Drugs A - Z

Elder (Sambucus nigra L.)

treats Influenza, High cholesterol, Bacterial sinusitis, and Bronchitis

Generic Name: Elderberries

Category

Herbs & Supplements

Synonyms

Almindelig hyld, baccae, baises de sureau, battree, black berried alder, black elder, black elderberry, boor tree, bountry, boure tree, Busine (Russian), Caprifoliaceae (family), cyaniding-3-glucoside, cyaniding-3-sambubioside, devil's eye, elderberry, elderberry anthocyanins, elderberry bark agglutinin, elderberry juice, ellanwood, ellhorn, European alder, European elder, European elderberry, European elderflower, European elder fruit, frau holloe, German elder, Holunderbeeren, Holunderblüten, lady elder, nigrin b, old gal, old lady, peonidin 3-glucoside, peonidin 3-sambubioside, peonidin monglucuronide, pipe tree, Rubini® (elderberry extract), sambreo (Italian), sambuco (Italian), Sambucus sieboldiana (Japanese), Sambucipunct Sambucus, Sambuci flos, Sauco (Spanish), Schwarzer holunder (German), sieboldin-b, stinking elder, Sureau noir (French), sweet elder, tree of doom, yakori bengestro.

Background

Several species of Sambucus produce elderberries. Most research and publications refer to Sambucus nigra. Other species with similar chemical components include the American elder or common elder (Sambucus canadensis), antelope brush (Sambucus tridentata), blue elderberry (Sambucus caerulea), danewort (Sambucus ebulus), dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus), red-fruited elder (Sambucus pubens, Sambucus racemosa), and Sambucus formosana. American elder (Sambucus canadensis) and European elder (Sambucus nigra) are often discussed simultaneously in the literature since they have many of the same uses and contain common constituents.

European elder grows up to 30 feet tall, is native to Europe, but has been naturalized to the Americas. Historically, the flowers and leaves have been used for pain relief, swelling/inflammation, diuresis (urine production), and as a diaphoretic or expectorant. The leaves have been used externally for sitz baths. The bark, when aged, has been used as a diuretic, laxative, or emetic (to induce vomiting). The berries have been used traditionally in food as flavoring and in the preparation of elderberry wine and pies.

The flowers and berries (blue/black only) are used most often medicinally. They contain flavonoids, which are found to possess a variety of actions, including antioxidant and immunologic properties. Although hypothesized to be beneficial, there is no definitive evidence from well-conducted human clinical trials currently available regarding the use of elder.

The bark, leaves, seeds, and raw/unripe fruit contain the cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin, which is potentially toxic.

Evidence

DISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Influenza: Elderberry juice may improve flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough, and aches, in less time than it normally takes to get over the flu. Additional research is needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be reached.
Grade: B

Bacterial sinusitis: Elder has been observed to reduce excessive sinus mucus secretion in laboratory studies. There is only limited research specifically using elder to treat sinusitis in humans. Combination products containing elder and other herbs (such as Sinupret®) have been reported to have beneficial effects when used with antibiotics to treat sinus infections, although the majority of this evidence is not high quality and requires confirmation with better research.
Grade: C

Bronchitis: There is a small amount of research on the combination herbal product Sinupret® in patients with bronchitis. This formula contains elder flowers (Sambucus nigra) as well as gentian root, verbena, cowslip flower, and sorrel. Although benefits have been suggested, due to design problems with this research, no clear conclusion can be drawn either for Sinupret® or elder in the management of bronchitis.
Grade: C

High cholesterol: Reliable human evidence is currently unavailable evaluating elder alone as a treatment for high cholesterol. Early study reports that elderberry juice may decrease serum cholesterol concentrations and increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) stability. Additional research is needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be reached. Elder should not be used in the place of other more proven therapies, and patients are advised to discuss with their primary healthcare provider before using elderberry for treatment of high cholesterol.
Grade: C

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