Elderberry – Help or Hype?

kerry brock

Elderberry – Help or Hype?

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There is a whole lot of talk around the web about elderberry and it’s ‘amazing uses’, elderberry and it’s ‘toxic effects’ and how it is ‘a cure-all you should never be without!’

Let’s cut through some of the hype and calm down a second. It seems fads fly through the cyber-sphere these days and everyone picks a side and clicks ‘share’ and doesn’t take the time to rationally check the facts of matters any more. I’m just gonna list things I know about elderberry and hope to have a no-hype conversation with you about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts, as well.

Elderberry, European elder, or black elder, is a flowering shrub that is native to Europe (sambucus nigra) and North America (sambucus candensis). It can grow up to 20′ tall or more, and the flowers and berries are used as food and medicine.

I tend to see Elder flowers used more in topical applications for healing, but it is used in internal remedies too, such as a tea to promote sweating particular during a fever. But the berry is used for that too.

Most all herbal text would agree that you should not consume ‘large quantities’ of fresh berries or fresh juice from the berries because it can be toxic to the body. Even wild edible books I have that discuss elderberry always use them either dried or cooked.

There is a natural plant toxin (cyanogenic glycosides) present in the fresh berries that can induce nausea, vomiting, dizziness, abdominal cramps and weakness. There is literally only one case that I have ever been able to come across of these very extreme side effect happening.

It is a report you can find listed with the CDC about a group of 25 people in 1983 in California who made fresh elderberry juice for a gathering they had. 8 people where severely sick and one hospitalized. The worst case was a person who drank 5 glasses of the fresh elderberry juice (which was apparently prepared with sugar and apple juice), and those who has lesser symptoms had drank less of the juice, those with no symptoms had consumed none of the juice.

It is lack of following directions and doing your research that get’s people in these situations. I have never seen any credible notes on elderberry suggesting to use the berries fresh. It is always cooked down into a syrup, jam, pie, etc. Or dried and then prepared into an alcohol extract (tincture, wine, mead).

5 glasses, assuming it was a typical 8-10oz glass, could mean that individual consumed upwards of 25-80 ounces of fresh elderberry juice. Again, this is not recommended anywhere by anyone. Please don’t do that. Just remember, don’t drink/eat 80 oz of fresh elderberry and you should be fine. Or do like all the texts suggest and dry or cook your berry juice before consuming. The cyanogenic glycosides are no longer present after the fruit dries or is cooked.

So what’s the positive that we can take away beyond the hype? Elderberry contains awesome things like vitamin C & A, zinc and iron. These constituents and more, like tannins (amino acids), flavonoids (phytonutriants found in many plants responsible for vibrant color) and other trace nutrients. They work together as immunostimulants (encouraging the immune system to fight against colds and flu), used to stimulate sweating as mentioned before (diaphoretic), and most texts agree it is a go-to remedie for viral conditions.

The traditional preparation is cooked with honey or sugar and made into a syrup. Some people will add other herbs like clove, cinnamon, and other warming and tasty herbs that also support the immune system and are additionally anti-septic. This is a helpful (and gentle/safe as it’s cooked and in the small doses we are suggested to ingest!) remedy to get kids to take as it is a sweet and yummy treat.

I tend to prefer elderberry in a tincture form (alcohol extract) as I usually don’t need the extra sugar in my daily routine, or especially if I’m trying to fend off a cold.

I don’t take elderberry everyday, but this time a year I might take it once a week to keep my immune system on track to ward off the yuck floating around (along with a whole list of other things so I am proactively preventing, see last weeks post!). And when I am down, I’ll add it daily, and even a few times a day, til I’m over it.

In the health culture we are living in today, don’t be tempted to make alterations to your health care because it is “on-trend”. Don’t just do something cause you saw it on Instagram. Don’t just do something cause you saw Kerry Brock say it’s good/bad. Do your research, cut through the hype, get down to the facts, and use common sense.

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