Updated: Mar 5
Within the last decade, the popularity of the elderberry plant has grown due in large part to its proven ability to treat the common cold and flu, remove excess mucus, boost immune system functions, and even alleviate many allergy symptoms. A plant that powerful certainly must be effective at treating other ailments, right? That was exactly the question that motivated me to find out if there would be any significant benefits from using elderberry extracts topically on skin.
Since the early 2010s, I’ve personally used the plant and its berries in my own homemade tinctures and teas to help ward off many different types of viruses my school-aged children (at that time) would bring home every time a new school year would start. Before I started making my own elderberry medicine, every member of my family would come down with a cold, the flu, or some other viral issue at least once a year. Once we started taking a few drops of the elderberry tincture at the first sign of a virus (i.e. coughing, runny nose, scratchy throat, etc.), we stopped getting sick. In fact, from 2010 to 2018 not one of us came down with anything, not even a common cold. I 100% attribute that ‘no-sickness’ streak to the elderberry plant.
The 'no-sickness' streak ended at the very end of 2019 when my oldest daughter became ill while we were vacationing for the new year in Dallas, TX. I didn’t have any of my elderberry tinctures there, but when we returned home, and she was able to get a dose in her system, the symptoms stopped the next day. I had flu-like symptoms in 2021 while vacationing in Vegas and again didn’t have my tinctures; the symptoms were harsh for the first 12-16 hours. After that I almost felt back to normal, but I had a lingering cough that lasted the rest of the vacation. Once I returned home and dosed up on my tincture, the cough was gone within 24-hours. My two oldest daughters both contracted the Covid-19 virus while away at college, despite being vaccinated. Both took my elderberry tinctures while having the virus. One had very minor symptoms (a scratchy throat and the loss of her taste and smell for a couple days). My other daughter's symptoms were more severe, but nothing that required hospitalization. My husband and I both had flu-like symptoms on two separate occasions this year (2022); both times we were unable to treat the symptoms at the first sign, because we had left the tinctures at home. On both occasions, the symptoms disappeared once we returned home and got that elderberry in our systems. Neither I, my husband, nor my two youngest children have ever tested positive for Covid-19. If we did have it, we certainly didn’t have any severe symptoms. So, yes, I know first-hand about the powerful effects of the elderberry!
Knowing how effective my tinctures were at staving off viruses, I was curious to know how effective the plant might be at treating other ailments. To my surprise, while researching other uses for the plant, I found that our Foundational Black American ancestors used the plant to not only treat internal viral sicknesses, but also topically for treating skin issues. In a recorded interview from the Federal Writer’s Project, a former slave named Rachel Goings, recounted using the leaves from the elderberry plant to treat open wounds. In the interview she said, “I’d took elder leaves and boiled ‘em to make a tea; den I’d poured dat in de sore and it would got well.” After reading that, I was curious to find out how effective an elderberry extract would be in treating acne, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines; all issues that I or my youngest daughter were experiencing at the time.
To extract the medicinal properties from elderberries for my oral tinctures, I use a wood grain alcohol (i.e. Ever Clear). Using the alcohol tincture would be fine for an astringent (which I also eventually ended up formulating), but at the time I wanted to try it in my moisturizer and I didn't think the alcohol would mix well with that particular product. So I opted to make a glycerin based tincture instead. After months of allowing the elderberries to marinate in the glycerin, I strained the infused glycerin and mixed it in with my face wash, moisturizer and toner. The results were nothing less than phenomenal! I decided to document the results that I had personally experienced. Later, I researched the reasons for those results. I’ve included a summary of all the benefits I experienced here.
Before we get to the summary though; let me just say that I'm sooooo embarrased about the hair on my face in these before and after pics. After the first one was taken, I was like damn...I got a whole beard. So I plucked...I swear. I took the second one literally like 5 days later and I already have another full grown beard. Ugh! So I wasn't going to post them, but my husband told me it was necessary. So don't make fun of the hair y'all. I'm so so sensitive about it. lol.
Notice the enlarged pores, pits, and discoloration in the first one. In the second (taken 5 days later), it's almost completely gone. Excuse the hair y'all!
Acne breakouts began clearing up within 1-3 days of first use.
The antimicrobial and antifungal compounds found in elderberries make them effective acne fighters.
The anti-inflammatory properties found in elderberries help to reduce swelling, irritation and inflammation in the skin.
The elderberries' high Vitamin A content help to speed up healing and prevent breakouts.
Elderberries help to balance excess oils in your skin, which consequently help to prevent breakouts and keep your skin looking clear and healthy. My skin is extremely oily, so this was probably the most useful benefit for me.
The American Nutrition Association (ANA) suggests that using an elderberry face wash (like Princess Mudd’s Elderberry Face Wash) can help fight acne because of its antiseptic properties.
Dr. Rachel Nazarian of NYC’s Schweiger Dermatology said that because elderberries are a natural anti-inflammatory, it’s typically good for people with sensitive skin (ME!), and it may have potential for fighting acne due to it’s anti-bacterial properties.
When I’d touch my face, the skin felt noticeably softer and smoother
The combination of nutrients in elderberries support healthy functioning of the skin’s lipid layer, the barrier on our skin’s surface that helps keep dirt out of the pores and helps prevent skin damage. This causes softer, smoother skin.
Enlarged pores around my nose and check bones appeared significantly smaller.
Studies show that elderberries are mildly astringent; and can therefore cause the skin to tighten, reducing appearance of pores.
The lines on my forehead, under my eyes and around my mouth were no longer visible when my face was at rest.
The hefty dose of antioxidants found in elderberries called anthocyanins, benefit all skin types. Antioxidants are often found in skin care product formulas because of their powerful anti-aging benefits. There have been several studies that suggest anthocyanins have the potential to even protect the skin from UV damage.
The bioflavonoids and phenols in elderberries help minimize fine lines and wrinkles.
The anti-inflammatory properties found in elderberries, help to reduce swelling; thereby improving circulation in the tiny blood vessels near the skin’s surface. Good skin circulation ensures the cells in your skin are getting proper oxygen. When skin cells in your face lack proper oxygen, several skin issues may arise. Increased appearance of wrinkles and fine lines are among those issues that could arise.
Vitamins B6 and B1 found in elderberries help to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
A previously mentioned respected dermatologist, Dr. Nazarian stated, “It (elderberry) is a powerhouse for fighting free-radical damage and aging pollutants caused by environmental exposure. It’s also high in vitamins (such as C and E), which will help decrease signs of aging.”
The discoloration in my skin from acne scars and the slight discoloration on my chin was completely gone. My skin tone was completely even after about 3-4 weeks.
The bioflavonoids, antioxidants and vitamin A in elderberries, are the perfect combination of vitamins and nutrients for improving skin health. The anthocyanin, a natural plant pigment found in elderberry help improve the pigmentation and structure of the skin.
Besides these benefits that I saw for myself, other studies suggest that elderberries may improve the skin’s elasticity, hydrate the skin, and give skin a radiant glow. I didn't notice the glow initially, but since I’ve incorporated elderberries into my regular skin routine, I’ve gotten the ‘your skin is glowing’ compliment on several different occasions.
As I mentioned earlier, my findings were over the course of months, even years. I didn’t keep track of most of my sources. However, if you do a simple search for ‘benefits of elderberry on skin’ on google you’ll find a wealth of studies and information on the subject. Here are a few of the sources I was able to go back and find to get you started:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4_29q-gdLw – At about the 8-minute mark, Dr. Sebi talks about the high iron content of elderberries. This is something that I didn’t get into in this post, but it’s a good start to get you motivated in learning more about elderberries. It’s one of the first videos I watched when I first started experimenting with the plant.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19682714/ - This is just one of many studies done proving the effects of elderberry when treating the common cold and flu.
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323288#:~:text=Treating%20acne&text=These%20help%20to%20protect%20healthy,because%20of%20its%20antiseptic%20effects – The American Nutrition Association (ANA) suggests using an elderberry face wash can help fight acne because of its antiseptic effects
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6787119/#Sec25title – This study concluded that elderberry possesses the ability alleviate UVB-induced skin damage.
In the comments, share what part of the elderberry plant that you use, your preparation method, and any significant result you’ve noticed. Or, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments. I’m no doctor, but I can share my personal experiences 😊.
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