Elderberry side effects include gastrointestinal distress and interactions with other herbs, supplements, and drugs. This article provides some information on the same.
Elderberry or Sambucus is a genus of about 30 known species of shrubs or small trees. These plants have been very beneficial to man, with almost every part being put to some use or the other. The blue or purple berries of elder are edible, and have been consumed as they are or transformed into jams and jellies. Elderberry extract from the berries and flowers are used for medicine and dyes for basketry. Some dip the entire flower cluster in batter and fry it. Others use the petals to brew fragrant and tasty elderberry tea.
The hard wood of the plant is used to make combs, spindles, and pegs, and out of the hollow stems have come flutes and blowguns. During the middle ages, elderberry was considered a Holy Tree, owing to its perceived ability to restore good health. It was used in many capacities in folk medicine, a practice which has been carried into modern time. Before using it in any capacity, it is advisable to examine both, its purported benefits and side effects, which are mentioned below.
Historically, different parts of the plant have been used to help cure several ailments. It is the flowers and berries (blue/black only) that are used as natural medicine, and contain flavonoids. Elderberry flowers and leaves have been used for pain relief, swelling/inflammation, urine production, to relieve congestion, and as a diaphoretic. Aged bark has been used as a laxative, diuretic, or to induce vomiting). Its leaves have been used for sitz baths. Here is a look at the extent to which any of these medicinal properties are backed by scientific evidence:
There is good scientific evidence that its juice is likely to improve flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, sore throat, and aches, in a shorter amount of time than it usually takes to get over the flu. However, more research is required before a firm conclusion can be made.
In laboratory studies, elder has reduced excessive sinus mucus secretion. However, the research specifically using elder to treat sinusitis in humans is very limited, as usually a combination of elder and other herbs is administered, along with antibiotics to treat sinus infections. The only drawback here is that the majority of this evidence is not of high quality.
Only a small amount of research exists on the herbal product Sinupret® (which contains elder flowers (Sambucus nigra and other herbs) in the people affected by bronchitis. While benefits are suggested, no clear conclusion can be drawn about the effectiveness of Sinupret® or elder to manage bronchitis.
There is presently no reliable human evidence to support the use of elder alone as a treatment for high cholesterol. Early reports suggest that elderberry juice may decrease serum cholesterol concentrations and increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) stability.
- Elder can cause an allergic reaction in people with known allergy to plants in the Caprifoliaceae family (honeysuckle family). Some children also develop reactions after playing with toys made from fresh elder stems. An allergic reaction to fresh elder stems and cause rash, skin irritation, or difficulty in breathing.
- Juice made from crushed leaves, stems, and uncooked elderberries have caused diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and weakness in people. One preventive measure is to cook the berries, which prevents nausea or cyanide toxicity.
- As its flowers are believed to have diuretic (urine-producing) properties, one is advised against consuming products containing elder while taking diuretics or drugs that interact with diuretics.
- It may cause blood sugar levels to reduce. Some people have also experienced dizziness, headache, convulsions, and rapid heart rate.
- It is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding, because of the theoretical risk of birth defects or spontaneous abortion.
After examining both the benefits and side effects of elderberry, the logical conclusion is that its products should only be used under the direction of your health care provider. One is also at the risk of cyanide toxicity from elder bark, root, or leaves.
Disclaimer: This NutriNeat article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.