The Sambucus Nigra or European elderberry is beautiful to look at and excellent to eat (or drink). Their purple-black clusters of berries are purported to have many health benefits, but these come with some precautions that are helpful to know. They are also fantastic to grow in South Africa because the elderberry plant attracts lots of beneficial bugs and is generous with its berries. It is dense enough to make an effective, pretty hedge for your garden too.

The Good, the Bad and the Tasty of Elderberries

The Good – Why Grow Elderberries?

Many generations have believed that elderberries boast some incredible properties and health benefits. People all over the world consume them in one form or another to treat or reduce the symptoms of a number of maladies.

People most commonly believe that elderberries boost their immune system. For this reason, many have chosen to use them to assist in the fight against colds, flu, swine flu (H1N1) and HIV/AIDS. For colds and flu, elderberry lozenges or prescription drugs that are supplemented with elderberries are thought to be effective.

Use elderberries to treat:

  • Cancer – they’re full of antioxidants (including flavanols, phenolic acid, and anthocyanins) and boost the immune system. So, they can the body to fight cancers. They may also keep the body in the best possible shape while it endures harsh cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Interestingly, the flowers have 10 times more flavanol than the berries, making them particularly effective antioxidants.
  • Constipation – elderberry (often taken as a tea) has helped many people who suffer from constipation and the many complications that arise from it.
  • Pain – elderberries are sometimes used to treat sciatica, nerve pain (also known as neuralgia), and the pain caused by sinusitis and hay fever.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Some also use it as a(n):

  • Diuretic (increasing sweating and urination, for those that need it).
  • Anti-inflammatory.
  • Treatment and preventative measure for high cholesterol, heart disease, headaches, gum inflammation, and toothaches.

The Bad – Contra-Indications and Possible Side Effects

There isn’t enough research in place to say whether elderberries are safe to eat or drink during pregnancy and breast-feeding. So, it’s best to avoid having many at this important time.

The dark, unripe berries can cause stomach upsets (especially if they’re eaten in large quantities) and contain small amounts of a substance that releases cyanide. Still, no-one has been reported to have died from eating a lot of elderberries; but nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea are common in these cases.

The juice of the fresh berries, flowers, bark and leaves has caused several people to fall ill. This is because it is a concentration of substances that cause nausea, dizziness and other unpleasant symptoms. The bark and leaves should be avoided altogether.

The elderflowers seem to be safe to eat raw or cooked, but berries should be cooked because heat destroys the substances that are harmful.

The Tasty – How to Enjoy Your Elderberries

Turn your elderberries into a jam or syrup and drizzle it on fresh bread, yoghurt, muesli, pancakes or delicious baked goods. Simply boil the berries in water and sugar, and then allow the mixture to simmer. It will reduce down and thicken to a rich, delicious condiment.

Add the fresh flower petals to salads and desserts or brew them in a tea. Or dip the whole flower into a light batter and deep-fry it. You can infuse champagne, wine and juices with this fragrant bloom too for something refreshing and different.

Grow Your Own Elderberry Tree

Visit Just Berry Trees to choose your own gorgeous elderberry tree or order it online. They are hardy plants that can tolerate soil that isn’t in great shape or is very moist. The only condition that they don’t manage well is drought. Prune and harvest your tree in year three. Birds love the berries too. So, be sure to protect your plant from them (unless you love the feathered visitors).