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Elderberry is the fruit of the elder tree, and as a supplement it is often used for colds and flu.

Why do people take elderberry?

Elderberries contain natural substances called flavonoids. They seem to help reduce swelling, fight inflammation, and boost the immune system.

Studies have found that elderberry eases flu symptoms like fever, headache, sore throat, fatigue, cough, and body ache. The benefits seem to be greatest when started within 24 to 48 hours after the symptoms begin. One study found that elderberry could cut the duration of flu symptoms by more than 50%.

Lab studies have found that elderberry might be effective against H1N1, or swine flu. 

A few studies have suggested that elderberry could help with bacterial sinus infections or bronchitis. More research needs to be done.

People use elderberry for high cholesterol, HIV, and many other conditions. For now, we don’t have good evidence to support these uses.

How much elderberry should you take?

There is no standard dose of elderberry. For flu, some studies have used 1 tablespoon of an elderberry syrup extract four times a day. Another common form of elderberry is a lozenge, often with zinc, that is taken numerous times daily after a cold begins. Ask your health care provider for advice.

Can you get elderberry naturally from foods?

Cooked elderberries are used as a flavoring in foods and wine. Elderberries are also in foods like jams and pies. No research has found that these foods have any health benefits. Raw elderberries, as well as other parts of the elder tree, are poisonous.

What are the risks of taking elderberry?

  • Side effects. Elderberry supplements seem to have few risks when used daily for up to five days. The safety of its long-term use is unknown.
  • Risks. Never eat or drink any product made from raw elderberry fruit, flowers, or leaves. They contain a chemical that produces cyanide. They can cause nausea and vomiting and, at high doses, more serious effects. People who have an allergy to elder pollen might react to elderberry supplements. If you have diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, talk to your doctor before taking elderberry. 
  • Interactions. If you take any drugs or supplements regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using elderberry supplements. They could interact with chemotherapy for cancer, immunosuppressant drugs, diuretics, and laxatives.

Because of serious potential risks, elderberry is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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