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Sambucus nigra

Sambucus nigra


Sambucus canadensis

Vernacular Name

Elderberry, black elder, sambucus, common elderberry, elder bush.


There are up to as many as 30 species of Sambucus each of which has different characteristics but some of which are interchangeable in regard to their use.  Sambucus nigra has a long history of use as a food and as a medicine, and was used in witchcraft to ward off evil in various spells.  S. nigra has recently been classified in the Adoxaceae family but is still sometimes classified as belonging to the Caprifoliaceae family.

S.nigra is a small deciduous tree or shrub that grows up to 8m in height.  It has grayish-brown bark, stems that shoot from the base of the plant and produces small white, hermaphrodite flowers.  The fruit is a dark purple or black drupe that contains up to five seeds which are typically distributed by birds.  Leaves growing up to 20cm contain several small leaflets, numbering 5 to 7.

Origin / Habitat

S.nigra is native to most areas of Europe, parts of Asia and Africa.[1] It is considered to be an invasive species in some areas of the world and grows in difficult habitats such as floodplains, coastal areas and wastelands. It can tolerate some shade but must have some direct sunlight to survive.[2]

Chemical Constituents

Berries: Flavonoids quercetin and rutin, anthocyanins identified as cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-sambubioside[3]; the hemagglutinin protein Sambucus nigra agglutinin III (SNA-III) and other lectins[4],[5],[6],[7],[8]; vitamins A and C.

Flowers: Flavonoids (rutin, isoquercitrine and kampherol)
hydrocyanic glycoside (sambunigrine), tannins, essential oil [9]

The bark, leaves, seeds and raw/unripe fruit contain the cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin, which is potentially toxic.[10]

Plant Part Used

Berry and flower

Medicinal Uses


Colds and flu
Immune support
Weight Loss


Most Frequently Reported Uses

Colds and flu
Immune support


Dosage Range 

Syrup:  10-30mL (2-6 teaspoonfuls) standardized extract one to three times per day.
Powdered extract:  500-1000mg, 2-3 times daily for 3-4 days.

Most Common Dosage

Syrup : 10mL (2 teaspoonfuls) standardized extract daily.
Tea: 5gm (1 teaspoonful) of dried flowers steeped in boiling water for ten minutes. Drink 2-3 times daily.
Powdered extract:  500mg, 2-3 times daily for 3-4 days.


Standardization Dosage

Flower extracts are standardized to 5% total flavonoids.  Berry extracts are standardized to 30% anthocyanins.




S.nigra has been used in folk medicine for centuries to treat influenza, colds and sinusitis, and has been reported to have antiviral activity against influenza and herpes simplex. Several laboratory studies have found constituents contained in elder berry and elder flower improve immunity and have activity against viruses including HIV, herpes simplex-1 and H1N1 viruses.[11],[12],[13],[14],[15] Flavonoids from S.nigra extract have been reported in laboratory studies to bind to H1N1 virus and, when bound, block the ability of the viruses to infect host cells.[16]


Elderflower and elderberry have reported antioxidant activity in laboratory studies.[17],[18],[19],[20]


Laboratory studies have reported that extracts of S.nigra flowers has anti-inflammatory activity.[21] The mechanism is proposed to include inactivation of the nuclear transcription factor kappaB and of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase.


A commonly used laboratory test  has been developed using S.nigra agglutinin. The test is termed Sambucus nigra agglutinin (SNA) affinity chromatography and is a type of lectin based chromatographic test used to determine glycoprotein markers such as in cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.[22],[23],[24],[25],[26]


Studies support the immune enhancing activity of S.nigra syrup.[27] A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that S.nigra syrup (15ml , 4 times daily) given for 5 days to 60 individuals with influenza-like symptoms decreased the length and severity of the symptoms.[28]

Several clinical studies support a proprietary combination product using S.nigra flowers, common sorrel, cowslip, European vervain and gentian (Sinupret) in sinusitis, bronchitis and otitis media.[29],[30]


A clinical study found that a balanced diet along with use of S.nigra berry juice enriched with flower extract and tablets containing berry powder and flower extract had positive benefits on mean weight, blood pressure, physical and emotional well-being and the quality of life had significantly improved (ITT analysis).[31] It is not known how much the S.nigra products contributed to the improvement in health of the individuals.

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

No documentation

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

Elderberry and flower have been reported safe in recommended doses. Discontinue if allergy occurs.[32] It is important to note that only the berries and flowers of Sambucus species may be used.  All other parts of the plant are poisonous to both animals and humans due to the cyanogenic glycoside content.[33] However, there are numerous investigational studies on the constituents found in the bark.

Use of improperly prepared berries may cause nausea and vomiting.[34]

Based on laboratory studies, S.nigra should only be used under a doctor’s supervision in those taking blood sugar lowering medications.[35]


Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women unless under the supervision of a doctor.

Age limitation

No documentation

Adverse reaction

No documentation

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  1)  Medicinal Herbs


  1. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis. US: CRC Press; 2000.449-450.
  2. Kabuce, N. (2006): NOBANIS – Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet – Sambucus nigra. – [Online Database of the North European and Baltic Network on Invasive Alien Species] .Available from: NOBANIS [Accessed on 21th September 2009].
  3. Nakatani N, Kikuzaki H, Hikida J, Ohba M, Inami O, Tamura I. Acylated anthocyanins from fruits of Sambucus canadensis. Phytochemistry. Feb1995;38(3):755-757.
  4. Dall'Olio F, Chiricolo M, Ceccarelli C, Minni F, Marrano D, Santini D.Beta-galactoside alpha2,6 sialyltransferase in human colon cancer: contribution of multiple transcripts to regulation of enzyme activity and reactivity with Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Int J Cancer. 1Oct2000;88(1):58-65.
  5. Halliday JA, Franks AH, Ramsdale TE, Martin R, Palant E.A rapid, semi-automated method for detection of Galbeta1-4GlcNAc alpha2,6-sialyltransferase (EC activity using the lectin Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Glycobiology. Jul2001;11(7):557-564.
  6. Karpova IS, Korets'ka NV, Pal'chykovs'ka LH, Nehruts'ka VV.Lectins from Sambucus nigra L inflorescences: isolation and investigation of biological activity using procaryotic test-systems. Ukr Biokhim Zh. Sep-Oct2007;79(5):145-152.
  7. Shibuya N, Goldstein IJ, Broekaert WF, Nsimba-Lubaki M, Peeters B, Peumans WJ. Fractionation of sialylated oligosaccharides, glycopeptides, and glycoproteins on immobilized elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) bark lectin. Arch Biochem Biophys. Apr1987;254(1):1-8.
  8. Mach L, Scherf W, Ammann M, Poetsch J, Bertsch W, März L, Glössl J.Purification and partial characterization of a novel lectin from elder (Sambucus nigra L.) fruit. Biochem J. 15Sep1991;278 ( Pt 3):667-671.
  9. Jiang D, Pei G, Zhou P, Peng X. [Analysis of the constituents of essential oils from Sambucus chinensis]. Zhong Yao Cai. 2003;26(2):102-103.
  10. Jensen SR, Nielsen BJ. Cyanogenic glucosides in Sambucus nigra L. Acta Chem Scand. 1973;27(7):2661-2662.
  11. Uncini Manganelli RE, Zaccaro L, Tomei PE.Antiviral activity in vitro of Urtica dioica L., Parietaria diffusa M. et K. and Sambucus nigra L. J Ethnopharmacol. 26Apr2005;98(3):323-327.
  12. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, Manor O, Regev L, Schlesinger M, Mumcuoglu M.Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med. Winter1995;1(4):361-369.
  13. Yao L, Korteweg C, Hsueh W, Gu J.Avian influenza receptor expression in H5N1-infected and noninfected human tissues. FASEB J. Mar2008;22(3):733-740.
  14. Morag AM, Mumcuoglu M, Baybikov T, et al. Inhibition of sensitive and acyclovir-resistant HSV-1 strains by an elderberry extract in vitro. Z Phytother. 1997;25:97-98.
  15. Matrosovich M, Matrosovich T, Carr J, Roberts NA, Klenk HD.Overexpression of the alpha-2,6-sialyltransferase in MDCK cells increases influenza virus sensitivity to neuraminidase inhibitors. J Virol. Aug2003;77(15):8418-8425.
  16. Roschek B Jr, Fink RC, McMichael MD, Li D, Alberte RS. Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. Jul2009;70(10):1255-1261.
  17. Abuja PM, Murkovic M, Pfannhauser W. Antioxidant and prooxidant activities of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract in low-density lipoprotein oxidation. J Agric Food Chem.1998;46:4091-4096.
  18. Ebrahimzadeh MA, Nabavi SF, Nabavi SM. Antioxidant activities of methanol extract of Sambucus ebulus L. flower. Pak J Biol Sci. 1Mar2009;12(5):447-450.
  19. Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med. 2000;29:51-60.
  20. Zafra-Stone S, Yasmin T, Bagchi M, et al. Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention. Mol Nutr Food Res. Jun2007;51(6):675-683.
  21. Harokopakis E, Albzreh MH, Haase EM, Scannapieco FA, Hajishengallis G.Inhibition of proinflammatory activities of major periodontal pathogens by aqueous extracts from elder flower (Sambucus nigra). J Periodontol. Feb2006;77(2):271-279.
  22. Baricevic I, Malenkovic V, Jones DR, Nedic O. The influence of laparoscopic and open surgery on the concentration and structural modifications of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 in the human circulation. Acta Physiol Hung. 2006;93(4):361-369.
  23. Nicholls JM, Bourne AJ, Chen H, Guan Y, Peiris JS.Sialic acid receptor detection in the human respiratory tract: evidence for widespread distribution of potential binding sites for human and avian influenza viruses. Respir Res. 25Oct2007;8:73.
  24. Dall'Olio F, Chiricolo M, Ceccarelli C, Minni F, Marrano D, Santini D.Beta-galactoside alpha2,6 sialyltransferase in human colon cancer: contribution of multiple transcripts to regulation of enzyme activity and reactivity with Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Int J Cancer. 1Oct2000;88(1):58-65.
  25. Battelli MG, Citores L, Buonamici L, Ferreras JM, de Benito FM, Stirpe F, Girbés T.Toxicity and cytotoxicity of nigrin b, a two-chain ribosome-inactivating protein from Sambucus nigra: comparison with ricin.Arch Toxicol. 1997;71(6):360-364.
  26. Murayama T, Zuber C, Seelentag WK, Li WP, Kemmner W, Heitz PU, Roth J.Colon carcinoma glycoproteins carrying alpha 2,6-linked sialic acid reactive with Sambucus nigra agglutinin are not constitutively expressed in normal human colon mucosa and are distinct from sialyl-Tn antigen. Int J Cancer. 4Mar1997;70(5):575-581.
  27. Barak V, Birkenfeld S, Halperin T, Kalickman I.The effect of herbal remedies on the production of human inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Isr Med Assoc J. Nov2002;4(11 Suppl):919-922.
  28. Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J.Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. Mar-Apr2004;32(2):132-140.
  29. Ismail C. [Pharmacology of Sinupret. Recent results on the rational for the Sinupret compound] HNO. May2005;53 Suppl 1:S38-42.
  30. Subbotina MV, Kunitsina MN, Buksha IA, Galchenko MT, Platonenko OI. [The use of sinupret in the combined treatment of acute otitis media in children] Vestn Otorinolaringol. 2009;(2):43-45.
  31. Chrubasik C, Maier T, Dawid C, et al. An observational study and quantification of the actives in a supplement with Sambucus nigra and Asparagus officinalis used for weight reduction. Phytother Res. 2008;22(7):913-918.
  32. Förster-Waldl E, Marchetti M, Schöll I, Focke M, Radauer C, Kinaciyan T, Nentwich I, Jäger S, Schmid ER, Boltz-Nitulescu G, Scheiner O, Jensen-Jarolim E.Type I allergy to elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is elicited by a 33.2 kDa allergen with significant homology to ribosomal inactivating proteins. Clin Exp Allergy. Dec2003;33(12):1703-1710.
  33. Barceloux DG.  Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances. John Wiley & Sons; 2008. 762.
  34. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for Practice on a Scientific Basis. US : CRC Press; 2000.446-448.
  35. Gray AM, Abdel-Wahab YH, Flatt PR. The traditional plant treatment, Sambucus nigra (elder), exhibits insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions in vitro. J Nutr 2000;130:15-20.

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