Elderberry or Sambucus Nigra is a plant of the genus Sambucus, which contains several species of shrubs and small trees. The plant is a native of temperate and subtropical regions like North America, Europe, Northwest Africa and South America. Elderberry plant is also known as ‘black elder’, ‘European elder’, ‘European elderberry’ and ‘European black elderberry’. The plant produces dark purple colored or black berries, that are known as elderberries, which have been in use for a long time in North America, Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, as a folk remedy for a number of health conditions. This prompted a number of scientific researches and investigation in this direction, which have thrown light on several elderberry health benefits.

Elderberry Uses

Historically, different parts of the plant have been used to help cure several ailments. It is the flowers and berries (blue/black only) that are used as natural medicine, and contain flavonoids. Elderberry flowers and leaves have been used for pain relief, swelling/inflammation, urine production, to relieve congestion and as a diaphoretic. Aged bark has been used as a laxative, diuretic or to induce vomiting). Elderberry leaves have been used for sitz baths. Let us now look at the extent to which any of these medicinal properties are backed by scientific evidence:

* [b]Influenza[/b]: There is good scientific evidence that elderberry juice is likely to improve flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, sore throat and aches, in a shorter amount of time than it usually takes to get over the flu. However, more research is required before a firm conclusion can be made.
* [b]Bacterial Sinusitis[/b]: In in laboratory studies, elder has reduced excessive sinus mucus secretion. However, the research specifically using elder to treat sinusitis in humans is very limited, as usually a combination of elder and other herbs is administered, along with antibiotics to treat sinus infections. The only drawback here is that the majority of this evidence is not of high quality.
* [b]Bronchitis[/b]: Only a small amount of research exists on the herbal product Sinupret® (which contains elder flowers (Sambucus nigra ) and other herbs) in patients with bronchitis. While benefits are suggested, no clear conclusion can be drawn about the effectiveness of Sinupret® or elder to manage bronchitis.
* [b]High Cholestero[/b]l: There is presently no reliable human evidence to support the use of elder alone as a treatment for high cholesterol. Early reports suggest that elderberry juice may decrease serum cholesterol concentrations and increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) stability. Read more about elderberry benefits.

Precautions to be Taken
However, before consuming elderberries or their extracts, one should always keep in mind that the leaves, twigs, seeds as well as the roots of the elderberry plant contain a compound, called glycoside, which if consumed, can release cyanide within our body. So, consuming a large quantity of these parts of the plant, can cause accumulation of a high level of cyanide in the body. Even the unripened berries contain a compound called, sambunigrin, which is a type of mildly toxic glycoside. Therefore, the unripened berries are also not fit for human consumption. Only the ripe berries can impart all the health benefits mentioned above. Also, make sure that you consume the berries of the Sambucus Nigra or black elderberry plant, as some other species of the genus Sambucus can be quite poisonous. The black or purple colored elderberries are generally considered ideal for human consumption, but, their excessive use can cause diarrhea.

Elderberry Side Effects

* Elder can cause an allergic reaction in people with known allergy to plants in the Caprifoliaceae family (honeysuckle family). Some children also develop reactions after playing with toys made from fresh elder stems. An allergic reaction to fresh elder stems and cause rash, skin irritation, or difficulty breathing.
* Juice made from crushed leaves, stems, and uncooked elderberries have caused diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and weakness in people. One preventive measure is to cook the berries, which prevents nausea or cyanide toxicity.
* As elder flowers are believed to have diuretic (urine-producing) properties, one is advised against consuming products containing elder while taking diuretics or drugs that interact with diuretics.
* Elder may cause blood sugar levels to reduce. Some people have also experienced dizziness, headache, convulsions, and rapid heart rate.
* Elder is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding, because of the theoretical risk of birth defects or spontaneous abortio