Elderberry For Kids: Is It Safe, Benefits, Side Effects And Precautions

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In the past few decades, the medicinal use of elderberry for kids has gained popularity. It is used to treat common ailments such as cold, indigestion, flu, etc. Elderberries are bluish-purple in color and are highly nutritious. They may be consumed in several forms, and the most common forms are jams, cordial, juice, and pie (1).

Elderberry is also used in several dietary supplements and medicinal products. However, it is vital to check the product’s safety for children before serving them to children.

Read about the benefits, potential risks, and precautions to follow while using elderberries for children.

Is Elderberry Safe For Children?

Moderate consumption of cooked, fresh or dry ripe elderberries is safe for children. However, uncooked ripe elderberries and unripe elderberries could be harmful. Elderberries naturally contain lectins, hydrocyanic acid, and sambucine that may lead to gastrointestinal disturbance and toxicity (2) (3). Cooking the berries renders these compounds inactive, making them safe for consumption.

Nevertheless, it is advisable to consult a pediatrician before trying elderberry for children. You must also consult a doctor before trying elderberry dietary supplements and medicinal products since they are not FDA-approved, meaning their safety for children is not fully known.

When Can Children Consume Elderberry?

There is no recommended age for elderberry consumption among children. Most children begin consuming cooked elderberry products, such as jam, by the age of one year. However, it may not be the case with every child, hence consulting a pediatrician is advisable.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) advises against the use of elderberry dietary supplements or herbal products for children under 18 years of age (4). If you wish to use these products, consult your doctor or an alternative medicine expert.

Possible Benefits Of Elderberry

Elderberries are rich in several nutrients, such as dietary fiber, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants, such as flavonols, anthocyanins, and phenolic acids. Thus, the consumption of elderberries may offer the following health benefits (5) (6) (7).

  1. Healthy bowel movement by enhancing gastric motility, which is necessary to keep constipation at bay. Research highlights elderberry’s laxative effects, which is why it is commonly used for constipation treatment in herbal and traditional medicine.
  2. Robust immunity by offering antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. These properties are essential to fight ailments and maintain overall health. It is why elderberry herbal products, such as syrups and tinctures, are prevalent in alternative medicine to treat conditions, such as the common cold and flu.

Elderberries are also believed to maintain cardiovascular and ocular health over time, although more research is needed to prove these benefits for children (7).

What Are The Side Effects Of Elderberry?

Elderberries may cause the following side effects in some children (8).

  1. Allergy: Elderberry allergy is rare but possible. Its symptoms may emerge immediately after touching or ingesting elderberry or a dietary product containing elderberry. Some of the common symptoms of elderberry allergy are itching or swelling of the mouth, face, lip, tongue, and throat. Children allergic to plants of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family may show cross-reactive allergy to elderberries.
  2. Drug interaction: Elderberry fruit and products could cross-react with immunosuppressants, blood pressure medicines, and antidiabetic drugs (9). If your child is on any medications, consult a pediatrician before feeding elderberry or its products to your child.

Besides these effects, ingestion of raw (uncooked) ripe or unripe elderberries may lead to severe gastrointestinal discomfort, including symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. Ingestion of too many uncooked elderberries may also lead to toxicity, affecting the nervous system adversely.  

Precautions To Take While Feeding Elderberry

Here are some precautionary steps that can ensure the safe consumption of elderberries among children (8).

  1. Purchase fresh or dried ripe elderberries from a reputable store. Fresh elderberries are highly perishable and need to be used immediately.
  2. Always cook ripe elderberry before consumption. You may boil the berries for 20-30 minutes on low heat. You may also follow the instructions of cooking as per the recipe for a dish, such as jam or cake.
  3. Do not serve too many cooked elderberries as excess consumption may lead to an upset stomach. This effect is due to the berries’ high fiber content.
  4. Remove elderberry leaves and stalk properly before using them for culinary preparations. The stalk and leaves could contain harmful compounds, which may not neutralize even after cooking (9).
  5. Do not use elderberry dietary supplements or medicinal preparations without consulting an expert. Their dosage and method of use may vary depending on the child’s age and intent of use.

Elderberry is a nutritious fruit that must be consumed ripe and well-cooked. There are several elderberry products available in the market, such as elderberry jams and syrup. You can feed your children elderberries as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Although elderberry extracts are being used for the treatment of colds and flu, the research is still preliminary.

Elderberry for kids is considered a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, and fibers. But giving your children unripe or uncooked elderberry is not advisable. Although there are no age restrictions for giving elderberry to children, consulting about it with a pediatrician might help avoid any possible complications. You might add elderberry to your child’s daily diet for them to absorb all its benefits, but using elderberry dietary supplements or medicinal products might not be safe without consulting an expert.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is elderberry an antiviral?

Several studies have shown that elderberries exhibit antiviral activity, and their extracts could be effective against herpes simplex virus and influenza virus (10).

2. Can elderberries make my children gain weight?

There is no scientific evidence to back up this information. On the contrary, studies have shown that elderberry supplements could aid in weight loss when included in a diet (11).

3. Can elderberries cause seizures?

There is no research to prove this statement. On the other hand, a few animal-based studies have shown that elderberries may play a role in treating epilepsy (12).

Key Pointers

  • Cooked, dried, and ripe elderberries are considered safe for consumption by children.
  • These berries help improve the digestion ability and immunity of kids.
  • Dietary or medicinal supplements for elderberry should only be given after consulting with a doctor or nutritionist.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Common Elderberry Sambucus nigra L. ssp. canadensis (L.) R. Bolli; USDA
    https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_sanic4.pdf
  2. The First International Symposium on Elderberry; Center For Agroforestry
    https://centerforagroforestry.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/ElderberrySymposiumGuide.pdf
  3. Assessment report on Sambucus nigra L. Fructus; European Medicines Agency
    https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/herbal-report/final-assessment-report-sambucus-nigra-l-fructus_en.pdf
  4. Can elderberry treat the flu?; CHOC
    https://www.choc.org/news/can-elderberry-treat-the-flu/
  5. Elderberry as a Medicinal Plant; Purdue University
    https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu07/pdfs/charlebois284-292.pdf
  6. Karolina Młynarczyk et al.; Bioactive properties of Sambucus nigra L. as a functional ingredient for food and pharmaceutical industry; NCBI
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7185606/
  7. Arpita Basu et al.; Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health; NCBI
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068482/pdf/nihms171310.pdf
  8. Catherine Ulbricht et al.; An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Elderberry and Elderflower ( Sambucus nigra ) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration; Reasearchgate
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259696401_An_Evidence-Based_Systematic_Review_of_Elderberry_and_Elderflower_Sambucus_nigra_by_the_Natural_Standard_Research_Collaboration
  9. Poisoning from Elderberry Juice — California; CDC
    https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00000311.htm
  10. Z Zakay-Rones et al., (2004); Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections; NCBI
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15080016/#:~:text=Elderberry%20has%20been%20used%20in
  11. Cosima Chrubasik et al. (2008); An observational study and quantification of the actives in a supplement with Sambucus nigra and Asparagus officinalis used for weight reduction; NCBI
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18350516/
  12. R Ataee et al., (2016); Anticonvulsant activities of Sambucus nigra; NCBI
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27460744/
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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Dr. Wayne Hough

(MBChB, MMed, FC Paeds)
Dr. Wayne Hough is a pediatrician currently based in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town in South Africa. He got his medical degree from the University of Stellenbosch. He then worked at the Tygerberg Children's Hospital before completing his pediatric training and qualification from the South African College of Medicine. Dr. Hough also holds a MMed degree in pediatrics from... more

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