Elderberry: properties, benefits and contraindications

Elderberry is a typical plant of the mountain area, scientific name Sambucus NigraL. and belongs to the Caprifoliaceae family. In Italy it is found mainly in Alto Adige and in the mountain areas, being a well branched shrub it can reach several meters in height. From the processing of this plant we obtain the homonymous syrup, but also decoctions, herbal teas and cosmetic preparations. The flowering of the elder takes place between May and June and is characterized by having very fragrant white flowers.

The most used parts are flowers and fruits, which have two different harvest times. While the flowers can be harvested between May and June, the berries must wait until the end of August when they are completely ripe. The ripe berries reach an almost blackish color, very similar to blueberries, while if they are red, they have an unripe taste and can also be irritating. The leaves and flowers are dried in the shade, while the berries should be used fresh, but they can also be frozen. Elderberry has very important active principles and phytocomplexes, it is a plant rich in flavonoids, glycosides, ABC vitamins and tannins.

  • The berries of elderberry contain 80% water, carbohydrates, proteins, fibers, other mineral salts and vitamins A, C and some B-complex vitamins The berries are still used to prepare an alcoholic drink known, the sambuca. In the kitchen the ripe berries can turn into tasty jams. The elderberry juice, in ancient times, was used as a natural dye, to color leather and natural fibers or to produce ink. The berries can be used for the preparation of wines, liqueurs and various kinds of drinks.
  • The flowers of elderberry are used for both indoor and outdoor use. Very small, cream-white and star-shaped, they are found in umbrella-shaped inflorescences. They are very fragrant and with their smell they point out the presence of the plant even from a certain distance. They are widely used in phytotherapy, herbal medicine and to prepare a variant of elderflower syrup, useful for reducing fever , bronchitis and constipation states . The dried flowers are used as an infusion, known for its ability to increase sweatingbody, thus promoting the elimination of toxins and the drop in body temperature during feverish states. Along with the leaves, the infused petals are used for the preparation of herbal teas such as asthma, cough, flu, phlegm, sinusitis and colds. Always the flowers also have antirheumatic properties and it is therefore the assumption of the same, through infusion, in case of arthrosis and gout.
  • For external use the flowers have astringent properties and a soothing action on the skin, on irritated , reddened eyes or in the case of stye . Infuse 50 g of elder flowers in a liter of boiling water for 15 minutes. Allow to cool and in the meantime carefully wash the eyes with fresh water. Soak two tablets (cloth or cotton) in the preparation and place on each eye for 15 minutes. Elderberry water is also useful for soothing burns and as a skin tonic . Lotions prepared with elderflower extracts are used to normalize sebaceous secretion and skin impurities . They are then used on pimples, on sunburn and for the treatment of hemorrhoids.

Properties of flowers and elderberries

  • Helps relieve flu and cold – Useful in the treatment of respiratory infections and flu symptoms. As mentioned above, elderberry syrup was used in ancient times to relieve cold symptoms; it was thought that it could reduce nasal secretions and swelling of the respiratory tract, facilitating breathing with a calming effect on the cough. In fact, as shown by the Maryland Medical Center, the presence of mucilage in the flowers could have soothing effects on the nasal sinuses and irritated mucous membranes. While the berries should have the merit of favoring bronchial secretions, making the syrup useful in calming the irritated throat and closed sinuses. On flu symptoms, many studies show its efficacy on as many as 10 strains of influenza virus and others still document a reduction in hospitalization times, of 3-4 days, in conjunction with its use. During convalescence, the level of specific antibodies against the influenza virus is greater. Furthermore, in Germany, a special commission approved the use of the elderflower extract withdiaphoretic purposes , that is to say to induce sweating in case of high fever, thus helping to lower it.
  • Strengthens the immune system – Bioflavonoids, present in flowers and berries, strengthen the immune system by increasing antioxidant levels and protecting cell walls from virus attacks. In particular, the black elderberry extract significantly increases the production of inflammatory cytokines, protein molecules able to activate the immune system in healthy subjects and, above all, affected by various pathologies. From these immune-stimulants or immune-protective could one day even benefit patients suffering from serious diseases such as cancer or AIDS, subjected to chemotherapy and pharmacological treatments. For now, we use the extract of the berries against the flu, colds and herpes infections.
  • It is diuretic and lowers the pressure – Precisely the extract of Sambucus nigra and Sambucus mexicana has an adjuvant effect in diuresis and in the diet. Like all diuretics, it lowers blood pressure and increases excretion of sodium in the urine. Even the berries, rich in quercetin, an antioxidant flavonoid, seem to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, an effect apparently already known to Native Americans who used elderflower tea as a diuretic and laxative. Nowadays, dietary supplements and diets involve the use of elderberry to lose weight and reduce water retention. But special attention is needed, especially if you are not in optimal health conditions (for example in case of low blood pressure). To overdo it never goes well and, if it is true that the consumption of a good tea with elder flowers can help the diuresis, never use supplements or elderberry extracts without first consulting a doctor. Furthermore, the high amounts of sugar that may be present inside the elderberry syrup, can have an exactly opposite effect, if taken in excessive quantities.
  • Reduces the risk of heart attack – The diuretic effects of elder produce positive effects on blood pressure helping the cardiovascular system. Furthermore, the phenolic compounds of which the berries are rich, improve the concentration of antioxidants in the plasma, decreasing cell death and reducing the risk of heart attack.
  • Useful against osteoporosis and diabetes – Elderberry would also seem to have positive effects on the decrease in urinary calcium excretion; this means that the subjects suffering from osteoporosis and bone demineralization would find themselves with more calcium in the body with beneficial effects on the bones thanks to the inhibition of the bone resorption process and the stimulation of the formation process. Furthermore, the innkeeper calcina, a hormone with a very important role on the bone micro-architecture, also has a fundamental task in the release of insulin by the pancreas and, therefore, on the reduction of glucose levels in the body. Of course, we do not want to say that elderflower syrup is the cure for osteoporosis and diabetes, but there are good prospects for predicting its use in therapies against these diseases.

Elderberry syrup

The syrup, given the multiple properties of the plant, finds various applications and uses. Syrup has many active ingredients, is rich in trace elements, flavonoids, essential oils and acids. As already mentioned, it has sudoriferous properties and can be used in case of fever and colds. Helps alleviate neuralgia and problems caused by sinusitis. It has laxative properties against constipation and is an excellent adjuvant for diet.

Among the properties that make this syrup a powerful ally of well-being and health is the purifying and draining function. Given the presence of flavonoids in the juice, elderflower syrup has a targeted action on the circulatory and lymphatic system, favoring its activation, in particular helping legs that suffer from varicose veins and chronic heaviness.

It is characterized by being rich in fibers, which are extremely useful for performing a slimming action. It is used as an adjuvant in cases of constipation and as a regulator of the intestine. It helps to dispose of excess waste inside the body, also improving fat metabolism. Some studies have shown that a continuous use of elderberry syrup over time, at least two months, combined with a healthy lifestyle and moderate physical activity have helped people to reduce the accumulation of fat in life, reducing the centimeters of circumference. The syrup has a pleasant taste and is rich in active nutrients and vitamins, it is ideal during slimming and low-calorie diets as a drink to break hunger, just dilute a spoon in a juice or in a glass of cool water. Above all, it helps to combat nervous hunger and to first perceive the sense of satiety. The best results are obtained when the syrup is taken on an empty stomach diluted in water or mixed with drinks and yogurt, preferably away from meals.

There are no particular contraindications in the use of syrup, but in any case we should not exceed the recommended daily dose. Because having laxative properties, excessive use could cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Nutritional values ​​per 100gr. of elderberries

  • 18 g of carbohydrates
  • 7 g of fiber
  • Very little fat and protein about 0.5 g
  • A good source of iron and minerals essential for good bone health (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium and potassium in traces)
  • Rich in phenolic compounds; contain flavonols, quercetin, rutin and a series of anthocyanins responsible for the beautiful red, purple and purple color not only of elderberry but also of many other fruits
  • They contain a low amount of natural sugars, with approximately equal concentrations of glucose and fructose and a small amount of sucrose.

Elderberry syrup recipe

There are various techniques and preparation methods; the most used is marinating, which involves immersing the flowers in a container with water and lemons. It starts with the collection of flowers, which must take place during the day if possible, avoiding the early morning and evening hours. Once chosen, the flowers must be cleaned accurately but not washed, so it is important to collect the inflorescences in places that are not very polluted and away from the roads. Eliminate the superfluous parts and the stems, the flowers are immersed in a container of water and are left to macerate. There are various recipes for getting elderberry syrup, which involve the use of other ingredients including sugar and citric acid. For a more intense and sweet taste fifteen flowers are left to soak in two liters of water with two lemons cut in half. After about three hours, remove the solid parts and add three kilograms of sugar and sixty grams of citric acid and mix until completely dissolved. The product is left to rest for another twenty-four hours and finally it is filtered.

In addition to this recipe, which can be considered the simplest and the classic one, there are other preparation methods. You can add wine or apple vinegar and then leave the mixture in the sun, but in this case you must prevent the liquid from fermenting. The doses and marinating times vary from recipe to recipe, depending on personal tastes.

Another method of preparing the syrup involves the use of berries, to be harvested only when completely ripe, which are then crushed and then sieved and filtered. The final product, in this case, will be more dense and concentrated. Once the pulp is obtained from the berries, the mixture is poured into a pot with added sugar, also in this case the doses are indicative, let it cook on a low heat for about half an hour, let it cool and bottle it . Storage should always take place in glass bottles, possibly dark and hermetically sealed. The syrup keeps its characteristics intact for several months, but once opened it should be kept in the refrigerator.

In addition to homemade preparation, elderflower syrup is also produced on an industrial level; easy to find in organic stores, in food stores and even in large retailers. Always pay attention to the label, checking that the raw materials come from organic farming.

In addition to the syrup with the elderberry plant, as already mentioned, herbal teas and decoctions can also be prepared. The flowers and berries are typical ingredients of South Tyrolean cuisine, in fact you can also prepare dishes and delicious jams.

The flowers infused in vinegar are used in the preparation of sauces and boiled with sugar, or again, in the production of syrup which, combined with carbonated water, creates a very fresh and pleasant sweet drink. The frozen syrup itself turns into a delicious sorbet

Contraindications to the use of elderberry

The side effects of using products derived from them are rare, but pregnant or lactating women and anyone with liver disease or kidney disease should not resort to flower syrup or elderberry without medical consultation.

On the following occasions the intake of flowers and elderberry-based products should be avoided:

  • Never eat berries when they are still unripe. In fact, they can contain toxic substances derived from cyanide. Moreover, when not yet ripe berries are consumed, the general rule of cooking them before eating them is always valid, in order to avoid an unpleasant nausea. In fact, cooking destroys potentially present toxins.
  • Choose only dark purple berries the red fruits are indeed poisonous.
  • Also avoid the elderberry bark which has toxic effects. In all these cases it will be possible, in fact, to have gastro-intestinal consequences, such as abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, together with dizziness, headache, weakness, tachycardia and convulsions.
  • Avoid interference with certain drugs. Since the elderflower extract has diuretic effects, it should be avoided by those who take diuretics. The same applies to those who take drugs for diabetes, such as metformin or insulin, to avoid the risk of entering hypoglycemia. Berries can also interact with drugs used in the treatment of asthma and cancer, with laxatives and immune-suppressants.
  • Beware of allergic reactions that can be caused by the elderberry extract and that manifest themselves in the form of sudden rashes or breathing difficulties.
  • In case of pregnancy there is the possibility that the elderberry is dangerous. Better, then be cautious and avoid consumption even during breastfeeding.
  • Watch out for the poisonous cousin! If you want to venture into the collection of flowers, leaves, berries of this tree, you must be very careful not to confuse it with another poisonous plant of the same family, or Sambucus Ebulus (Ebbio). It has flowers and fruits practically identical to the “good” elderberry, but it can easily be distinguished from the height and the unpleasant smell of the flowers. In fact the Sambucus Ebulus does not exceed the meter and a half of height and white flowers, as said similar to the Sambucus nigra, have a smell which is anything but pleasant.

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