The real reason you might start seeing elderberry everywhere

Elderberries have been around for thousands of years, even if you just started hearing about this ancient plant a couple of years ago. When clever marketers for botanical supplements noticed that consumers were taking a stronger interest in products that promised to support the immune system and gut health, elderberry entered the picture. Grand View Research reports that the worldwide functional food market, which includes foods that tout prebiotic and probiotic support, such as elderberry, will grow to an estimated $275 billion by 2025.

Elderberries, which are small, purplish-black berries that grow on the Sambucus tree, have been used to treat everything from the common cold to HIV/AIDS. The issue is, while the number of products continues to grow, along with health claims, there's very little evidence to back up those claims (via Cleveland Clinic). A study in 2018, via the National Library of Medicine, reported that "supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms." The report led to a surge in elderberry products. In fact, according to Nutritional Outlook, between October 2018 and October 2019, sales of elderberry grew 83.4 percent. Coincidence? Not likely.

What you need to know about elderberry

Just as with any other supplement that claims it's a miracle cure for whatever ails you, you should be equally cautious of elderberry. For every study that supports claims of elderberry's ability to lessen the duration of the cold and flu or boost immunity, there's a scientist or nutritionist there to refute the claim. A nurse for Henry Ford Health System believes that small studies don't make something true. Good old-fashioned hand-washing and a flu shot will always be your best bet against getting sick.

More troubling are the claims that some manufacturers have been making concerning elderberry's efficacy against COVID-19. There's no scientific evidence to suggest that elderberry can fight or treat COVID-19, according to Cleveland Clinic. The Federal Trade Commission has even sent letters to elderberry product companies warning them to stop making unsubstantiated claims relating to their products and COVID-19. The bottom line: Talk with your doctor, and do what's right for your own body.