Sambucus nigra L.

Last updated: 28 Oct 2016

Scientific Name

Sambucus nigra L.


Sambucus graveolens Willd., Sambucus nigra subsp. nigra, Sambucus nigra f. pandula Dippel. [1]

Vernacular Name

English Arn tree, black elder, black elderberry, bourtree, common elder, common European elder, elder tree, elder-berry, European black elder, European elder [2]
Arabic Bilasan, kaman kabir, khelwan, okkez sidi moussa, senbouqa [2]
France Sureau, sureau noir [2]
Italian Sambuco [2].

Geographical Distributions

Sambucus nigra is native to most areas of Europe, parts of Asia and Africa. [3] It is considered to be an invasive species in some areas of the world and grows in difficult habitats such as floodplains, coastal areas and wastelands. It can tolerate some shade but must have some direct sunlight to survive. [4]

Botanical Description

S. nigra is a member of Adoxaceae family. [1] It is a small deciduous tree or shrub that grows up to 10 m in height.  [5]

The stem is lenticellate. [5]

The leaves are exstipulate or stipules inconspicuous; leaflets 5-7, oval to ovate, 3-7 x 1.5-4 cm; margin serrate; apex acute; surface glabrous to strigose; veins strigose. [5]

The inflorescence is arranged in corymbose that are measured up to 15 cm in diameter. Pedicel jointed. The bracteole is minute, glandular below the joint. The hypanthium is turbinate, measured of ca. 1 mm long. The calyx is consists of 5-toothed that is minute. The corolla rotate with 5, almost round lobes; lobe 1.5 mm long, 3-nerved. The anther is oblong about 1 mm long, whereas the filament is measured of 2 mm long. It has 3 stigmas that almost sessile.

The fruit is globose, black, and 5-6 mm in diameter. Pyrenes oblong, 3.5 mm long, surface rugose. [5]

Cultivation  \                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

No documentation.

Chemical Constituent

The bark of S. nigra has been reported to contain lectin. [6][7][8]

S. nigra inflorescence and pollen extracts has been reported to contain lectin. [9]

The fruit of S. nigra has been reported to contain haemagglutinin protein, named Sambucus nigra agglutinin-III (SNA-III). [10]

The bark, leaves, seeds and raw/unripe fruit of S. nigra contain the cyanogenic glycoside sambunigrin, which is potentially toxic. [11]

Plant Part Used

Berries and flowers. [9][10]

Traditional Use

S. nigra has traditionally been used in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of upper respiratory infections. [12]

Preclinical Data


Antimicrobial activity

S. nigra has been reported to improve immunity and have activity against viruses including HIV, [13] influenza B Panama, [14], H5N1, [15] and H1N1 viruses [16].  

Flavonoids from S. nigra extract have been reported in laboratory studies to bind to H1N1 virus and, when bound, block the ability of the viruses to infect host cells. [17]

 Antioxidant activity

Spray-dried S. nigra juice, containing high amounts of anthocyanin glucosides, has been demonstrated to exhibit a potent antioxidant and prooxidant activity by prolong the lag phase of copper-induced oxidation of human low-density lipoprotein (LDL). [18]

S. nigra extract contains 4 anthocyanins incorporate by endothelial cells has been reported to increase a protection against oxidative stress. [19]

S. nigra anthocyanins has been reported to demonstrated antioxidant activity by significantly inhibited basal MCP-1 and inducible NF-kappaβ transcriptions as well as the inflammatory biomarker IL-8, and significantly reduced the ability to form hemangioma and markedly decreased EOMA cell-induced tumour growth in an in vivo model. [20]

Anti-inflammatory activity

Aqueous extracts of S. nigra flowers has been demonstrated to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity of periodontal pathogens Porphyromonas gingivalis and Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans. The mechanism is proposed to include inactivation of the nuclear transcription factor kappaβ and of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase. [21]

Glycoprotein marker activity

A commonly used laboratory test has been developed using S. nigra agglutinin. The test is termed Sambucus nigra Agglutinin (SNA) affinity chromatography and is a type of lectin based chromatographic test used to determine glycoprotein markers such as in insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 (IGFBP-3), [22] human respiratory tract, [23] HeLa cells, [24] and colon cancer [6][25].

Antidiabetic activity

Aqueous extract of S. nigra has been demonstrated to exhibit antidiabetic activity. Results showed a significant increase of 2-deoxy-glucose transport, glucose oxidation and glycogenesis of mouse abdominal muscle in the absence of added insulin. [26]


No documentation.

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

Antioxidant activity

S. nigra spray-dried extract at a low dose exerts a minor effect on serum lipids and antioxidative capacity. Higher, but nutritionally relevant doses might significantly reduce postprandial serum lipids. [27]

Immunostimulatory activity

Sambucol extract from S. nigra has been reported to exhibit immunostimulatory activity by the activation of a healthy immune system that increase inflammatory anti anti-inflammatory cytokines production. [28]

Antimicrobial activity

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that S. nigra syrup (15 mL , 4 times daily) given for 5 days to 60 individuals with influenza-like symptoms decreased the length and severity of the symptoms. [29]

Weight reduction activity

A clinical study found that a balanced diet along with use of S. nigra berry juice enriched with flower extract and tablets containing berry powder and flower extract had positive benefits on mean weight, blood pressure, physical and emotional well-being and the quality of life had significantly improved (ITT analysis). [30]


This dietary supplement is considered safe when used in accordance with proper dosing guidelines. [12]

Consumption of the roots, stems, leaves and unripe fruit of the elder plant is not recommended. These parts of the plant can induce vomiting or severe diarrhoea if ingested. [11]

Side effects

Elderberry and flower have been reported safe in recommended doses. Discontinue if allergy occurs. [31]

It is important to note that only the berries and flowers of Sambucus species may be used.  All other parts of the plant are poisonous to both animals and humans due to the cyanogenic glycoside content. [32]

Use of improperly prepared berries of S. nigra may cause nausea and vomiting. [3]

Based on laboratory studies, S. nigra should only be used under a doctor’s supervision in those taking blood sugar lowering medications. [27]

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

To date, the medical literature has not reported any adverse effects related to fetal development, pregnancy, or lactation. However, as S. nigra is not a well-researched botanical health care practitioner should use caution in recommending it to women who are pregnant or nursing. [33]

Age limitation

No documentation.

Adverse reaction

No documentation.

Interaction & Depletion

Interaction with drug

An animal study reported that S. nigra flowers may alter the effects of diabetes medications including insulin, possibly altering the dose of these medications needed for treatment. These drugs include insulin, glyburide, glipizide, metformin, rosiglitazone, pioglitazone, glimepiride, tolbutamide, tolazamide, acarbose, acetohexamide, chlorpropamide, miglitol, repaglinide, and nateglinide. [27]

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation.


No documentation.


Dosage Range

Powdered extracts of S. nigra are dosed at 500-1000 mg, 2-3 times daily for 3-4 days, or if in liquid form, dosed at 2-6 tablespoonfuls (10-30 mL) three times daily. [33]

Most Common Dosage

No documentation.


No documentation.

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing

No documentation.


  1. The Plant List. Ver1.1. Sambucus nigra L. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Mar 23; cited 2016 Oct 28]. Available from:
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. Volume V R-Z. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012; p. 143.
  3. Wichtl M. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals: A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. US: CRC Press, 2000; p. 449-450.
  4. NOBANIS - Online Database of the European Network on Invasive Alien Species – Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet – Sambucus nigra. Kabuce N, Priede N. [document on the Internet]. c2006 [updated 2010 Dec 14; cited 2016 Oct 28]. Available from:
  5. Flora of Pakistan. Sambucus nigra Linn. [homepage on the Internet]. No date [cited 2016 Oct 28]. Available from:
  6. Dall’Olio F, Chiricolo M, Ceccarelli C, Minni F, Marrano D, Santini D. Beta-galactoside alpha2,6 sialytransferase in human colon cancer: Contribution of multiple transcripts to regulation of enzyme activity and reactivity with Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Int J Cancer. 2000;88(1):58-65.
  7. Halliday JA, Franks AH, Ramsdale TE, Martin R, Palant E. A rapid, semi-automated method for detection of Galbeta 1-4GlcNAc alpha2,6-sialytransferase (EC activity using the lectin Sambucus nigra agglutinin. Glycobiology. 2001;11(7):557-564.
  8. Shibuya N, Goldstein IJ, Broekaert WF, Nsimba-Lubaki M, Peumans WJ. Fractionation of sialylated oligosaccharides, glycopeptides, and glycoproteins on immobilized elderberry (Sambucus nigra L.) bark lectin. Arch Biochem Biophys. 1987;254(1):1-8.
  9. Karpova IS, Korets’ka NV, Pal’chykovs’ka LH, Nehruts’ka VV. [Lectin from Sambucus nigra L inflorescences: Isolation and investigation of biological activity using prokaryotic test-systems]. Ukrains’kyi Biokhimichnyi Zhurnal. 1999;79(5):145-152.
  10. Mach L, Scherf W, Ammann M, et al. Purification and partial characterization of a novel lectin from elder (Sambucus nigra L.) fruit. Biochem J. 1991;278(Pt 3):667-671.
  11. Jensen SR, Nielsen BJ. Cynogenic glucosides in Sambucus nigra L. Acta Chem Scand. 1973;27(7):2661-2662.
  12. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal medicines: A guide for health-care professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996; p. 104-105.
  13. Uncini Manganelli RE, Zaccaro L, Tomei PE. Antiviral activity in vitro of Urtica dioica L., Parietaria diffusa M. et K. and Sambucus nigra L. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005;98(3):323-327.
  14. Zakay-Rones Z, Varsano N, Zlotnik M, et al. 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. 1995;1(4):361-369.
  15. Yao L, Korteweq C, mHsueh W, Gu J. Avian influenza receptor expression in H5N1-infected and noninfected human tissues. FASEB J. 2008;22(3):733-740.
  16. Matrosovich M, Matrosovich T, Carr J, Roberts NA, Klenk HD. Overexpression of the alpha-2,6-sialytranferase in MDCK cells increases influenza virus sensitivity to neuraminidase inhibitors. J Virol. 2003;77(15):8418-8425.
  17. Roscheke B Jr, Fink RC, McMicheal MD, Li D, Alberte RS. Elderberry flavanoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 2009;70(10):1255-1261.
  18. Abuja PM, Murkovic M, Pfannhauser W. Antioxidant and prooxidant of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) extract in low-density lipoprotein oxidation. J Agric Food Chem. 1998;46(10):4091-4096.
  19. Youdim KA, Martin A, Joseph JA. Incorporation of the elderberry anthocyanins by endothelial cells increases protection against oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med. 2000;29(1):51-60.
  20. Zafra-Stone S, Yasmin T, Baqchi M, Chatterjee A, Vinson JA, Baqchi D. Berry anthocyanins as novel antioxidants in human health and disease prevention. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007;51(6):675-683.
  21. Harokopakis E, Albzreh MH, Haase EM, Scannapieco FA, Hajishengallis G. Inhibition of proinflammatory activities of major periodontal pathogens by aqueous extracts from elder flower (Sambucus nigra). J Periodontol. 2006;77(2):271-279.
  22. Baricević I, Malenković V, Jones DR, Nedić O. The influence of laporoscopic and open surgery on the concentration and structural modifications of insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3 in the human circulation. Acta Physiol Hung. 2006;93(4):361-369.
  23. Nicholls JM, Bourne AJ, Chen H, Guan Y, Malik Peiris JS. Sialic acid receptor detection in the human respiratory tract: Evidence for widespread distribution of potential binding sites for human and avian influenza viruses. Respir Res. 2007;8(1):73.
  24. Battelli MG, Citores L, Buonamici L, et al. Toxicity and cytotoxicity of nigrin B, a two-chain ribosome-inactivating protein from Sambucus nigra: Comparison with ricin. Arch Toxicol. 1997;71(6):360-364.
  25. Murayama T, Zuber C, Seelentag WK, et al. Colon carcinoma glycoproteins carrying alpha 2,6-linked sialic acid reactive with Sambucus nigra agglutinin are not constitutively expressed in normal human colon mucosa and are distinct from sialyl-Tn antigen. Int J Cancer. 1997;70(5):575-581.
  26. Gray AM, Abdel-Wahab YH, Flatt PR. The traditional plant treatment, Sambucus nigra (elder), exhibits insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions in vitro. J Nutr. 2000;130(1):15-20.
  27. Murkovic M, Abuja PM, Bergmann AR, et al. Effects of elderberry juice on fasting and postprandial serum lipids and low-density lipoprotein oxidation in healthy volunteers: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004;58(2):244-249.
  28. Barak V, Birkenfeld S, Halperin T, Kalickman I. The effect of herbal remedies on the production of human inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Isr Med Assoc J. 2002;4(11):919-922.
  29. Zakay-Rones Z, Thom E, Wollan T, Wadstein J. Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res. 2004;32(2):132-140.
  30. Chrubasik C, Maier T, Dawid C, et al. An observational study and quantification of the actives in a supplement with Sambucus nigra and Asparagus officinalis used for weight reduction. Phytother Res. 2008;22(7):913-918.
  31. Föster-Waldl E, Marchetti M, Schöll I, et al. Type I allergy to elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is elicited by a 33.2 kDa allergen with significant homology to ribosomal inactivating proteins. Clin Exp Allergy. 2003;33(12):1703-1710.
  32. Barceloux DG.  Medical toxicology of natural substances. John Wiley & Sons, 2008; p. 762.
  33. Sambucus nigra (elderberry) monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2005;10(1):51-55.