Black Elderberry

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Poop Friendly:Whether a food has qualities that help baby poop. Yes
Common Allergen: No
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a small pile of elderberries with a bit of pink juice at the base on a white background

When can babies have elderberries?

Cooked elderberries may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Raw elderberries are not safe to eat because they contain a natural toxin that can cause serious health problems. Reserve elderberry syrups and extracts for older children. While elderberry syrups and extracts have been used to treat ailments like the common cold and influenza for centuries and some studies in older children and adults have shown black elderberries to have antiviral properties, there is insufficient research to substantiate the safety and efficacy of their use in children under the age of 5.1 2 3 4

Warning

Never serve or eat raw elderberries, including dried, uncooked berries. Raw elderberries, green unripe berries, and elderberry leaves, seeds, and stems contain cyanide-producing toxins that are not safe for ingestion.5 6

Where do elderberries come from?

Elderberries grow worldwide, from the fields and forests of Europe and the Americas, to the sunny highlands of Asia, to the rainforests of Australia. For centuries, the elder tree and its berries have provided humans with many gifts. Fragrant flowers flavor liqueurs, jellies, and tea. Foliage works as medicine, poultices, and deterrent for flies. Hollowed branches serve as flutes, pipes, and spiles to tap syrup from maple trees. And, of course, the shiny berries can be cooked into sauces, sweets, tonics, and vinegars. There are different species—some edible, others not—but the berries of Sambucus nigra, also known as black elderberries, are the most widely consumed. These berries are distinctly glossy, inky black, and so juicy that they are used as dye for beverages, pastries, and other products.

Río, 17 months, eats cooked elderberries on bread.

Are elderberries safe for babies?

Yes, but only when elderberries are cooked.7 Raw elderberries (including dried berries) contain cyanide-producing toxins that can cause serious health problems. Make sure all stems, leaves, and unripe berries are removed when cooking elderberries, as they also contain these toxins.8 To minimize the risk, bring fresh or dried elderberries to a boil in water and cook for at least 60 minutes to ensure that the berries are safe to eat. Cooking ripe elderberries for at least 60 minutes eliminates this natural toxin from the fruit and seeds, making the berries safe for consumption.9 10

What are the benefits of elderberries?

Nutritionally, cooked elderberries are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin B6, nutrients that support digestion and neurological development. Elderberries also contain iron, which is important for a child’s growth and healthy circulation, alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties, as well as flavonoids and anthocyanins, plant compounds that promote immunity and heart health.11 12

There is also some evidence to suggest that elderberry may reduce the length and severity of upper respiratory infections (the common cold) in adults, although more research is needed on whether elderberry may do the same for children under 5 years of age.13 14 15

Can babies have elderberry syrup or extract?

Generally, no. While elderberry syrups and extracts have been used to treat ailments like the common cold and flu for centuries, there is insufficient research to substantiate their safety in babies and children under 5 years of age. To complicate matters, elderberry syrups often contain honey, which is not safe for babies under 12 months of age. If you would like to offer elderberry syrup or extract to a baby or toddler, it is imperative that you first consult with your child’s primary healthcare provider.

Can elderberry syrup or extract help treat symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the United States National Institutes of Health, there are no published research studies that have evaluated the use of elderberry in people who have contracted COVID-19.16 However, there is preliminary research that suggests that elderberry may improve symptoms of influenza and reduce the duration and severity of upper respiratory infections (the common cold) in adults.17 18 19

Can babies or toddlers have elderberry tea?

Elderberry tea may be offered after the first birthday, served lukewarm and with no or minimal added sweeteners. Purchasing pre-packaged elderberry tea rather than making your own at home will ensure that toddlers are not exposed to uncooked elderberries. Do not give tea or beverages other than breast/human milk or formula to babies under 12 months of age to ensure that the necessary nutrition from breast/human milk or formula isn’t displaced by other drinks.

Are elderberries safe while breastfeeding or pregnant?

Are elderberries safe while breastfeeding or pregnant?

Overall, elderberries are considered “likely safe” for individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding, when consumed in typical amounts.20 21 That said, no data currently exists on the safety and efficacy of elderberry in nursing parents or infants. So, unfortunately, no specific recommendations can be made at this time on the medicinal use of elderberry syrups and other products while breastfeeding.

It is also important to keep in mind that dietary supplements like elderberry syrup do not require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This means that manufacturers in the U.S. do not have to prove the safety or effectiveness of their products.

Are elderberries a common choking hazard for babies?

Not when cooked. To avoid toxicity, elderberries must be cooked, which significantly reduces the risk of choking. That said, in theory, an individual could choke on any food. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Are elderberries a common allergen?

No. Allergies to elderberries are rare, but have been reported.22 As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.

How do elderberries affect baby's poop?

Elderberries can help promote digestive health, bowel regularity, and softer stools as they are rich in fiber, phenols, and anthocyanins.23 24 Note that pooping patterns can vary significantly from child to child. Be sure to talk to a pediatric healthcare provider if you have concerns about baby’s pooping and digestive function.

How do you introduce elderberries to babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 9 months old: Cook fresh elderberries with a splash of water by bringing to a boil and simmering for at least 60 minutes to make them safe for consumption. Use dried elderberries the same way, just add more water for cooking to make sure they become fully soft and rehydrated. Drizzle the tart sauce on shredded meat, flaked fish, vegetables, porridge, or yogurt. Alternatively, use these cooked elderberries to make a batch of purple oatmeal or colorful chia seed pudding. Be sure to remove any stems and leaves before cooking, and remember, never serve raw elderberries, as they are toxic.

9 to 12 months old: Continue to cook fresh elderberries with a splash of water by bringing to a boil and simmering for at least 60 minutes to make them safe for consumption. Use dried elderberries the same way, just add more water for cooking to make sure they become fully soft and rehydrated. At this age, babies develop the pincer grasp (where the thumb and forefinger meet), which enables them to pick up smaller pieces of food. Try serving bite-sized pieces of shredded meat, flaked fish, or vegetables topped with or alongside a cooked elderberry sauce. You can also experiment with stirring this cooked elderberry sauce into pancake or muffin batters, and offering the baked goods broken into bite-sized pieces.

12 to 24 months old: Continue to serve cooked elderberry sauce and experiment with seasonings like citrus, herbs, and spices. For toddlers closer to 24 months old, you might try serving elderberry jam on toast or alongside a cheese, but go easy, as jams contain lots of added sugar.

Help your child develop a healthy relationship with sweet foods with tips from our page, Sugar and Taste Preferences.

What are recipe ideas for cooking with elderberries?

Fresh elderberries are not widely available from grocers, although they grow abundantly in the wild. If you are foraging for your own elderberries, do your research and consult with local experts to confirm that the variety that you are picking is edible—then be sure to remove the green unripe berries, leaves, and stems (which are toxic) before you start cooking. Alternatively, you can purchase dried elderberries. Elderberries can be cooked into a delicious savory sauce to balance the richness of meats like beef, bison, pork, or venison. Serve the sauce on the cooked meats or use as a marinade. Alternatively, make a simple elderberry sauce to drizzle on pancakes, stir into porridges, mix into smoothies, or serve alongside goat cheese and toasted bread. This simple sauce also works great drizzled on top of ice cream.

Recipe: Simple Elderberry Sauce

a square white bowl filled with dark elderberry sauce next to a spoon

Yield: 1 cup (240 milliliters)
Cook Time: 1 ½ hours
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • 3 large oranges
  • ½ cup (73 grams) dried elderberries
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) water
  • 1-inch knob fresh ginger (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) maple syrup (optional: only for children 12 months+)
  • salt to taste for adults and older children (optional: only for children 12 months+)

Directions

  1. Wash the oranges. Zest 1 of the oranges, then juice all 3 oranges. You need about 1 cup (240 milliliters) of juice.
  2. Combine the orange juice, orange zest, elderberries, and water in a saucepan.
  3. Decide if you’d like to include the ginger. Skip the ginger if you like or use whatever spices that you prefer. If you’d like to include the ginger, wash, peel, and chop the root, then add to the saucepan.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to create a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 60 minutes.
  5. Blend the mixture until smooth. If you do not have a blender or high-powered food processor, use a fork to mash the berries.
  6. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, then strain the mixture.
  7. If you like, stir in the maple syrup. Elderberries are already quite sweet, although they are also very tart. If you prefer more sweetness, maple syrup can help, although it would best to hold off on serving foods with added sweeteners until baby is older. See our page on Sugar and Taste Preferences for more information on when to start adding sugar to a child’s food.
  8. Serve the sauce with baby’s food and let the child try to self-feed. Note that elderberry sauce can stain the skin, so this would be a great time to encourage utensil practice. Simply pre-load a utensil and place it next to the food for the child to pick up. Alternatively, pass a pre-loaded utensil in the air for the child to grab.

To Store: Simple Elderberry Sauce keeps in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 2 months.

Flavor Pairings

The tart flavor of elderberries pairs well with amaranth, corn, duck, manoomin (wild rice), trout, and venison.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

E. Cerda, MSN, CNS, LDN

A. Gilbaugh, RD, CNSC

J. Sage, Herbalist

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. (2019). Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 42:361-365. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  2. Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. (2010). A systematic review on the sambuci fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytother Res. 24(1):1-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2729. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  3. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. (1995). Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama. J Altern Complement Med 1:361-9. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  4. Macknin M, Wolski K, Negrey J, Mace S. Elderberry extract outpatient influenza treatment for emergency room patients ages 5 and above: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Gen Intern Med. 2020 Sep 14. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06170-w. Retrieved December 28, 2021
  5. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). (2014). Assessment report on Sambucus nigra L., fructus. European Medicines Agency. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  6. Natural Medicines. (2021, Nov 23). Elderberry [monograph]. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  7. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21. Part 182 — Substances Generally Recognized As Safe. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  8. Natural Medicines. (2021, Nov 23). Elderberry [monograph]. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  9. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). (2014). Assessment report on Sambucus nigra L., fructus. European Medicines Agency. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  10. Natural Medicines. (2021, Nov 23). Elderberry [monograph]. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  11. Natural Medicines. (2021, Nov 23). Elderberry [monograph]. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  12. Młynarczyk K, Walkowiak-Tomczak D, Łysiak GP. (2018). Bioactive properties of Sambucus nigra L. as a functional ingredient for food and pharmaceutical industryJ Funct Foods. 40:377-390. DOI:10.1016/j.jff.2017.11.025. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  13. Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. (2019). Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 42:361-365. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  14. Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. (2010). A systematic review on the sambuci fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytother Res. 24(1):1-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2729. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  15. Natural Medicines. (2021, Nov 23). Elderberry [monograph]. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  16. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2020). Elderberry. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  17. Hawkins J, Baker C, Cherry L, Dunne E. (2019). Black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) supplementation effectively treats upper respiratory symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 42:361-365. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.12.004. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  18. Vlachojannis JE, Cameron M, Chrubasik S. (2010). A systematic review on the sambuci fructus effect and efficacy profiles. Phytother Res. 24(1):1-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2729. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  19. Natural Medicines. (2021, Nov 23). Elderberry [monograph]. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  20. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). (2021). Elderberry. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US). Retrieved January 3, 2022
  21. Natural Medicines. (2021, Nov 23). Elderberry [monograph]. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  22. Forster-Waldl, E., Marchetti, M., Scholl, I., Focke, M., Radauer, C., Kinaciyan, T., … Jensen-Jarolim, E. (2003). Type I allergy to elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is elicited by a 33.2 kDa allergen with significant homology to ribosomal inactivating proteins. Clinical Experimental Allergy, 33(12), 1703–1710. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2003.01811.x. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  23. Igwe EO, Charlton KE, Probst YC, Kent K, Netzel ME. (2019). A systematic literature review of the effect of anthocyanins on gut microbiota populationsJ Hum Nutr Diet. 32(1):53-62. doi:10.1111/jhn.12582. Retrieved December 27, 2021
  24. Ozgen M, Scheerens JC, Reese RN, Miller RA. (2010). Total phenolic, anthocyanin contents and antioxidant capacity of selected elderberry (Sambucus canadensis L.) accessionsPharmacogn Mag. 6(23):198-203. doi:10.4103/0973-1296.66936. Retrieved December 27, 2021