Viral inhibition by black elderberry suggests role for fruit extract in treating COVID-19

Black elderberry extract has inhibited the replication of multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants in vitro, suggesting the natural product may be an effective treatment for COVID-19.

People have used European black elderberries to treat upper respiratory tract infections for centuries. In recent years, researchers have validated traditional applications of the fruit in multiple studies, including clinical trials that have linked consumption of black elderberry extracts to reductions in the severity and duration of viral infections. 

The large body of evidence on black elderberry led scientists at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg to identify the fruit extract as a potential treatment for COVID-19. There remains considerable unmet need in COVID-19 despite extensive investment, with the global vaccination campaign failing to achieve herd immunity, viral mutations rendering anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies ineffective, and antivirals having limited efficacy outside of some subpopulations. 

To assess if black elderberry can address the unmet need, the Erlangen-Nuremberg researchers tested  IPRONA’s ElderCraft®, an extract standardized to anthocyanin and polyphenols. The scientists added the extract to in vitro lung cell models infected with different variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the now globally dominant Omicron strain. Writing in the journal Nutraceuticals, the researchers explain how the extract caused a dose-dependent reduction in viral replication in all infected cell lines.1 

“The extract displayed a strong anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity against the Wuhan type as well as the variants of concern Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron with a comparable antiviral activity,” the researchers wrote. “Black elderberry extract might have the potential to be an effective treatment option for SARS-CoV-2 infections.”

Further analysis revealed that the extract appears to inhibit the later stages of the viral replication cycle, with the activity happening after a virus enters the cell. The finding is in line with other reports, including a study that showed the main anthocyanin in European black elderberries binds and inhibits the active pocket of an enzyme that enables the release of viruses from host cells.

The long history of consumption of black elderberries suggests a treatment based on the fruit should be safe and the study found no toxic effects on cells even at high doses. Given the evidence of effectiveness and safety, plus the wide availability of the fruit in nature, European black elderberries could be a quickly distributed treatment option in the current pandemic and future viral outbreaks.

1. Setz, C. et al. European Black Elderberry Fruit Extract Inhibits Replication of SARS-CoV-2 In Vitro. Nutraceuticals 3, 91–106 (2023).


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