Sambucus Nigra: The Herb and the Remedy


Elderberry has been one of the most utilized botanical herbs ever since prehistoric times. In Italy and Switzerland, there is evidence of this from its cultivation thousands of years ago. Its initial worth seemed to be of myth and magic derived from spirits living within its branches. One folklore story tells that it is perfectly safe to stand under an elder tree during storms since lightning never strikes an elder tree.


Its habitat is mostly within the European community but now can be found within the North American territories. Its identification is that of a shrub or tree growing up to 30 feet tall with leaves that grow in opposite pairs and are pinnately compounded. Leaflets are toothed and oval, usually five to seven per leaf.


Between June and July, small white flowers grow in flat clusters to eventually create purple and black berries. These berries are famous for yielding delicious wine and jam. The flowers are collected in spring and early summer and dried as rapidly as possible in the shade. The bark and berries are best collected in August and September.

Plant Constituents and Actions:

The flowers contain essential oils containing free fatty acids, linolenic and palmeitic acids and alkanes, triterpenes which include ursolic acid, 30-b-hydroxyursolic acid, rutin, quercitin, mucilage, and tannins in addition to miscellaneous amounts of phenolic acids, e.g. chlorogenic acid, pectin, sugars, etc. The flowers can be used as a diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal and anti-spasmodic.

The leaves contain triterpenes similar to those found in the flowers; cyanogenetic glycosides like sambunigrin, flavonoids including rutin and quercitin and miscellaneous amounts of fatty acids, alkanes, and tannins. The leaves are externally used for an emollient and vulnerary, internally as purgative, expectorant, diuretic and diaphoretic.

The bark contains phytohaemagglutinins. The bark is useful as a purgative, emetic and diuretic. The berries are useful as a diaphoretic, diuretic and laxative. It is truly a blessing that there is a standardized elderberry extract available considering the increasing difficulties that we are having with the influenza viruses. Several studies have been performed using this extract with some very significant findings.

One placebo controlled double blind study was carried out on a group of individuals living in an agricultural community (kibbutz) during an outbreak of the influenza B/Panama in 1993. They noted that fever, the feeling of improvement and complete cure were recorded during six days. Sera obtained in the acute and convalescent phases were tested for the presence of antibodies to influenza A, B, respiratory syncytial, and adenoviruses.

The convalescent phase serologies showed a higher mean and mean geometric hemagglutination (HI) titers to influenza B in the group treated with the elderberry extract than in the control group. A significant improvement of the symptoms, including the fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the elderberry treated group within two days whereas the control group took more than 6 days to achieve the same results. A complete cure was achieved within two to three days in nearly 90% of the elderberry treated group.

If elderberry were strictly limited to its effects on influenza, it would be sufficient to make it a wonderful tool to add to our armamentarium. It is the influenza virus A or B that causes an acute febrile illness that occurs every winter in a large segment of the population. Any method we can use to improve the situation is welcome, particularly because upwards of 50,000 people die each year in the United States alone from influenza.

The drugs amantadine and rimantadine were shown to be mainly effective in the prevention of influenza A. The only way they can inhibit influenza B is to have such a high concentration of the drug that it is not safe for a patient. Moreover, it has been reported that mutations in the influenza M2 membrane protein confer resistance to amantadine. Rimantadine resistant influenza A strains appeared during therapeutic use of this product as early as two days after starting treatment.

This could easily lead to the rapid selection and transmission of drug resistant influenza A viruses. Ribavirin is effective against type A and B viruses but only when given in aerosol form. This mode of administration is difficult for influenza patients suffering from respiratory diseases as well as being expensive and cumbersome.

A standardized extract of elderberry will contain high amounts of three separate flavonoids. One study suggests that the extract inhibits the hemagglutinin of the viruses by binding to the virus itself and therefore does not interfere with the glycoconjugate receptor on the erythrocytes. The hemagglutinin is known to mediate the attachment of the virus to the host cells via sialic acid residue in glycoconjugate receptors and the subsequent fusion of viral and host cell membranes. It can be assumed that the inhibitory affect on influenza virus and tissue cultures is mediated by the inactivation of viral glycoproteins which prevent the initial stage of reproduction.

The influenza vaccine is sometimes useful for prophylaxis of the influenza viral infection, but antigenicity of influenza viruses is often alterable by antigenic shift and antigenic drift on their two antigens, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. In one study the elderberry extract inhibited the hemagglutinin of all strains of influenza viruses tested.

Virologists are concerned that a fresh pandemic may come from an influenza virus that infects animals and will also infect humans under favorable conditions. Evidence exists that genetic reassortment occurs in vivo in mixed infections in swine and in turkeys and the resulting mutation may be extremely dangerous to humans. For example, mutant type A swine flu viruses may have been responsible for the wide spread epidemics in 1918 and in 1957.

The elderberry extract was shown to inhibit strains isolated from turkeys and swine that under favorable circumstances could produce such pandemic to which people lack immunity. An additional advantage to the treatment with elderberry would be the decrease in the transmissibility of influenza viruses resulting in fewer secondary cases of infection in communities such as homes for the elderly, army camps and university residences.

Vaccination with the influenza B induces a poor antibody response particularly in the elderly patients, since influenza B is less immunogenic. In the absence of any proper medication against influenza B virus and considering the efficacy of the elderberry extract against all strains tested, in addition to its absence of side effects, the elderberry extract offers a safe treatment for influenza especially in the eventuality of a new pandemic.


Other areas of effectiveness that Elderberry has shown to be helpful is wide and varied. The Elder tree is truly a medicine chest if used wisely! European elder is the only plant to use herbally. Our North America trees and bushes contain large amounts of both hydrocyanic acid and sambuline, a nauseating alkaloid found mostly in the bark and root as well as the fresh plant.

European Elder leaves are excellent for bruises, wounds and sprains along with using it in an ointment for tumors. The flowers and berries are very useful for the upper respiratory tract inflammations. Sinusitis, hayfever and inflammatory deafness respond well to both the leaves and the berries. The berries though are very helpful in assisting with rheumatism. Priest & Priest mention that European Elder is relaxing to the eliminative organs, soothing to the nervous system and gently laxative. Indications for use with children would be chronic nasal catarrh or sinusitis, colds and flu with hot dry skin, dry spasmodic croup, skin eruptions from metabolic disturbance like eczema and dermatitis and weakening night sweats. Elder flowers are diaphoretic and can be used as a gentle stimulant. as a cold infusion they are diuretic, alterative and cooling and therefore may be effective in all diseases requiring such action such as the hepatic derangements of children.

The flowers and juice of the berries have been used well to assist with scrofula, syphilis, rheumatism and cutaneous diseases. It is quite beneficial using the inner bark within wine or cider as a cathartic. This will act to purge moderately within doses of 1/2 to 1 fluid ounce. Larger doses produce emesis. In children, it promotes all the fluid secretions and is helpful in dropsy especially following febrile and other chronic diseases.


To create the infusion use 1 cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoonfuls of dried or fresh flowers. Infuse (steep) for 10 minutes. Drink warm to hot 3 times a day. To make the ointment heat 1 part of elder leaves in 2 parts of vaseline until the leaves are crisp. Strain and store. The tincture is made from the flowers. The dosage is 2-3 ml 3 times a day for 6 days before meals with 1 day off. The standardized berry extract is given to children (2 teaspoons) and adults (4 teaspoons) daily in case of illness.


Sambucus has been a long time addition to the repertory. Below is a brief review of the materia medica of this fine remedy. It was first introduced by Hahnemann in 1819.

MENTALS: Sambucus has two unique symptoms. The first being periodic delirium and the second being perspiration during unconsciousness. There are no bold face listings for mental symptoms for Sambucus, although grade 2 symptoms include anxiety at night as well as anxiety upon waking, being frightened easily, irritability, delusions of images and phantoms, restlessness, mistakes in writing, weeping while sleeping and starting from sleep.

HEAD; The remedy is noted for nasal obstruction, snuffles especially in newborns, or having nasal obstructions so pronounced that the child is unable to nurse.

FACE; The child will turn blue with cough, or with asthma. There are red burning spots on the cheeks in addition to heat and perspiration on the face.

THROAT; There are notations of laryngospasm and hoarseness with much mucus in the larynx.

RESPIRATORY; Boericke states the chest is oppressed with pressure in the stomach in addition to nausea. Hoarseness with tenacious mucus in the larynx. There is a paroxysmal suffocative cough coming about midnight with crying and dyspnea. A child will waken suddenly, nearly suffocating, sits up and starts to turn blue since it cannot expire, asthma is associated with heavy perspiration and the remedy may be indicated in pertussis.

FEVER; The child dreads uncovering. There is a dry, heat while sleeping and a profuse sweat over the entire body during waking hours. A dry, deep cough may precede the fever paroxysm.

SKIN; As mentioned above, there is a dry heat of the skin during sleep, with profuse sweat on waking.

MODALITIES; These patients are generally worse with sleep, during rest, and after eating fruit. Better with motion and sitting up in bed.

SUMMARY; Allen's Keynotes list Sambucus as being well adapted to diseases of scrofulous children which affects the air passages especially. Persons formerly robust and fleshy that suddenly become emaciated. The child inspires but is unable to expire, and will sleep into an attack.

RELATIONSHIP: The comparisons often made in the materia medica include the remedies ipec.; meph.; opium; lach.; lyc.; cinch.; chlor. and sulphur.

EXTREMITIES; The hands turn blue and there can be edematous swelling in the legs and feet. The feet feel icy cold and there is debilitating night sweats. The cold feet or cold hands can occur with the body feeling warm.

It is apparent that Sambucus is useful for respiratory problems, both of the upper respiratory tract and nose as well as some of the pulmonary disorders. Between the two, it would appear that there are some effective alternatives for influenza as well as the resurgence of diphtheria which we are seeing currently in the United States. The other name offered for diphtheria right now is the "one hundred day cough" and by using the herb and/or the remedy we have the opportunity to alleviate a great deal of suffering, not only in this cold and flu season, but in all the succeeding ones as well.

Chiropractic Academy of Homeopathy.


By Dean Martens

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