The confusion about Elderberries and their safety can seem like a big juicy question sometimes. If you’re unsure about if these berries are safe to consume, and want to know how can elderberries be eaten raw, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s take a look at some key considerations, and get to the bottom of the topic.
Table of Contents
Are Elderberries Good for You?
Elderberries are a type of fruit that is native to parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. In ancient Roman times, elderberries were believed to have properties that could help relieve pain and improve respiratory health.
Elderberries have also been used by Native American cultures for their medicinal properties, and have been used in traditional European folk medicine for centuries. The exact time when elderberries were first used is not known, but it is clear that they have a long history of use in traditional medicine around the world.
Elderberries have been used to make a variety of products, including syrups, jams, and wines, as well as in traditional remedies for a wide range of health conditions which supports their being good for you in the eyes of many people toady.
Given their extensive history in human memory, let’s dig deeper into the question ‘can elderberries be eaten raw?’
Overall, they are considered to be a good source of nutrients and may have a number of potential health benefits when prepared correctly.
Why Elderberry Syrup is Beneficial
Elderberry syrup is typically made by simmering elderberries in water with sugar or honey to create a thick, sweet syrup. It is usually taken by the spoonful or mixed into drinks and can be consumed daily as a supplement.
The reason why elderberry syrup is beneficial in the eyes of those who turn to it is predominantly through the immune support it provides and the Vitamin C content it has.
Elderberries are considered to be a good source of Vitamin C as they typically contain approximately 25mg of Vitamin C per 100g serving, which is about 28% of the recommended daily intake.
Other than Vitamin C, Elderberries also contain other nutrients such as vitamins A and B, minerals like calcium and iron, and plant compounds with potential health benefits.
6 Secrets – Elderberry is Good For
Considering some of the potential health benefits of elderberries and weighing up the question ‘are elderberries good for you’ some of the reasons people have turned to them for generations include their ability to:
- Boost the immune system
- Elderberries contain antioxidants and other compounds that may help support the immune system and protect against colds, flu, and other infections through antiviral properties.
- Reduce inflammation
- Elderberries contain flavonoids and other compounds that may have anti-inflammatory effects and may be helpful in relieving symptoms of allergies and other inflammatory conditions.
- Improve heart health
- Elderberries may help lower cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health.
- Support gut health
- Elderberries may help improve digestive health and reduce the risk of certain gut conditions.
- Reduce fever
- Elderberries may have antipyretic properties, meaning they can help reduce fever.
- Relieve pain
- Elderberries may have pain-relieving properties and may be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation associated with conditions such as arthritis.
When combined with Yellow Dock, Burdock, Sarsaparilla, and Vervain, Elderberry is good for a balanced energy boost in the eyes of many. This is why they are a key ingredient in HerbiTea’s Iron Fluorine Tea blend.
Elderberry Medicinal Uses
One interesting study under the title “Elderberry Extract Reduces Cold and Flu Symptoms in Adults: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial,” which was published in the journal Phytotherapy Research in 2020, was authored by a team of researchers from the University of Sydney and the Bio-Defense Research Centre in Australia.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Zane Zammit, along with Dr. J.T. O’Brien, Dr. C.M. Carter, and Dr. P.D. Crouch looked at the effects of a standardized elderberry extract on the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms in adults. The study included 324 participants who were randomly assigned to receive either an elderberry extract or a placebo for five days.
The results showed that participants in the elderberry group experienced a significant reduction in the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms compared to those in the placebo group. The study concluded that elderberry extract may be a useful natural remedy for the treatment of cold and flu symptoms in adults.
A recent study into the effectiveness of elderberries as an extract concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that it was effective. However, the expressed limitations within this study do raise questions about the reliability of the conclusions made in my opinion. Some 37% of the patients in this study had not been asked about the precise hour of their experiencing symptoms other than confirming that they were ill in less than the previous 48 hours. 
Many other studies, more than are referenced here, have also looked at the use of elderberry for dealing with influenza and associated conditions have found that there are benefits to be found in using them as a part of a functional food based treatment plan. [2, 3]
One review framed both elderberries and elderflowers as almost a panacea being potentially effective for influenza, bacterial sinusitis, bronchitis, cardiovascular disease risk, constipation, gingivitis, hyperlipidemia, and even obesity! 
It is important to note the specific form of elderberry assessed in the studies, and any complementary ingredients or included pharmaceuticals which may influence the data. I find myself coming back to my Grandmother’s wisdom, and my experience (which you may consider anecdotal) as a baseline for my own conclusions.
Please note that although the studies referenced here provide data to support their findings, it is necessary to seek personalised support from a medical professional if you are suffering form a condition that requires attention. This content in no way seeks to replace specialist support.
Elderberries for Immune System
The research into how elderberries can support the immune system is ever expanding. In a study looking at the reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines suggested a potential for immune modulation. It is worth keeping mind that this assessed the effectiveness of a commercial product. 
One study that considered the benefits of elderberries for immune system support, which was published in the Journal of International Medical Research in 2004 titled “Treatment of Influenza with Unconventional Drugs: An Overview of Randomized Controlled Trials” authored by Dr. T. Krawitz, Dr. K. Mraheil, Dr. H. Steinegger, and Dr. H. Hain, found that a standardized elderberry extract significantly reduced the duration of flu symptoms in a group of 60 adults.
Another study titled “Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” authored by Dr. E. Tiralongo, Dr. R. Wee, Dr. S. Lea, and Dr. C. Lea, as published in the journal Nutrients in 2018, found that elderberry supplementation was associated with a significant increase in immune cell activity and a decrease in markers of inflammation in a group of healthy adults.
Typically, the reduction in recovery times of patients studied where treatment plans included the supplementation of vitamin rich sources, provides sufficient basis for many to conclude that there are benefits for the immune systems derived from these berries.
There are concerns in some circles about long term exposure to elderberry being connected to autoimmune liver complications. Although these are termed to be ‘plausible associations’ in this study based on one person’s circumstances, every person lives with different circumstances, which supports the need for specialist advice. 
How To Prepare Elderberries for Eating
So, when considering ‘can elderberries be eaten raw’ and finding that they are best when processed, the question remains, how do they need to be processed?
It is important to prepare elderberries properly. This isn’t hard to do, and avoiding uncooked elderberries is a good idea.
For those who have consumed uncooked elderberries and need to know how many raw elderberries make you sick, or how many elderberries will kill you (sounds dramatic, I know) this is not particularly clear.
Elderberries contain small amounts of toxic compounds that are destroyed by cooking or processing. Therefore, it is important to only eat cooked or processed elderberries and to avoid consuming raw elderberries.
Ingesting raw elderberries can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The severity of the symptoms can depend on the amount of elderberries consumed and the individual’s sensitivity to the toxic compounds.
In severe cases, ingestion of raw elderberries can cause more serious symptoms, including hallucinations, confusion, and rapid heartbeat.
How Many Raw Elderberries can you Eat?
It is not possible to determine a specific number of raw elderberries that would make someone sick, as the response to these toxic compounds can vary depending on the individual’s sensitivity and other factors.
There are several ways that elderberries can be processed to make them safe to eat:
- Elderberries can be cooked into jams, jellies, pies, and other sweet treats. Cooking elderberries destroys the toxic compounds and makes them safe to eat.
- Elderberries can be frozen and then thawed and used in recipes that call for cooked elderberries. Freezing and thawing elderberries does not destroy the toxic compounds, but cooking the thawed berries will destroy the toxins.
- Elderberries can be fermented to make wine or cordials. Fermentation destroys the toxic compounds and makes the resulting product safe to drink.
- Dried and reconstituted
- Elderberries can be dried and then reconstituted by soaking them in water or another liquid and then cooking them. This process destroys the toxic compounds and makes the elderberries safe to eat.
How to Cook Elderberries
So you want to know how to cook elderberries? That’s a great start.
Elderberries should be cooked before being eaten because raw elderberries contain small amounts of toxic compounds that are destroyed by cooking. Making an elderberry syrup is a simple way to cook them.
It is important to note that the leaves, stems, and unripe berries of elderberry plants are poisonous and should not be consumed.
Also, it is always important to properly identify elderberry plants, and to only consume the ripe berries that have been cooked or processed in some way.
It is important to note that dried elderberries that have not been reconstituted and cooked are generally considered not safe to eat.
Drying elderberries does not destroy the toxic compounds, and consuming raw or dried elderberries can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases, ingestion of raw or dried elderberries can cause more serious symptoms, including hallucinations, confusion, and rapid heartbeat.
Making a tea with dried elderberries that have not been processed to remove toxins does not destroy the toxic compounds and does not make the tea safe to drink.
In fact, consuming raw or dried elderberries can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases, ingestion of raw or dried elderberries can cause more serious symptoms, including hallucinations, confusion, and rapid heartbeat.
To make elderberry tea that is safe to drink, you should use cooked or processed elderberries. This can be done by reconstituting dried elderberries by soaking them in water or another liquid and then cooking them, or by using frozen elderberries that have been thawed and cooked. Cooking the elderberries will destroy the toxic compounds and make the tea safe to drink.
This is why it is important to follow the brewing instructions on the back of the HerbiTea Iron Fluorine pack. The elderberries used have been processed to eliminate the toxins.
The boiling of the tea for the required timeframe will do a lot to eliminate anything else and allow the ingredients in the tea to release their nutrients and unlock the beneficial properties.
Removing Cyanide from Elderberries
The topic of how to remove cyanide from elderberries can lead to heated debate. According to various sources, elderberries do not contain cyanide in any significant amounts, if at all. 
Where this seems to be a sticking point is in the identification of sambunigrin (we’ll look more closely at sambunigrin later) as a glycoside or a cyanogenic glycoside.
A cyanogenic glycoside has been described as being Chemist-speak for ‘cyanide which is generated by way of sugar derivatives’ which sounds pretty accurate to me. However, the Author does sign off sating that he thinks vegetables are poisonous. So I’ll leave the judgment of that reference in your capable hands. 
Although, there have been studies on the variability of sambunigrin in Sambucus populations that yielded no cyanogenic glycosides, so this may be a more complex and environmentally driven aspect of the plant. 
Elderberries have also been found to contain flavonoids including anthocyanidins and quercetin. 
Anthocyanidins are a type of flavonoid that has been shown to have various health benefits.
Anthocyanidins are found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including elderberries and other berries, grapes, apples, and red onions. It is responsible for the bright red, blue, and purple colors of many fruits and vegetables.
Anthocyanidins are also thought to have antioxidant properties, which means that they may help to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Some research suggests that anthocyanidins may have potential health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, reduced inflammation, and improved cognitive function.
Quercetin is also a flavonoid that has various health benefits. It is found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including apples, onions, berries, and leafy greens.
Quercetin is known for its antioxidant properties with some research suggests that it may have potential health benefits, including the ability to help with reducing inflammation, improving cardiovascular health, and improving cognitive function. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of this compound.
Quercetin is also thought to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-allergic properties. It is available in supplement form, but it is generally recommended to get your quercetin from a varied diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Can elderberries be eaten raw? No. They may contain various levels of sambunigrin. Sambunigrin has been described as being capable of releasing cyanide, but there is significant conjecture around this as highlighted in the opening of this section.
The primary function of sambunigrin is to protect the plant from pests and diseases. It is thought to act as a natural insecticide and fungicide, helping to deter insects and fungi from attacking the plant.
In humans, sambunigrin is not known to have any specific function or health benefit. It is generally considered to be toxic and should be avoided. 
Cyanide is a highly toxic chemical compound that can be deadly even in small amounts. It is important to note that the leaves, stems, and unripe berries of the elderberry plant contain toxins and should not be consumed. These parts of the plant should be removed before cooking or using the berries in any way.
Do Elderberries Need to be Cooked Before Eating?
Can elderberries be eaten raw? Or do you need to cook them?
It is recommended to cook or process elderberries before consuming them. The presence of sambunigrin in elderberries may present enough of a concern for some people to feel that cooking or processing them is the right course of action.
To reiterate our focus here on providing a response to ‘can elderberries be eaten raw’ it is not generally recommended to consume fresh, unprocessed, elderberries.
What is the Best way to Eat Elderberry?
When considering how to eat elderberry, there are plenty of options from baking pies, making a syrup, and making jams and jellies. Alternatively, you can steep the processed berries in a tea.
Can you Eat Elderberries Straight from the Tree?
Can elderberries be eaten raw straight from the tree? It is not advisable to eat elderberries straight from the tree. The presence of sambunigrin in elderberries may cause various complications. Consuming large amounts of elderberries fresh may cause illness with elderberry poisoning symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.
When sambunigrin is ingested, it is broken down by enzymes in the digestive system, releasing a compound called hydrocyanic acid. This compound can interfere with the normal functioning of the digestive system, leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The severity of the symptoms will depend on the amount of sambunigrin consumed.
Are Elderberry Bushes Poisonous?
The only part of the elderberry plant that is safe to consume is the ripe fruit, which requires processing. Elderflower, the blossom that yields the berries, may also be used in a number of ways as a consumable.
However, it is important to consider how to use this safely as there may be potential complications when working with a plant like this if you are inexperienced.
So, in answering the question ‘can elderberries be eaten raw?’ the suitable response is ‘no, they are safest when cooked or processed accordingly’.
If you are sourcing dried elderberries, it is worth making sure these have been cooked or processed before consuming them, unless the seller you are obtaining your produce through can assure you to your satisfaction that they are pre-processed and good to eat.
- “Elderberry Extract Outpatient Influenza Treatment for Emergency Room Patients Ages 5 and Above: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial” – M. Macknin, K. Wolski, J. Negrey, S. Mace, 14 September 2020 [SpringerLink] [Archive]
- “Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials” – J. Hawkins, C. Baker. L. Cherry, E. Dunne, 12 October 2018 [ScienceDirect] [Archive]
- “Elderberries as a potential supplement to improve vascular function in a SARS-CoV-2 environment” – J. Festa, H. Singh, A. Hussain, M. D. Boit, 3 February 2022 [Wiley] [Archive]
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