The elderberry shrub (Sambucus spp.) grows wild throughout North America and is also cultivated in backyards in USDA hardiness zones 4 or higher, according to Cornell University. The fruit can be made into jellies, jams and various other berry concoctions, but there's more to elderberry usage than just fresh-baked pastries. Syrupy extracts from the berries have several health benefits when consumed, something that folk medicine practitioners have known for centuries, according to Purdue University.
When taken at the onset of the common cold, elderberry extract may reduce the severity and duration of symptoms such as congestion, according to the University of Maryland.
Elderberry extract combined with St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), a European perennial herb, inhibits the development of the herpes simplex virus, according to the University of Michigan.
Vitamins and Antioxidants
Elderberries contain flavonoids--the same healthy compound found in wine--that may reduce the risks of stroke and heart disease, according to Purdue University. The university also found elderberries to have some of the highest concentrations of vitamin C and antioxidants seen in berries, more than fruits like blueberries and cranberries. The benefits of this are far ranging, as antioxidants have been associated with minimizing cancer risks and signs of aging.
When taken in the first 24 hours of experiencing the flu, elderberry extract can help limit the duration of the flu by several days, according to the University of Maryland. In a laboratory environment, elderberry extract killed the avian influenza with a 99 percent efficacy rate, according to the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
The elderberry may have anti-inflammatory properties and is often used to treat the symptoms related to sinus infections, according to the University of Maryland. Similarly, the viburnic acid and tannins in the berry can help improve respiration and reduce regular nasal congestion, according to Purdue University.