Elderberries are highly nutritious, edible blue or purple berries commonly consumed as part of jam, cordial, juice, and pie (1). In the past few decades, the fruit has been used to treat ailments, such as the common cold, indigestion, and flu, especially in children.
There has also been an advent of several elderberry dietary supplements and medicinal products. However, it is vital to check the fruit’s safety for children before serving it to them.
This post shares information about elderberries for children, their possible health benefits, and health risks and side effects.
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) (61) (7).
- 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.
- 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 (8).
What Are The Side Effects Of Elderberry?
Elderberries may cause the following side effects in some children.
- 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.
- 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 elderberry among children.
- Purchase fresh or dried ripe elderberries from a reputable store. Fresh elderberries are highly perishable and need to be used immediately.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Some of the research even looks promising, but it is too early to tell. The biggest problem with these supplements are that they are not regulated. There is thus limited to no oversight of amounts, quality and/or additives in these products.
If you intend to use elderberry herbal products, dietary supplements, or alternative medicines, consult a pediatrician first.
2. The First International Symposium on Elderberry; Center For Agroforestry
3. Assessment report on Sambucus nigra L., Fructus; European Medicines Agency
4. Can elderberry treat the flu?; CHOC
5. Elderberry as a Medicinal Plant; Purdue University
6. Karolina Młynarczyk et al.; Bioactive properties of Sambucus nigra L. as a functional ingredient for food and pharmaceutical industry; NCBI
7. Arpita Basu et al.; Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health; NCBI
8. Catherine Ulbricht et al.; An Evidence-Based Systematic Review of Elderberry and Elderflower ( Sambucus nigra ) by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration; Reasearchgate
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