The elderberry is a widely used medicinal plant. Ancient Egyptians used it to heal burns, Native Americans are known to have treated infections with it, and some folk medicines in certain parts of Europe continue to use elderberry in their preparations. A study published this year suggests that the compounds found in elderberries could be used to minimize symptoms of the flu.
Fighting the flu virus
Research was conducted at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology using commercially grown elderberries. The fruit was turned into a juice serum and then applied to cells prior to, during, and after infecting them with the influenza virus. The phytochemicals present in the juice were highly effective at blocking the virus from infecting the cells. But what surprised the researchers is that the serum proved to be far more potent against the virus during the later stages of the influenza cycle.
This would mean that the serum has a higher chance of successfully inhibiting the flu infection. “In addition to that, we identified that the elderberry solution also stimulated the cells to release certain cytokines, which are chemical messengers that the immune system uses for communication between different cell types to coordinate a more efficient response against the invading pathogen,” Professor Fariba Deghani, Centre Director, said to Science Daily.
The antiviral activity of elderberries was attributed to their anthocyanidin compounds, a group of phytonutrients that are also responsible for the fruit’s purple color. Some of the phytochemicals in elderberries stimulated the infected cells to release a group of chemical messengers called cytokines. These are used by immune cells for communicating between different cell types to enable better coordination in responding to invading pathogens.
Uses of elderberry
Elderberry is an antioxidant-rich fruit that is commonly found in Europe and North America. “Historically, the flowers and leaves have been used for pain relief, swelling, inflammation, to stimulate the production of urine, and to induce sweating. The bark was used as a diuretic, laxative, and to induce vomiting… In folk medicine, the dried berries or juice are used to treat influenza, infections, sciatica, headaches, dental pain, heart pain, and nerve pain, as well as a laxative and diuretic,” according to Healthline.
Elderberry has been found to have anti-cancer properties. A test in rats found that the polyphenols in the fruit increased the count of white blood cells in their bodies, thereby boosting their immune systems and helping the rats fight pathogens with better results. Elderberry can inhibit the growth of harmful Helicobacter pylori bacteria and improve the symptoms of bronchitis and sinusitis. Skincare products with elderberry extracts have been found to have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 9.88.
In addition to the above disease-fighting abilities, elderberries are a storehouse of nutrients. One hundred grams of the fruit provides 73 calories, over 18 grams of carbs, and about 1 gram of fat. It provides up to 35 mg of Vitamin C, which accounts for 60 percent of the daily recommended intake. The fruit is an excellent source of flavonoids like isorhamnetin and quercetin, which have strong antioxidant properties. In fact, the flowers have about 10 times more flavanols than the fruit itself. Plus, every 100 grams of elderberries also provide 7 grams of fiber, which is more than 25 percent of the recommended daily intake.