Elderberries and the Immune System
Darci Bell

Elderberries and the Immune System

Elderberries are a hot topic in the colder months of the year. But what makes these berries so special?

The elderberry is a dark purple berry that grows on the elder tree. That makes sense, right? Elderberries must be cooked before they are eaten. This is because fresh elderberries can make you pretty sick. [1]   

However, once they are cooked and safe to be eaten, they are used in a variety of products. These include elderberry syrup, jam, herbal teas, and even supplements. [2]   

Elderberry products are popular during cold and flu season because they are believed to support the immune system. [2] When a food product makes a health claim like this, it is important to know what the research says. Let us break down the facts for you!  

girl holding elderberries in her hand

Do elderberries strengthen the immune system?  

Elderberries contain a variety of nutrients including vitamins A, E, and C. [3] These vitamins are also known as antioxidants which build the body’s defense against germs and help fight off illness.   

However, the benefits you receive from antioxidants depend on the amount of them in your food. This is true for elderberries, too. Most research is based on elderberry extract, which is a concentrated version of elderberries. [4] There are no current recommendations for the amounts of other elderberry products you would have to eat to get these benefits.   

Additionally, elderberry products can be a little pricey. Good thing we know of a cheaper option! Cranberries have a similar nutrient content and have been shown to support both the immune system and the cardiovascular system. [5] Check out how these two berries compare below. 

graphic comparing elderberries and cranberries

Information in the table came from the following sources: [2][6][7]   

Keeping a strong immune system year-round  

Our immune systems are responsible for preventing and fighting off illnesses. This means they are pretty important to our overall health! Here are some ways to keep a healthy immune system in all seasons:  

  • Consuming fruits and vegetables are a great place to start! Check out our blog on Eating for Your Best Immune System to learn more.  
  • Get plenty of sleep- eight hours a night is best, but more is even better!  
  • Exercising supports overall health to help your body fight off infection. Adults should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity every week. [8] Stay active with these exercise ideas! 
  • Minimize stress where you can. The next time you have a break, try going for a mindful walk to center you for your next task.  

multigenerational african american family playing basketball

While we wait for more evidence on the elderberry, there are other ways we can eat to help keep our bodies healthy. Hopefully, this blog has given you a few new ideas on how we can best support our immune systems to prevent illness! 


Written by Darci Bell, RDN, LD | Reviewed by Leslie Davis, MS, RD, LD, CDCES, and the Nutrition Education Team      

Posted on October 18, 2021 

[1] Permaculture Research Institute   

[2] Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN 

[3] Journal of Food Science   

[4] Cleveland Clinic   

[5] The Cranberry Institute   

[6] USDA Food Data Central- Cranberries 

[7] USDA Food Data Central- Elderberries    

[8] Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans  

Woman and Daughter Cooking
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