Black Elderberry 101 - Everything You Need to Know

Published on January 11, 2019

Black Elderberry may be one of the most commonly used herbs for immune health, and lucky for us it's also quite delicious. In the United Kingdom, it's not uncommon to find Elderberry jam in corner stores as well as cordials and sodas made from Elderflower (another part of the same plant). Black Elderberries are high in flavonoids called anthocyanins, which give the berries their bluish purple color, as well as another group called anthocyanidins. These flavonoids have antioxidant properties, and they also have been recorded to have a high oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC), which is the scale by which antioxidant activity is measured.* They assist with the body's natural defenses and cell communication.*

Black Elderberry is a long-established tonic for both immune and antioxidant support. (1,2)

Get to know this diminutive purple berry and learn how you can integrate it into your daily habits to give your immune system support, and to help you stay feeling well all year round.*

Scientific Name: Sambucus nigra 

Parts Used: Flowers and berries

Harvest Info : Flowers harvested in early summer; berries in fall. 

Black elderberry on leaf

Black Elderberry traditionally has been used for immune support, both as a daily tonic and for immediate response at the start of an immune challenge.*

Native Habitat

Widespread in Europe, Western Asia, North America, and North Africa; elder bushes are commonly found growing in woodlands and hedgerow. The bushes have fluffy white flowers in summer, and, later, their branches are full of plump blue-black berry clusters.

Where Our Black Elderberries Are Grown

The Black Elderberries used in our syrups and products come from a European growing cooperative based in Austria. This cooperative has more than 500 growers and was founded in 1978. One of our growers, who is the largest producer of Organic Elderberries in Europe, has been cultivating these beautiful berries for more than 40 years. Growing herbs for supplements is a long-standing tradition in Europe, so we are honored to be able to work with a family that has preserved this tradition.  

Historical and Cultural Uses

The Elder shrub was so revered that its very name reflects the respect that it was given.

The plant has been used since the fifth century AD, and it has been revered by both Native American and European herbalists throughout history. Native Americans used the branches of Black Elderberry to make flutes, so it is sometimes called "the tree of music." Black Elderberry pies were seasonal treats for early American settlers, and it was often made into wine, too (and still is).

While today it is more common to see the berries used in herbal preparations, the flowers and leaves of the Elder plant have also historically been used. Various parts of the plant were used to encourage healthy perspiration, healthy fluid levels, healthy bowel movements during bouts of occasional diarrhea and healthy blood sugar levels.* Later the berries became known for their immune supportive properties.*

Modern Uses and Research

black elderberry on vine

Because of its immune-modulating and antioxidant properties, Black Elderberry is able to work at the cellular level and provide deep support for overall immune health.*

Black Elderberry traditionally has been used for immune support, both as a daily tonic and at the start of an immune challenge.* Because of its immune-modulating and antioxidant properties, Black Elderberry is able to work at the cellular level and provide deep support for overall immune health.*(3) By normalizing and promoting the production of cytokines (an action that is essential for overall wellness), the immune system is able to maintain balance during those winter months when our bodies need all the plant power they can get.*(4)(5)

The constituents contained in the berry specifically promote the health of the upper respiratory system, by supporting a healthy inflammatory response and maintaining the integrity of the mucous membranes, too.* Quercetin, a flavonoid, is responsible for these aspects. It also supports a healthy response to occasional pain in the joints and muscles.* Rutin, another flavonoid, supports the integrity of blood vessels, keeping them strong.*

Active Constituents

Berries: Vitamins A and C; flavonoids such as quercetin and rutin, and anthocyanins *

Flowers: High in phenolic acids, sterols, flavonoids, mucilage, tannins, volatile oil containing triterpenes*

Tips for Daily Use

When my own kids were little, we had Black Elderberry juice or syrup mixed with Spearmint tea in the refrigerator all winter long, so it became part of their daily diet. The syrup can be given straight off a spoon, mixed in juice or even made into a fun gummy.

Black Elderberry Syrup is so delicious that it usually isn't a challenge to get even the most finicky eaters to comply with taking it. However, if you want some fun, delicious ideas beyond the ones I've shared, read: 15 Simple Ways to Incorporate Black Elderberry Syrup.

Black Elderberries are highly astringent, so they should always be cooked before consumption. Only ripe, cooked berries are edible - and delicious!


Elderberry punch

Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup packs an immune-supportive punch.* 

Black Elderberry Syrup is so tasty and versatile. Try it in these recipes any time of year!

Choosing the Right Black Elderberry Product

Explore the family of Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry products. From syrups to capsules and herbal liquids, find the one that suits your needs and lifestyle:

To find a store nearby that carries Gaia Herbs products, enter your zip code on our Where to Buy page. 

Selected Sources
(1) Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, et al. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1995; 1:361-369. (2) Zakay-Rones Z, Thorn E, et al. Journal of Integrative Medical Research 2004; 32:132-140. (3) Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1995; 1:361-9. (4) Barak V, et al. Israeli Medical Association Journal. 2002 Nov;4 (suppl 11):919-922. (5) Zakay-Rones Z, et al. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1995 Winter; 1(4):361-369.