Questions about Elderberry

  • Wonder if elderberry ok to eat raw?
  • Or does honey infusion render it safe?
  • Or is it a question of type of sambucus used? —J

This article is supplemental to the Folk U program for May 8, 2020.

By Yulia Kochubievsky, herbalist and founder of Made by Yulia (madebyyulia.ca)

The short answer to your question is that elderberry is not toxic but rather it is emetic/purgative with some people, which mean some people can get nauseous or (if taken in really large doses or are very sensitive) puke.. the solution being to discontinue the medicine in such case (obviously). 

You are right that this affect is being mitigated or eliminated by cooking. However to the best of my knowledge most people are fine with elderberry uncooked and only small percentage of people reacts to it. 
The berries and flowers contain the lowest percentage of this emetic compounds and therefore the safest to take raw..

Personally I’ve never had any reaction to the infused honey nor witnessed such reaction in others.  

It isn’t so much about the type of elderberry… the red is indeed more emetic but since it’s berries are rarely used (I think it’s mostly due to their flavour), it doesn’t matter much..

If you want to know more about this rather debatable topic in the world of herbal medicine, I suggest you check Stephen Harrod Buhner. He definitely have a whole writeup about it in his book “Herbal Antivirals” and I also saw some discussions around it in his Facebook around late March. Buhner is a big proponent of using the bark of the elder tree for its (much stronger than the berries) antivirals properties. I’m pretty sure he suggests a way of cooking it, but it’s been a while since I read it myself. If you don’t know him yet, to my mind he is one of the best herbal medicine writers out there. 

You can experiment with the honey, or go for the syrup if you prefer being on the safe side. I prefer the honey myself…

Top photo credit: elderberry with dewdrop in Hawthorne Gardens, Surrey, BC by Waferboard via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

2 thoughts on “Questions about Elderberry”

  1. I know my comment isn’t specifically Herbal – it is in the realm of Fermentable. ElderBerries have been used in Geuvestraminer (spelling) wine for centuries. I’ve been making ElderFlower wine (Pacific Red) for 25 years. 3 lbs. fresh flowers for 20 L – steeped like tea then cooled. sugar to 12%, add 45 ml acid blend, 30 ml. yeast nutrient, 5 ml. pectic enzeme. – keep warm at 20C, rack off in 7 days, top up fluid in a glass / plastic carboy for 6 weeks, syphon liquid into a 2nd carboy for 3 months – bottle! ( best after 1 year)

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