberry. Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative.
    12. [12] How to Make Elderberry Tea (Powerful Natural Remedy Recipe). (2018). Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/24470/elderberry-tea/
    13. [13] Chowdhury, S. R., Ray, U., Chatterjee, B. P., & Roy, S. S. (2017). Targeted apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells through mitochondrial dysfunction in response to Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Cell death & disease, 8(5), e2762.
    14. [14] Akbulut M, Ercisli S, Tosun M. (2009). Physico-chemical characteristics of some wild grown European elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) genotypes. Pharmacognosy Magazine, 5(20), 320–323
    15. [15] Nichols, J. A., & Katiyar, S. K. (2009). Skin photoprotection by natural polyphenols: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and DNA repair mechanisms. Archives of Dermatological Research, 302(2), 71–83.
    16. [16] Farrell, N., Norris, G., Lee, S. G., Chun, O. K., & Blesso, C. N. (2015). Anthocyanin-rich black elderberry extract improves markers of HDL function and reduces aortic cholesterol in hyperlipidemic mice. Food & Function, 6(4), 1278–1287.
    17. [17] Meghan Telpner. Simple Spiced Elderberry Syrup. Retrieved from https://www.meghantelpner.com/blog/simple-spiced-elderberry-syrup/

    Read more about: nutrition benefits
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