Is Elderberry Tea Good for You?

Elderberry plants belong to the Sambucus genus of flowering plants, and they're found all over the world. Elderberries come in different colors including red, black, and blue. They’re a popular addition to gardens with their pop of color, but many people also enjoy them in a freshly brewed cup of tea.

The raw, unripe berries of the elderberry plant are actually poisonous, along with the leaves and stems. They contain the toxic substance sambunigrin. When sambunigrin is ingested, it degrades into hydrogen cyanide, which can be harmful. If you eat the toxic portions of the elderberry plant, you may experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

Fortunately, the ripe berries and flowers do not contain the same toxin. However, eating ripe berries may have other negative health side effects.  The safest way to eat elderberries is cooked. Cooking eliminates sambunigrin from any part of the elderberry plant.

Elderberry tea is made from dried, ripe elderberries. These berries are boiled in water, and then the mixture is strained to remove solids. The resulting tea has a sweet and tart taste with earthy undertones. To change the flavor, you can boil the berries with additional ingredients including:

  • cinnamon sticks
  • ginger
  • orange juice
  • honey (added after boiling)

It’s not hard to find testimonials online from people who swear by elderberry tea. It’s been said to do everything from boosting immunity to relieving constipation, but what does the research say? Are there proven health benefits to drinking elderberry tea? 

Nutrition Information

You can look to ripe, whole elderberries for a better understanding of the trace elements that may be present in the tea. However, a single cup of elderberry tea has low amounts of these nutrients. In addition, the boiling process removes additional nutrients.

A single cup of ripe elderberries (not prepared as tea) contains approximately:

  • Calories: 106
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 27 grams
  • Fiber: 10 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Whole elderberries contain several vitamins and minerals. One cup of ripe elderberries is an abundant source of:

Although elderberries are quite nutritious, it’s not safe to eat them raw. Instead, enjoy them in a cup of tea.

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Potential Health Benefits of Elderberry Tea

Some of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in elderberries are also found in elderberry tea. Therefore, certain benefits may be associated with the drink. The bulk of the research for elderberries and elderberry tea focuses on their potential as a treatment for influenza.

Influenza Relief

Some research has shown that elderberries can help treat influenza and cold symptoms. Studies have shown that patients given elderberry extract commonly experience reduced duration and severity of influenza symptoms. However, there’s been no research specifically dedicated to the study of elderberry tea.

Another study was conducted on a multi-ingredient hot drink that included both elderberry extract and Echinacea purpurea root extract. The drink also appeared to reduce the severity and duration of influenza symptoms. However, the drink was not a true tea. Both the Echinacea purpurea and elderberry were far more concentrated in this drink than in a typical tea mixture.

Disease Prevention

Research has found that the elderberry plant contains significant amounts of bioactive compounds — a substance that controls metabolic processes (energy that helps your body function). It’s suggested that eating compounds like the ones found in elderberries can lower your risk of chronic diseases.

Immune System Boost

Elderberries contain polyphenols which are a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants prevent damage to your cells that can lead to diseases. The antioxidants in elderberry have suspected benefits such as, reduced risk of tumors, boosted immune function, lower blood pressure levels, and reduced blood sugar levels.

Potential Risks of Elderberry Tea

All of the potential ill effects of elderberries should be negated by proper drying and subsequent boiling. As a result, in spite of the toxicity of raw, unripe elderberries, properly prepared elderberry tea is not thought to have any significant health risks.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 24, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

ACS Chemistry for Life: "Sambunigrin."

Advances in Integrative Medicine: “The effects of Sambucus nigra berry on acute respiratory viral infections: A rapid review of clinical studies.”

Current Opinion in Food Science: “Bioactive Compound.”

Current Therapeutic Research : “Effect of an Echinacea-Based Hot Drink Versus Oseltamivir in Influenza Treatment: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Double-Dummy, Multicenter, Noninferiority Clinical Trial.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Elderberries, fresh.”

huffpost.com: “Cooked vs. Raw: The Healthiest Way To Eat Fruits and Vegetables.”

Journal of Functional Foods: “Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food - a review.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Elderberry."

Science: “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth.”

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