As the pandemic continues to spread, the practical need for new treatments is an urgent priority. The increasing demand necessitated fast and readily available alternative options, which is where traditional medicine comes in to offer support.
Elderberry has long been used for common colds and the flu. Many have resorted to using this plant’s fruit extract because of its efficacy against these conditions. In this article, we’ll explore more about the elderberry plant and how it works to fight off common respiratory conditions.
Table of Contents
What is Elderberry?
The elderberry plant, scientifically known as Sambucus nigra, is from a family of shrubs or small trees that is found mostly grown in temperate and subtropical parts of the world. 
During the flowering season, the elderberry plant produces fragrant white flowers that eventually develop into what is more familiar to many– the clustered, small dark purple or almost black fruits.
Phenolic Compounds and Flavonoids in Elderberry
The dark purple color of the fruit is due to the presence of the flavonoid anthocyanin, thus, it is used in many food preparations and in nutritional supplements. Read about the importance of these phenolic compounds and flavonoids in the sections below.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that this plant species also contain toxins that may harm the consumer. Hence, the use of elderberry is sometimes limited due to the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in its flowers, leaves, and stems.
However, ripe elderberry fruits are safe for consumption and processing since an increasing degree of fruit ripeness causes the content of these toxins in the fruit to decrease. 
Naturally, the juice of the elderberry fruit is also very dark. And it is purported to have antioxidant, antiviral, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory properties owing to the presence of numerous bioactive compounds that it contains.
Bioactive compounds found in elderberry
Elderberry fruits are rich in phenolic acids, flavonoids, catechins, and proanthocyanidins. The most abundant of the phenolic acids were protocatechuic and chlorogenic acid, while for the flavonoids: quercetin-3-O-hexoside, quercetin, rutin, and anthocyanin were the most identified.  
Experiments with these phytochemicals revealed that elderberry juice is an extremely potent agent in the process of neutralizing free radicals responsible for weakening the immune system and significantly blocking influenza-causing organisms, which protects against the flu. 
How does elderberry work against viruses?
The anthocyanin found in the elderberry fruit is one of the most notable flavonoids in the fruit’s extract because of its immunomodulating and, possibly, anti-inflammatory effects. Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that give the elderberry fruit its dark purple hue.
It exerts its immunomodulatory effects by rendering viruses ineffective in causing diseases by attaching to the viral glycoproteins on their membranes. The viruses use these glycoproteins to enter host cells, thereby potentially inhibiting viral infection in human hosts.
In fact, the extracts of the elderberry fruit have demonstrated in-vitro its inhibitory effects on influenza A and influenza B viruses as well as the H1N1 flu virus. The experiment from which this data was collected showed that those treated with elderberry saw a significant improvement in fever within 2 days of intake.
A complete cure was also attained in over 90% of the study population within 2 to 3 days. This led a group of researchers to conduct a systematic review, and their investigation suggested that elderberries could be used to shorten the duration of influenza.  
Does elderberry work against COVID-19?
In many parts of the world where elderberry is a native crop, it has long been widely used in traditional medicine to treat common respiratory problems. It is a safe option for treating respiratory illness caused by the common flu viruses.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a growing interest in elderberry as an alternative or complementary treatment for viral infection.
Questions such as “Is elderberry good for COVID recovery” have driven many researchers to investigate the potential use of this plant against the virus that shut the world down three years ago.
As of date, there is still a knowledge gap concerning the topic of elderberry use in patients affected by COVID-19. Available studies on elderberry and COVID-19, unfortunately, have shown inconclusive results.
Currently, experts are uncertain about pushing elderberry as part of COVID-19 management because there is an increasing concern about the effects of elderberry on the COVID-19 cytokine storm.
Potential Effects of Elderberry on COVID-19 Patients
Because of the regulatory properties of its bioactive compounds on the immune system, especially that of anthocyanin, the elderberry might overstimulate the immune system of an infected patient and increase the risk of the cytokine storm.
During an infection, the inflammatory response is vital because, in the initial stage, cytokines have a potential antiviral role by fighting off and controlling the number of disease-causing agents that have invaded the body.
But in severe cases of COVID-19, releasing large amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines leads to a cytokine storm. When this happens, the cytokines responsible for protecting the body are actually doing more harm than good as it attacks not only the virus but also the normal cells of the body, which can eventually lead to multi-organ damage and even death. 
There is, therefore, concern among COVID-19 patients that the potential benefits of elderberry in inhibiting viral replication may be negated by the potential harm from cytokine release and an overactive immune system.
Although the antiviral efficacy of the bioactive components of elderberry against other viruses was demonstrated in vitro, this could not be extended to COVID-19. Hence for COVID-19 patients, further research is required since there is not yet enough evidence to support its use for treatment.
Does elderberry prevent illness?
Elderberry’s ability to fight off viruses has long been observed in the mass production of supplements containing fruit extract in many countries. Owing to its ability to upregulate the immune system, as discussed, the elderberry plant’s phytochemicals effectively stopped the virus from infecting the cells.
While its therapeutic use for COVID-19 is still being investigated, it is safe to suggest elderberry is appropriate for preventing and initially treating a viral disease in healthy individuals.
Elderberry is a good alternative treatment for common respiratory conditions like the flu. While it has proven efficacy for illnesses caused by already-known and well-studied viruses, its potential against the relatively new virus responsible for COVID-19 is still unknown.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
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