The elderberry (sambucus nigra) is a shrub-like tree native to North America. Native Americans used the tree’s long and straight hollow stems to make arrows.
The berries of the tree are blue and used to make wine and jam. The berries are rich in vitamins A and C and have gained a reputation as a healing plant. Elderberry tea, which is made from elder flowers, is used as a treatment for coughs, sinus congestion, and sore throats and other upper respiratory infections. The flowers of elder contain important flavonoids; rutin, quercetin.
Elderflowers promote kidney excretion and helps eliminate toxins via the urinary system. Elderflowers are also used to treat arthritis.
The elderberry contains vitamins A and C, flavonoids and the anthocyanins, chrysanthemin and sambuci. Viburnic acid, a cyanogenic glycoside is also present in the berry. Viburic acid causes the release of hydrocyanic acid. This compound is believed to promote vomiting, perspiration and the removal of wastes. For this reason it is used for the treatment of asthma and bronchitis to relieve the accumulation of mucus in the lungs.
The elderberry has been the focus of intense research as a preventive method to ward off the flu. This is especially important as a pandemic of avian flu is expected within the decade.
The anti-flu activity is presumably due to the hemagglutinins contained in the skin of the elderberries. This compound is believed to interfere with a virus’s ability to bind to cell membrane receptors preventing its penetration into the cell.
Of special interest to athletes is elderberry’s purported ability to enhance glucose uptake by exercising muscle cells.