Elderberries have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years through
Europe, North America, Western Asia, and North Africa. The Elderberry shrub became a part of many American homestead plantings and was often grown alongside lilacs, forsythia, and apple trees. Ancient elder bushes can still be found on abandoned farmsteads, along roadsides, and in other unexpected places.
The European elder is a large shrub or small tree that grows up to 30 feet tall in wet or dry soil in a sunny locations. Its deciduous leaves grow in opposite pairs and have five to seven leaflets. The flowers are white and flat-topped, and the berries are green and turn red, then black when ripe.
Evidence of elderberry cultivation has been found in Stone Age village sites in Italy and Switzerland. Medicinal use of elderberries is mentioned in ancient medicinal texts, including Hippocrates' Materia Medica.
Pliny the Elder recorded its use among the ancient Romans. In the Middle Ages, it was considered a holy tree due to its ability to improve health and longevity. Gypsies in historical Europe reportedly called elderberry “the healingst tree on earth.”
Elderberry has traditionally been used for its antioxidant activity, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to lower cholesterol, and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections.
The medicinal use of elderberry isn’t just a folk remedy. There’s science backing up the claims of hundreds of years.
A placebo-controlled, double blind study was carried out on a group of individuals living in an agricultural community (kibbutz) during an outbreak of influenza B/Panama in 1993. Fever, feeling of improvement, and complete cure were recorded during 6 days.
(Find abstract here.)
In Israel, Hasassah's Oncology Lab has determined that elderberry stimulates the body's immune system and they are treating cancer and AIDS patients with it.
Some of my readers may have read that elderberries can be poisonous. The berries aren't, but they should be cooked before eaten because uncooked berries can cause digestive problems. The rest of the plant can be toxic. Don't eat the leaves.