Posted On May 31, 2024


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Elderberry is a jack of all trades when it comes to its healing powers. It is one of the plants that has not only antibacterial but also antiviral properties. It has been known since ancient times that black elderberry drives away fever and shortens the recovery time for colds and flu infections. Our grandparents made homemade elderberry juice and elderberry wine. Some may also remember elderberry soup or delicious elderflower tea.

Unfortunately, many other preparation and application options have been forgotten. Its numerous healing properties – it has been proven to have a detoxifying effect, relieves gastrointestinal complaints, strengthens the nerves and rejuvenates the skin – make the “elderberry” a “jewel of the home medicine cabinet”. Health expert Barbara Simonsohn, author of the compact guide “Elderberry – Jewel of the Home Medicine Cabinet”, explains in an interview the numerous areas of application and valuable ingredients of the elderberry, which was named “Medicinal Plant of the Year 2024”.

Elderberry has an ancient tradition as a medicinal plant and has been used as a panacea for centuries. Why have these uses been forgotten and how can a renaissance be encouraged?

The elder was actually considered sacred by the Celts and was one of their most important power trees. The Germanic tribes also considered it a protective tree under which offerings were made, the dead were buried, meetings were held and rituals were celebrated. The elder was worshipped as the mother goddess Hel, and for our ancestors the tree also stood for fertility and rebirth. All parts of the plant were used in folk medicine. The church reacted allergically to “pagan” tree cults. It demonized the tree: Judas hanged himself on an elder tree, and the cross to which Jesus was nailed was made of elder wood. I have been to Israel several times, and no elder grows there. I think the church’s negative attitude towards elder has left its mark, so that it has fallen out of focus as a medicinal tree. In addition, industrialization with its rural exodus and urbanization has led to people becoming alienated from nature and the traditions of folk medicine. As a result, many of the myths and fairy tales surrounding elderberry, as well as the knowledge of the healing power of all its parts, were temporarily forgotten. I hope that my book will bring about a renaissance, because “good things grow so close,” as Goethe once said. I want to revive the traditional appreciation for elderberry. For me, elderberry has a spiritual energy of vitality and zest for life, qualities that we so urgently need in this day and age.

The elderberry was honored by the “Theophrastus Natural Healing Association” with the title “Medicinal Plant of the Year 2024”. How was this award justified and what makes the elderberry so special?

In my opinion, the Theophrastus Natural Healing Association – Theophrastus von Hohenheim is better known as Paracelsus – has rightly honored this medicinal and versatile plant with this title. The jury chairman Konrad Jungnickel said in his laudation: “Elderberry can be used for skin impurities, rheumatism or constipation. Ingredients such as flavonoids and essential oils, a high vitamin C content in the fruit as well as tannins and minerals are the reason for a wide range of applications.” Modern research shows that elderberry has a much broader indication than colds, bronchitis, flu and fever.

The Germanic and Celtic tribes already revered the elderberry as a sacred tree, and its healing properties have been documented since ancient times. What ailments was the elderberry plant used for, and which of these is still documented today?

The ancient Egyptians already used the plant as a medicinal remedy, and the ancient Romans used elderberry externally to heal wounds, burns and insect bites. Hippocrates documented the use of the root, leaves and juice as a laxative, diuretic and gynecological remedy. An old saying about elderberry states: “Bark, berry, leaf and flower, each part is strength and goodness, each is blessed.” The Germanic and Celtic tribes considered elderberry cakes to be a remedy for toothache, elderberry fruit and elderberry bark helped in Nordic folk medicine against mange, headaches and intestinal worms, and the bark juice was used against “daily fever” – probably referring to the local malaria tertiana. From ancient times to the present, the main uses of elderberry have been respiratory diseases, edema, digestive problems, inflammation of all kinds, including arthrosis and arteriosclerosis, infectious diseases, nervous disorders and so-called women’s ailments such as abdominal complaints and urinary tract infections. In the Middle Ages, elderberry was considered a universal medicine and “our dear Lord’s pharmacy”. It was used as a household remedy to reduce fever, cleanse the liver and spleen and strengthen the stomach. Because of its sweat-inducing and diuretic properties, flower tea was not only drunk for colds, but also for rheumatism, gout, skin diseases and dropsy. It is striking that most of the folk medicine uses have now been confirmed by studies. The range of indications extends from age spots, arthritis, asthma and cystitis to gout, skin problems, herpes, liver diseases and edema to rheumatism, venous diseases, constipation and menopausal symptoms.

Elderberry offers a variety of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and bioactive substances that help prevent and fight diseases. What are these ingredients and what effect do they have on health?

According to the American plant and elderberry expert Dr. James A. Duke, there are more than 50 health-relevant phytochemicals in the elderberry plant, from which the body can choose the ones it needs at the time, like at a buffet. The flowers contain numerous antioxidant polyphenols and essential oils. In addition, they contain valuable protein, iron, copper, up to 9 percent potassium, beta-carotene, zinc, plenty of vitamin C and linolenic acid. Elderberries are a cornucopia of valuable ingredients, including valuable anthocyanins, unsaturated fatty acids, provitamin A, folic acid, biotin, vitamin C, vitamin E and amino acids, to name just a few. Elderberries are particularly rich in minerals and iron. With 37.1 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams, elderberries are the top source of vitamin C. Polysaccharides – multiple sugars – protect against viruses and prevent cancer; Lectins, complex proteins, also have a cancer-preventive effect, as well as balancing blood sugar and protecting the heart. The bitter substances in elderberries are fat burners, stimulate metabolism and digestion, and reduce the risk of many types of cancer. Anthocyanins are bioactive substances that protect the brain and blood vessels from degenerative diseases. They have tumor-inhibiting, anti-inflammatory, blood pressure-regulating, immunomodulating, pain-relieving, diuretic, antiviral – even against coronaviruses! – and antibacterial effects and prevent Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. They protect against diabetes and prevent the formation of thrombosis. 100 grams of elderberries contain up to 1816 milligrams of anthocyanins, far exceeding other anthocyanin-rich fruits such as aronia berries and blueberries.

Elderberry is one of the plants that not only has antibacterial but also antiviral properties. Studies show that elderberry extracts can also reduce flu symptoms. What significance do these results have for modern medicine and the fight against viral infections and pandemics?

In fact, elderberry not only has an antibacterial effect – for example against the stomach germ Helicobacter pylori – and fungicidal effect – against fungi such as Candida albicans – but also an antiviral effect. Studies have shown that elderberries are effective against HIV viruses as well as influenza and coronaviruses. Bioactive polysaccharides activate antibodies and phagocytes, optimize the immune response and prevent viruses from multiplying, thus having a direct antiviral effect. They also activate cytokines, which are also effective virus fighters. Incidentally, alcoholic extracts destroy a large part of the polysaccharides during production. It is therefore better to use products such as “Sambufit” or “rubyni Edelholunder”. They prevent infection with viruses or reduce the recovery time from flu by more than half, as numerous studies have shown. Elderberry extracts are effective against both influenza A and influenza B viruses, a wide range of coronaviruses and hepatitis B and C viruses. “After the pandemic is before the pandemic,” said Angela Merkel. Unfortunately, this is probably true because the causes of pandemics in Southeast Asia – such as laboratories without international safety standards, wildlife markets and the advance of civilization into wildlife areas – have not been eliminated at all. I would protect myself prophylactically with the power of elderberry during the flu and corona season by strengthening my immune system with high-quality elderberry products and building up effective virus protection.

Barbara Simonsohn: Elderberry – Jewel of the Home Pharmacy, With healthy kitchen recipes and DIY cosmetics, Mankau Verlag (1st edition April 2024, 12 euros), ISBN 978-3-86374-717-6

Barbara Simonsohn: Elderberry – Jewel of the Home Pharmacy, With healthy kitchen recipes and DIY cosmetics, Mankau Verlag (1st edition April 2024, 12 euros), ISBN 978-3-86374-717-6

Our ancestors also used elderberry externally – for skin care and wound healing, but also for beauty. What are the possible uses here, and how can you get good products made from elderberry?

Thanks to its abundance of antioxidants, elderberry ensures beautiful and healthy skin. The flowers, the seed or kernel oil and the anthocyanins in the pulp have an anti-inflammatory and soothing effect, delay aging processes and strengthen the skin’s barrier function. The skin’s lipid layer is regenerated, and both mature and oily skin types benefit from this. Impure facial skin with blackheads responds well to a steam bath with elderflowers. Flowers and leaves reduce pigment spots thanks to their enzyme-inhibiting effect. The anthocyanins in elderberries protect the skin from “photo-aging” caused by UV, slow down aging processes and prevent the development of skin cancer. In my book you will find some simple applications and recipes for elderberry cosmetics, such as the leaf ointment used by the ancient Egyptians to combat wrinkles, an emergency ointment for insect bites and skin abrasions, a berry hand cream and a wound ointment. If you’re not the DIY type, there are numerous elderberry-based natural cosmetic products for skin and hair in organic shops, drugstores and online. Elderberry is a godsend for modern people and an all-rounder that brings us back into balance and represents a protective shield that has been proven for thousands of years against the health challenges of our time.

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