Elderberries have been employed in European folk medicine since antiquity for lots of illnesses from arthritis and asthma to colds and constipation.
Elderberry is now becoming a functional food ingredient, especially in the Austrian, German and English markets because of its flavour and its health benefits.
Austria is the world's largest elderberry-producing country. Food manufacturers use Haschberg variety elderberries in juices, jams, fruit yoghurts and wines. Elderberry extract is popular in the nutraceutical field.
Recent research done in Europe found that elderberries are concentrated sources of anthocyanins, potent purple pigments that appear to benefit health in several ways. Ongoing research in Europe is focusing on these anthocyanins.
In Karlsruhe at Germany's Bundesforschungsanstalt research centre for food, scientists conduct studies on dietary agents that can reduce oxidation and protect cells. According to Dr. Gerhard Rechkemmer, the director of the centre, anthocyanins found in elderberries have more antioxidant capacity than either vitamin E or vitamin C.
According to his research, elderberry anthocyanins enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines, proteins acting as messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response
Dr. Werner Pfannhauser and Dr. Michael Murkovic from the Austrian University of Graz showed that elderberry extract reduces oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is implicated in atherogenesis, contributing to cardiovascular disease.
A study done in Israel on the anti-viral activity of elderberry extract showed that in vitro elderberry extract inhibited the replication of a number of strains of influenza A and B in cell cultures.