Native Americans used tea made from elderberry flowers to treat respiratory infections. They also used the leaves and flowers in poultices applied to wounds, and the bark, suitably aged, as a laxative. The berries are frequently made into beverages, pies, and preserves, but they have also been used to treat arthritis.

A product containing elderberry, as well as small amounts of echinacea and bee propolis, has been widely marketed as a cold and fluremedy. Weak evidence suggests that this mixture may stimulate the immune system and also inhibit viral growth.1In a preliminary double-blind study, this mixture was found to reduce symptoms and speed recovery from influenza A, the type of influenza for which flu shots are given.5A few of the participants in this study had influenza B (a milder form of influenza), and the elderberry mixture appeared to be helpful for them as well. Another preliminary double-blind study evaluated people with influenza B, and also found benefit.2

Elderberry has also shown some preliminary promise for use in other viral infections, including HIV3 and herpes.4

Based on promising results in an uncontrolled study, researchers performed a small double-blind, placebo-controlledstudy on the potential benefits of elderberry for improving cholesterol levels.6 Unfortunately, at the dose used, no benefits were evident.