Sambucus nigra L

Sambucus nigra L. is a plant of European origin and popularly known as elder, elderberry, black elder, European elder, European elderberry, and European black elderberry.

Nature’s Laboratory is proud to supply this herb which has pharmacological multipotential for healthcare management. We provide elderberry as whole and have developed elderberry tincture as one of our products. When the entire world was passing through the covid-19 pandemic, the research and quality department of Nature’s laboratory was successful in designing and developing a popular and potent syrup containing elderberry along with other beneficial herbs, honey and propolis.

Biological Source

Sambucus nigra L belongs to the family Adoxaceae. It is described in the pharmacopoeia of several countries. 

Background and Historical uses of Sambucus nigra L

The black elder tree has been a popular plant from ancient times. Russians believe that the elder tree drives away evil spirits and takes away fevers. Hanging elder branches on doors and windows is believed to drive away witches and evils. In traditional medicine, elder fruits and flowers are the parts most often known for their medicinal value.

The traditional use of elderberry goes back to ancient times. Traditional medicinal uses of elderberry against colds, as a laxative, as a diaphoretic and as a diuretic have been documented in scientific literature and several handbooks such as Madaus (1938), Grieve (1931), Bisset and Wichtl (2001) and Wichtl (2004).

S. nigra has been used for thousands of years by people all over the world[1]. The consumption of its flowers has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA, revised as of April 1, 2020) and the Commission E of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices approved its use for the treatment of viral infections (Ulbricht et al., 2014).

Its flowers and berries have been used in folk medicine to treat feverish conditions, coughing, nasal congestion, and influenza, in addition to its popular use as an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and diuretic agent[2].

Black elderberry is an extremely accessible and abundant plant, native to the Northern hemisphere. Its seeds are spread rapidly by birds and other animals to colonize forest edges and disturbed areas and are nowadays diffused in various habitats including subtropical regions of Asia, North Africa, and North America.

Sambucus nigra flowers
Sambucus nigra flowers
Sambucus nigra whole
Sambucus nigra whole

Macroscopical Details

Sambucus nigra is a small tree or shrub, 1–8 m tall having a strong odour. The bark is brownish in colour, with longitudinal fractures and deep grooves. The leaves are opposite, imparipinnate, with 5–7 elliptic–lanceolate, dentate leaflets. The inflorescence is an umbel with many milky-white flowers. The fruit is a shiny black purple, subspherical drupe. The plant is found in woods, clearings, and hedges from sea level to mountainous elevations[3].

Phytochemical Details

The chemical composition of Sambucus nigra is rich and depends on different factors, such as cultivar, location, ripening stage and climatic conditions. All parts of this plant (flower, bark, leaf and fruits) are rich sources of dietary phytochemicals, such as carbohydrates, lipids, terpenoids, flavonoids, phenolic acids, alkaloids, etc.  In respect of carbohydrates, elderberry berries contain 7.86–11.50% of total sugar and 2.8–8.55% of reducing sugars. Carbohydrates found in Sambucus nigra fruit also include dietary fibre pectin, pectic acid, protopectin, Ca-pectate and cellulose[4]. Elderberry is a source of whole protein – its content is 2.7–2.9% in berries, 2.5% in flowers and 3.3% in leaves[5]. This protein includes sixteen amino acids, nine of which are essential; the total content of the essential amino acids is approx. 9% in flowers and 11.5% in leaves. Glutamic acid, aspargic acid and alanine have been reported as the dominant amino acids. Fats are accumulated mostly in elderberry seeds (fat content: 22.4%) and seed flour (fat content: 15.9%). The major fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids, which constitute 75.15% and 21.54% of total fatty acids in seeds and seed flour, respectively, whereas monounsaturated fatty acids (14.21% and 4.21%) and saturated fatty acids (10.64% and 4.81%) make up a significantly smaller share. 

All parts of the elderberry contain cyanogenic glycosides[6], the most abundant of which are sambunigrin and prunasin. Furthermore, elderberry contains m-hydroxy substituted glycosides, such as zierin and holocalin[7]. These compounds are potentially toxic and life-threatening, because they can be hydrolysed resulting in the release of cyanide[8]. However, they occur primarily in unripe berries and are degraded during heat treatment[9]. The highest amounts of sambunigrin are present in elder leaves (27.68–209.61 µg/g), lower amounts have been reported in flowers (1.23–18.88 µg/g), whereas berries contain the lowest amounts of this compound (0.08–0.77 µg/g). It was also found that the content of sambunigrin in elderberry changes depending on the growing altitude. The highest content of sambunigrin was recorded on a hilltop (1048 and 1077 m), which had lower temperatures and higher solar radiation as compared to other altitudes studied (209–858 m)[10]. The elder flowers are a composition of free aglycones (Kaempferol, quercetin), flavonol glycosides (astragalin, isoquercitrin, rutin), phenolic compounds (chlorogenic acids), sterols, triterpenes (α-, β-amyrin), triterpene acids (ursolic acid, oleanolic acid), free fatty acids, alkanes, tannins, mucilage and sugar. 

Prunasin on the left, Sambunigrin on the right

Medicinal Uses

Antiviral Potential

Common cold and flu are caused by common respiratory viral pathogens. The antiviral activities of elder berries and elder flowers are related to flavonoid contents. The antiviral effects of pure flavonoids were confirmed against herpes simplex virus type1[11], para-influenza, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus[12]. The clinical trials confirmed the efficacy of elder berries in the treatment of clinical symptoms of flu and common cold (Zakay-Rones et al. 19952004; Tiralongo et al. 2016; Kong 2009). Elder berries extract was found to be more effective against influenza A virus than influenza B type[13]. Elderberry extract significantly reduced the cold duration and its severity in patients with flu and flu like diseases. The mechanism responsible for the antiviral activity of elderberry in the treatment of flu and colds is its immune-modulatory effect. The immune-modulatory effects of elderberries are related to anthocyanin content. The immune-modulatory effects of elderberry extracts are associated with cytokines production (cyanidin-3-glucoside and cyanidin-3-sambubioside), phagocytes activation and its immigration to inflamed tissues[14].

Black elder is an important medicinal plant in Germany, where its flowers are used as a diaphoretic agent for feverish common colds (Bradley 1992). Black elder flowers are used for the treatment of scarlatina, also known as Scarlet Fever (a red, bumpy rash that typically covers the body) and fever[15]

Infectious Bronchitis Inhibitor

Infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) is a pathogenic chicken coronavirus. Currently, vaccination against IBV is only partially protective; therefore, better preventions and treatments are needed.  Ethanolic extract of S. nigra berries have shown significant inhibition of infectious bronchitis virus at an early point during replication, by damaging its membrane[16]

Elderflowers have been used in traditional medicines for the management of inflammation and skin disorders, it has the potential to ameliorate skin photoaging and inflammation. It has also been used as for the management of colds, fevers and other respiratory disturbances[17].

Consumption of elderberry extract has also been suggested for people with diabetic osteoporosis for improving their lipid profile and reducing atherogenic risk and hyperglycemia[18]. Elderberry anthocyanins can be efficient against atherosclerosis and Helicobacter pylori, a noxious pathogen responsible for various gastrointestinal disorders including duodenal ulcers and gastric cancer[19] . There is evidence for the applicability of black elderberry for the treatment of obesity. Elderberry flowers can be used both for prevention and therapy of a wide array of diseases due to their immunomodulatory anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiviral activities[20].

[1]. Rychlik I, Varghese M, Weissner W, Windsor RC, Wortley J. An evidence-based systematic review of elderberry and elderflower (Sambucus nigra) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2014 Mar;11(1):80-120.

[2] . Młynarczyk K, Walkowiak-Tomczak D, Łysiak GP. Bioactive properties of Sambucus nigra L. as a functional ingredient for food and pharmaceutical industry. J Funct Foods. 2018 Jan; 40:377-390.

[3]. Atkinson, M.D. and Atkinson, E. (2002), Sambucus nigra L. Journal of Ecology, 90: 895-923.

[4]. Diviš P., Pořízka J., Vespalcová M., Matějíček A., Kaplan J. Elemental composition of fruits from    different black elder (Sambucus nigra L.) cultivars grown in The Czech Republic. Journal of Elementology. 2015;20(3):549–557. 

[5]. Kislichenko V.S., Vel’ma V.V. Amino-acid composition of flowers, leaves and extract of Sambucus nigra flowers. Chemistry of Natural Compounds. 2006;42(1):125–126

[6]. DellaGreca M., Fiorentino A., Monaco P., Previtera L., Simonet A.M. Cyanogenic glycosides from Sambucus nigraNatural Product Letters. 2000; 14:175–182.

[7]. Jensen S.R., Nielsen B.J. Cyanogenic glucosides in Sambucus nigra L. Acta Chemica Scandinavica. 1973; 27:2661–2662. 

[8]. Bromley J., Hughes B.G.M., Leong D.C.S., Buckley N.A. Life-threatening interaction between complementary medicines: Cyanide toxicity following ingestion of amygdalin and vitamin C. Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 2005; 39:1566–1569

[9]. Williamson E., Driver S., Baxter K. Pharmaceutical Press; London: 2009. Stockley’s herbal medicines interactions. A guide to the interactions of herbal medicines, dietary supplements, and nutraceuticals with conventional medicines.

[10]. Senica M., Stampar F., Veberic R., Mikulic-Petkovsek M. The higher the better? Differences in phenolics and cyanogenic glycosides in Sambucus nigra leaves, flowers, and berries from different altitudes. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2016.

[11]. Mahmood N, Pizza C, Aquino R, De Tommasi N, Piacente S, Colman S, Burke A, Hay AJ (1993) Inhibition of HIV infection by flavanoids. Antiviral Res 22(2–3):189–199.

[12]. Nagai T, Miyaichi Y, Tomimori T, Suzuki Y, Yamada H (1992) In vivo anti-influenza virus activity of plant flavonoids possessing inhibitory activity for influenza virus sialidase. Antiviral Res 19(3):207–217.

[13]. Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J (2004) Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res 32(2):132–140.

[14]. Janeway CAJ, Travers P, Walport M, Shlomchik MJ (2001) Immunobiology: the immune system in health and disease. Garland Science, New York.

[15]. Kaur K, Kaur R, Kaur H, Kaur S (2014) A comprehensive review: Sambucus nigra. Linn Biolife 2(3):941–948.

[16]. Chen, C., Zuckerman, D.M., Brantley, S. et al. Sambucus nigra extracts inhibit infectious bronchitis virus at an early point during replication. BMC Vet Res 10, 24 (2014). 

[17]. Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. A systematic review on the sambuci fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytother Res. 2010 Jan;24(1):1-8.

[18]. Kolesarova A, Baldovska S, Kohut L, Sirotkin AV. Black Elder and Its Constituents: Molecular Mechanisms of Action Associated with Female Reproduction. Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland). 2022 Feb;15(2):239

[19].  Zafra-Stone S., Yasmin T., Bagchi M., Chatterjee A., Vinson J.A., Bagchi D. Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention. Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2007; 51:675–683. 

[20]. Andrzej Sidor, Anna Gramza- Michałowska. Advanced research on the antioxidant and health benefit of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) in food – a review, Journal of Functional Foods

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