Not the typical berries you can find in your local produce aisle, elderberries are instead becoming a staple in the pharmacy. Found everywhere from common cold medicines and herbal teas, it’s no wonder many women question whether this berry is safe to take during pregnancy.
Elderberries have a lot going for them, especially when it comes to boosting immunity and squashing sickness. Elderberries are best reserved for after pregnancy, however, as there is simply not enough research to determine how safe elderberry is when you’re pregnant.
Elderberries are now available in a number of different forms. I’ll break down the difference between elderberry syrups, teas, supplements, and more as well as clue you into which (if any) might be safe during pregnancy.
Is Elderberry Syrup Safe During Pregnancy?
Elderberries aren’t just for making pie! More often nowadays, elderberries are made into a strong herbal syrup. Store-bought elderberry syrups are also available, and becoming more popular (hello, convenience). These syrups are not eaten with food, but rather taken as a medication or home remedy similar to old-school liquid cough syrups.
High in vitamin C and antioxidants, many families use elderberry extract as a non-pharmaceutical way to support immune health. Elderberry syrup is typically used in two ways:
- taken daily to boost immunity and prevent illness
- used as medication while sick to shorten the duration of illness
Some research has shown that taking elderberry while sick can actually decrease the number of sick days by about 4 days (source: Journal of International Medical Research). Patients with respiratory illness also had lower measured levels of inflammation after taking elderberry (source: BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies).
Many elderberry syrups are also labeled as cough syrup, but I wasn’t able to find any evidence that taking elderberry syrups helps to calm coughing. These products often contain other herbal ingredients such as echinacea, which is a common ingredient in throat-cooling lozenges and cough drops.
Similar to many other herbal products, very little research has been done to verify the safety of elderberry during pregnancy. While we know elderberry is safe to use in healthy adults, there is just not enough information to be able to safely recommend elderberry in pregnancy (source: Frontiers in Pharmacology).
Elderberry syrups, including elderberry cough syrup, are also considered to be dietary supplements and not medications, meaning they are not monitored by the FDA.
You may notice products specifically labeled as ‘black elderberry.’ Elderberries can be either blue or black in color. Both blue and black elderberries are produced by the same species of shrub, and therefore should be treated equally when it comes to their safety profile.
Some women do prefer elderberry syrup over pharmaceutical-grade medications when ill. If you feel strongly, consult with your medical provider about what options are available for you throughout your pregnancy.
Is Elderberry Tea Safe When Pregnant?
Elderberry teas are another way to partake in the berries’ immune health benefits that feels a bit more familiar. Elderberry teas come in many shapes and sizes. Some are geared towards immune support and feature elderberry as their star ingredient, while others include smaller amounts of elderberry for flavor. A few common elderberry teas are:
- Rishi Elderberry Healer
- Super Green Tea Immunity blend
- Yogi Elderberry Lemon Balm
- Tazo Elderberry Blackberry
Similar to elderberry syrup, there isn’t enough research to show whether elderberry (of any kind) is safe while pregnant. Drinking elderberry tea on occasion is likely to provide a much smaller amount of the berry compared to concentrated syrups, especially the teas where elderberry is included for flavor only.
So while there is not any existing research to show the safety of elderberry teas specifically, these are likely a safer choice due to the smaller quantity of elderberry consumed when drinking a cup of tea.
If you do sip on a cup of elderberry-containing tea, be sure to thoroughly read the label beforehand to ensure there are no unsafe herbs hiding on the ingredients list. Many teas contain a blend of herbs and spices, so it is always best to double-check.
Even though elderberry teas likely contain herbs, they may not all be herbal teas. This means there is a chance that they are caffeinated, especially if black or red tea is used as the base. Be sure to count these types of teas towards your daily caffeine intake.
Are Elderberry Gummies or Supplements Safe When Pregnant?
Not only is elderberry available as a syrup, but tablets, gummies, tinctures, and other forms are often sold in pharmacies. A few of the most popular brands include:
- Mary Ruthe’s Organics
- Garden of Life
Elderberry products across all of these brands (and many more) have two main things in common. 1) They are all considered to be dietary supplements, and thus not evaluated or monitored by the FDA. 2) There is not enough research to show that elderberry products are safe to take throughout pregnancy.
Just like elderberry syrup, the lack of research into their safety in pregnancy means that elderberry herbal supplements also cannot be safely recommended for pregnant folks.
Can I Take Elderberry Every Day When Pregnant?
As I’ve already discussed, the little amount of safety information currently available for elderberries means they are not recommended to take during pregnancy- and certainly not every day!
Elderberry teas are a gray area since they are likely less concentrated than elderberry supplements though still do not have much safety information available. If you chose to drink elderberry-containing tea, it is best to do so in moderation while pregnant.
If you decide to continue consuming elderberry despite the lack of safety information, be sure to have a conversation with your medical provider about how much and what types are appropriate for you and your unique health situation.
Can I Take Elderberry in Early Pregnancy? Miscarriage Risks Explained
A quick internet search turned up quite a few rumors that taking elderberry herb in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage. Most of these rumors focused on taking large amounts of raw/uncooked berries.
Despite the several online rumors, there does not appear to be any scientific evidence that shows elderberries are a risk for miscarriage- or any other adverse effects for that matter.
No matter what trimester of pregnancy you are in, the hold up for elderberry safety is how little we currently know about their effects on pregnancy.
Taking elderberries for immune support and to get through an illness is only increasing in popularity. Because of their rise in popularity, I would not be surprised in the slightest if more research is done in the coming years, including on how elderberries might affect a pregnant mother and her growing baby.
Are There Benefits of Elderberry for Pregnant Women?
Naturally high in antioxidants and vitamin C, elderberries seem like the natural choice for boosting immunity and preventing illness while pregnant, especially for those looking to soothe illness symptoms sans medications.
The antioxidant and immune support power of these little berries have led to them being studied as a treatment for viral and respiratory infections. Amounts of studies have even shown that taking elderberry while sick helps to shorten the number of sick days (source: Journal of International Medical Research).
Though elderberries might be an effective treatment or co-treatment for illnesses, the fruit is not recommended during pregnancy.
If you are living with a partner, however, keeping them healthy is one step to keeping yourself and your baby healthy. Stick to treatments approved during pregnancy and save the elderberry products for your partner to keep your whole household feeling well.
To boost your immune system safely while pregnant, there are other options. Eating a balanced diet with a colorful variety of fruits and veggies can offer just as much vitamin C and antioxidants as elderberries do. A few fruits and veggies high in these nutrients include:
- Oranges and other citrus
- Other berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)
Though they look like a fruit, the current research and considerations for elderberry make it more similar to herbal products when it comes to safety in pregnancy.
Even though elderberry is best reserved for after pregnancy, hopefully, this article has provided you with other verified pregnancy-safe options to keep yourself (and your developing baby) feeling well throughout your pregnancy.