When Should You Take Elderberry?

Was this helpful?

For generations, people have considered elderberry to be a healthy plant. It was used topically (applied to the skin) to treat wounds, and the berries and flowers were cooked and ground down so elderberry could be taken orally, by mouth. Today, elderberry supplements are available in many stores and online, oftentimes to treat a cold or the flu. Before you start taking elderberry though, learn more about its benefits, risks, side effects, and how much you should take.

Elderberry Supplement Benefits

Many people swear by using elderberry supplements for various illnesses. Elderberry contains flavonols and anthocyanins, which are antioxidants thought to boost the body’s natural immune response. The most common elderberry use is to ease the respiratory symptoms of a cold or the flu. There are no clinical studies to support any such effect though. Other reported elderberry supplement benefits include:

  • Preventing infection
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Increasing urine output
  • Treating HIV/AIDS (some people believe it can prevent HIV)
  • Supporting the immune system
  • Reducing inflammation in the body
  • Reducing or preventing infections in your respiratory system

Elderberry Supplement Risks

Nutritional supplements like elderberry are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ask your pharmacist about the different brands available and their reliability.

Side effects of elderberry supplements can occur, although they are rare. They include allergic reactions to the elderberry and nausea and vomiting.

Experts say people should not take elderberry supplements if they are:

  • Taking medications to treat diabetes. The elderberry may increase the strength of diabetes medications, dropping your blood sugar level below your target.
  • Taking diuretics, which are medications that increase urination. The elderberry can also make these medications more effective and result in dehydration.
  • Taking laxatives, also because they may be stronger than expected when combined with elderberry.
  • Taking theophylline for asthma. The elderberry may weaken theophylline’s effectiveness.
  • Taking medications to suppress the immune system, such as prednisone, as elderberry increases the effect of the immune system.
  • Undergoing chemotherapy. The elderberry may interact with some chemotherapy drugs.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding

Talk to your doctor before taking elderberry supplements if you have an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. The elderberry may increase symptoms because of elderberry’s effect on the immune system.

Elderberry Warning

Take only elderberry supplements provided by reputable companies. Look for a certification seal from USP, DSVP, CL or NSF. These are reliable stamps that supplement companies voluntarily seek. A certification seal is a good sign that the elderberry supplement contains what it says it contains, is properly dosed, and isn’t contaminated.

Preparing your own supplement can be dangerous. Elderberries that are raw or not ripe enough contain cyanogenic glycosides, which cause cyanide toxicity. Eating raw seeds can cause nausea and vomiting.

Elderberry Recommended Intake

Check the labels of the elderberry supplements before you buy them. The recommended dosages for oral elderberry are:

  • 1 tablespoon, four times a day for three to five days for adults, if taking syrup
  • 1 tablespoon, two times a day, for children, if taking syrup
  • 1 lozenge of 175 mg, four times a day for two days
Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 9
View All Food, Nutrition and Diet Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Elderberries: A Potent Cold and Flu Remedy? Pharmacy Times. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/cate-sibley-pharmd/2017/10/elderberries-a-potent-cold-and-flu-remedy
  2. Elderberry. PennState Hershey. http://pennstatehershey.adam.com/content.aspx?productid=107&pid=33&gid=002880
  3. Elderberry. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/elderberry-01
  4. Elderberry. Medscape. https://reference.medscape.com/drug/american-black-elder-elderberry-344473
  5. Krawitz C, Mraheil MA, Stein M, et al. Inhibitory activity of a standardized elderberry liquid extract against clinically-relevant human respiratory bacterial pathogens and influenza A and B viruses. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011; 11: 16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3056848/