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JUNE 4, 2014 by MAE CHAN
Elderberry Extract Outperforms Medication By Inhibiting Growth of Pathogenic Bacteria By Up To 99 Percent

Compounds in elderberry bind microorganisms before they can penetrate the walls of cells, thereby inhibiting their ability to spread. The hot tea from the flowers and juice from the berries promotes sweating preferable adding on lemon juice and honey which is soothing for upper respiratory infections. A liquid extract from black elderberry may inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria by 99 percent at highest concentrations, a feat no anti-bacterial drugs can match. The tea is also considered to be anti-rheumatic, laxative and detoxifying.

American Native Indians use the leaves and flowers in antiseptic wash for skin diseases and the berries to dye their hair black and dye the strands of grass they use in their basket designs. Others have used the tea made from the leaves as a diaphoretic (an agent that promotes sweating), the inner bark as a cathartic (an agent for purging the bowels, especially a laxative), the flowers simmered in oil for sunburn, and steeped in water as a compress for headaches. The flowers contain an oil that is used in perfume and cosmetics. Elderflower water can be used as a wash for dry skin or as a cooling wash for the eyes. According to an ancient recipe, washing your face with elderflower water in the morning and before retiring, leave it there to dry, will remove freckles and hardened skin. American Indians used the leaves also for pain relief which promotes healing of injuries.

Addition of a standardized extract of black elderberry inhibited the growth of the bacteria, Branhamella catarrhalis and Streptococcus pyogenes, two strains often found in association with upper respiratory tract infections, by 70 percent, when used at a concentration of only 10 percent, according to findings published in the open-access BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Ursolic acid is present in many plants including apples and elder flower, and can proect against from obesity and some of its harmful effects.

Elderberry may help treat cold and flu symptoms by reducing congestion and possibly making you sweat more. One study suggested that using a standardized elderberry extract, Sambucol, could shorten the duration of flu by about 3 days. Sambucol also contains other herbs plus vitamin C, so no one knows whether elderberry by itself would have the same effect.

Another preliminary study found that a lozenge with elderberry extract (ViraBLOC) helped reduce flu symptoms when taken within 24 hours of symptoms starting. In the lab, one study suggested that elderberry could kill the H1N1 virus (“swine flu”) in test tubes, but researchers don't know whether it would be effective against H1N1 in people.

“The activities shown by the elderberry liquid extract suggest that additional and alternative approaches to influenza infections might be provided by natural products,” wrote researchers led by Torsten Hain at the university’s Institute for Medical Microbiology.

History of use

A book originally written in 1644 in Latin by Dr Martin Blochwich was subsequently translated into English and German in 1655 and reprinted in 1677.

The handbook, reportedly conceived as a reference guide for medical practitioners who lived in the countryside or villages of Europe, was subsequently forgotten.

Building on these earlier accounts of the potential health benefits of elderberry, the study reports the potential benefits of a liquid extract standardized to contain a minimum of 3.2 percent anthocyanins for immune health.

The German scientists used the microtitre broth micro-dilution assay to assess the extract’s antimicrobial and antiviral activity. At concentrations of 5, 10, 15, and 20 percent, the extract was tested against two different strains of influenza virus, and three Gram-positive bacteria and one Gram-negative bacterium associated with upper respiratory tract infections.

Results showed (reportedly for the first time) that the extract was effective against Streptococcus pyogenes and group C and G Streptococci (Gram-positive), as well as Branhamella catarrhalis (Gram-negative).

In addition to 70 percent inhibition of all the bacteria at the 10 percent concentration level, when used at the highest concentration a growth inhibition of 99 percent was recorded.

"An interesting finding is that most anti-bacterial drugs do not exhibit reductions in bacteria exceeding 70 percent at full strength, something elderberry can achieve at 10 percent concentration levels," stated Dr. Thomas Horniak commenting on the study.

For the two influenza viruses, inhibition of influenza A was about 30 percent, while influenza B was inhibited by 25 percent, said the researchers.

“The result would suggest that elderberry liquid extract blocks factors on the cell surface needed by [influenza A] for efficient infection of [...] cells,” wrote the researchers.

“Since preliminary results of other investigations indicate an inhibitory effect of elderberry liquid extracts against influenza A and B viruses, it can be concluded that the molecular target of elderberry extract is common to both viral genera,” they added.

In vivo

“Regarding the usability of the elderberry liquid extract for in vivo testings, a compromise between concentration and low viscosity should be found to provide the best possible results,” wrote the German researchers. “For practical purposes, an optimum route of administration would need to be determined and it would have to be decided which strategy to pursue in considering the potential of the extract.”


Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.

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