SARSZENTAGOTA, Hungary (Reuters)
Demand for the humble Hungarian elderberry has soared this year as U.S. and Chinese buyers have snapped up supplies, attracted by the fruit’s purported health benefits as a supplement to boost the immune system.
Elderberries have long been used in traditional medicines in Hungary and farmers have harvested wild clumps.
But before the coronavirus pandemic, 90 per cent of the country’s crop was sold to the food industry for use as red food coloring in ice cream, jam or candies. Only the remaining 10 per cent was used in health products.
Now elderberries have become a precious commodity, and prices have soared.
Trials have shown elderberry syrup could help treat influenza. Some doctors say elderberries could also aid recovery during respiratory virus infections, including the coronavirus, although more studies need to be done.
“Many healthcare supplement producers want elderberry, even if they had never worked with it before,” said Gyorgy Csizmadia, director of the Elderberry Sales Co-operative in the village of Sarszentagota.
Csizmadia and his colleagues can hardly keep up with demand. On a recent day, they were hard at work pressing elderberries into a syrup in their small rural workshop, their hands all stained bright red by the fruit.
A lower-than-expected yield also contributed to a four-fold rise in prices to more than 400 forints ($1.32) per kg.
Erika Balaicza, a doctor and specialist in using herbs in medicine, said elderberries could speed up recovery during a respiratory virus infection.
However, they could not “kill” the virus and can only be used to support the treatment of an infection, she said.
Hungary produced 16,000 tonnes of elderberries in 2019 according to the Central Statistical Office.