Welcome back to The Naturopathic Kitchen! As always, our goal is to bring new, healthy foods into the kitchen and try them out in fun and flavorful recipes! This week we will take a closer look at a winter staple, the elderberry.

Elderberry 101

Elderberry is perhaps among the oldest medicinal herbs on record. Its healing properties have been recognized since the time of Hippocrates, as early as 400AD. Archeological studies have dated the elder tree back even further, to the Neolithic age (around 2000BC). Historically, the elder tree has been used for a variety of purposes from medicinal to musical instruments. Traditionally, hollowed elderberry sprigs have been used to tap into maple trees to retrieve maple syrup. Several tribes of Native Americans used elderberry branches to make flute-like instruments. The plant itself was sometimes called “the tree of music.”

Where do elderberries come from? Where can I find them?

Though it may not be well-known, elderberry is far from a newcomer to the herbal medicine field. Elderberry syrup can be purchased commercially in many stores, but it is rare to find fresh, frozen, or dried elderberries in supermarkets. They are typically available in herb shops and can be ordered online in bulk amounts.

The elderberry plant is growing in popularity as a landscape hedge. Wild elderberry bushes can be found in many places around the globe. In North America, its characteristic clusters of small, cream-colored flowers are often seen in late spring and early summer with the clusters of small, dark, purple berries appearing mid-summer to early fall.

How do elderberries help my health?

Elderberries are well known for their medicinal properties. Elderberries are rich in antioxidants, anthocyanin and vitamin C. In fact, they have a vitamin C level that is twice that commonly found in oranges, and an antioxidant capacity that is triple that of blueberries. They are also high in phytonutrients like polyphenols and bioflavonoids.

Though there are many different varieties of elderberries, Sambucus nigra or black elderberry is the type most often used for medicinal purposes. Elderberry has been used in the treatment of flu pandemics and has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms.1 It has also been shown to minimize obesity related complications including lowering triglyceride levels in the blood, reducing inflammatory markers and improving insulin sensitivity.2 Further, elderberry has led to improved vascular health and lowered cardiovascular risk factors by reducing the amount of cholesterol found in the aorta, which serves as an indicator of reduced atherosclerosis progression.3 Elderberry has also been researched for its impact on the growth and spread of cancer. A recent study found that elderberry had the potential to inhibit the proliferation of metastatic melanoma cells.4

What medical conditions/symptoms is elderberry used for?

Immune support

Antiviral activity

Treatment of upper respiratory symptoms

Management of multiple influenza strains

Improve HDL function

Fatty Liver

Promote cancer cell death

When should elderberries be avoided?

Although it is clear that elderberries have numerous benefits to health, there are also some cautions that should be considered with their consumption. Elderberries are known to impact the immune system and have the potential to increase immune activity. While this is a good thing when it comes to most people who come down with a cold or the flu, it could be detrimental to those with an autoimmune disease and result in increased disease activity. For this same reason, consuming elderberries with medications that are designed to suppress the immune system might decrease the effectiveness of the medication.

It is also important to note that although the flowers and cooked berries are safe to consume, raw berries, bark, roots, and leaves are known to have poisonous qualities and can cause significant stomach issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Luckily, the toxic substances found in berries can be safely removed by cooking the berries. However, cooking or juicing the branches, bark, of leaves is not recommended.

Let’s try out elderberry with these tasty recipes!

Spiced Elderberry Syrup



1 c fresh or ¾ c dried elderberries
3 c water
2 T fresh sliced ginger
1 t cinnamon or ½ cinnamon stick
1 t cloves
1 c raw honey



  1. Place elderberries, water, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.
  2. Remove from heat and using a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, strain out mixture.
  3. Transfer liquid to a jar and stir in honey.
  4. Keep in the fridge sealed for 2-3 weeks.

Thank you to meghantelpner.com for this wonderful recipe!

Elderberry Muffins



3 c oat flour
1 T baking powder
3/8 t baking soda
½ t salt
¼ c applesauce
7 T melted dairy-free butter alternative
1 c soy buttermilk, (soy milk combined with 1 T of apple cider vinegar)
½ c honey
1 t vanilla
2 c fresh elderberries, rinsed and drained



  1. Heat oven to 350.
  2. Mix dry ingredients (oat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt) in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix applesauce, soy buttermilk, honey, melted butter alternative and vanilla.
  4. Place elderberries in a small bowl and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of the flour mixture. Gently stir the elderberries to coat them with the flour mixture.
  5. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Add the berries. It’s okay for the batter to be lumpy because you don’t want to over mix so the muffins will be fluffy.
  6. Pour the batter into muffin cups and bake for about 17-20 minutes. Let cool before serving.

Thank you to namelymarley.com for the tasty recipe!

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