Elderberry (Sambuccus nigra) is known a strong antiviral agent. It has increasing studies that point to its efficacy in treatment/prevention of influenza A and B, herpes simplex 1, and on several bacteria that inhabit the upper respiratory tract. Viruses come in all shapes and sizes but those with hemagglutinin spikes are susceptible to damage from elderberry. These spikes are what some virus species use to break through the cell wall to replicate and thus infect the human host.  How this process works has been the life work of virologist Dr. Madeline Mumcuoglu. How this plant does its work is still under examination as of the writing of this article but scientists suspect that anthrocyanic pigments (anthocyanins) are largely responsible.

The reason so many are suspicious that the anthrocyanins are responsible for elderberry’s antiviral effects is because of what we already know about this compound. These pigments are not just responsible for granting elderberry their deep blue color. They make their mark in human health by decreasing inflammation and damage by free radicals. Combine this with antiviral effects and you have powerful medicine. Clinical trials show that elderberry extract is also responsible for not only preventing but reducing the duration of influenza. 

As we get to know the effects of elderberry, it will probably be clear that anthocyanins are just one of many constituents in this tasty herb that protects us from viral attacks. Elderberry plant parts, both flower and berry, are loaded with nutrition. Although elder flower is not noted for it’s anthocyanin content, it still rates high on the list of antiviral herbs. As with all our herbal friends, it is important to understand how each constituent works whilst keeping in mind that herbs are more than the sum of their parts.


Find out more:

Youdim, K. A., Martin, A., and Joseph, J. A. Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med 7-1-2000;29(1):51-60.

Zakay-Rones, Z., Varsano, N., Zlotnik, M., Manor, O., Regev, L., Schlesinger, M., and Mumcuoglu, M. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1(4):361-369.

Serkedjieva J, Manolova N, Zgorniak-Nowosielska I, and et al. Antiviral activity of the infusion (SHS-174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra L., aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria officinalis L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses. Phytotherapy Research 1990;4(3):97-100