Supporting Local Agriculture via Clinical Research: Human Studies with Elderberries to Improve Biomarkers of Obesity

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2019: $29,998.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Patrick Solverson
Washington State University

Information Products


  • Fruits: berries (other)


  • Crop Production: drainage systems, food processing, food product quality/safety, nutrient management, water management, windbreaks
  • Natural Resources/Environment: drift/runoff buffers

    Proposal abstract:

    The clean water act of Vermont will require farmers in the state to follow required agricultural practices, which may entail the creation of buffer strips between conventional farm land and watersheds in order to reduce agricultural runoff and protect downstream watersheds. The University of Vermont’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture has developed a growing guide for elderberry production, as the hearty plant produces an edible fruit that could be marketed to the consumer. The elderberry is a rich source of anthocyanins, a type of plant pigment that has been studied extensively for its health promoting effects in both animal and human feeding trials. Recent findings highlight the potential for anthocyanin consumption to augment fat oxidation and improve insulin sensitivity; compelling findings in animal feeding studies warrant further investigation in human trials. This proposal details experimental research that would 1) determine optimal elderberry preparation techniques that would eliminate a noxious plant compound while preserving anthocyanin content and 2) conduct a human clinical trial to investigate the potential for elderberry consumption to increase fat oxidation and improve insulin sensitivity in overweight or obese volunteers. Positive findings from the study could be a viable marketing strategy for elderberry producers, as health-promoting effects of elderberries would stimulate consumer interest. A stronger market demand may encourage more farmers to plant elderberries in their buffer strips, thereby enhancing runoff prevention and improving water quality. Funding from this grant would be used to procure elderberries and support a graduate student.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to discover the health promoting effects of elderberries in humans.

    Specifically, this project aims to determine the anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of elderberries when fed in a food (not extract) form. We have previously tested these effects in other berries and have observed increases in both fat oxidation and insulin sensitivity in overweight subjects after one week of feeding. Elderberries are a rich source of the bioactive components of berries thought to elicit positive effects on these measures, thus if a threshold dose of the bioactive compounds is necessary in order to see the benefit to both fat oxidation and insulin sensitivity, elderberries will allow the consumer to achieve these doses more efficiently than other berries. A recent project by the University of Vermont (UVM) identified elderberries as an agriculturally productive buffer crop; the plant is hearty and can be planted in the buffer strip between watersheds and conventional crops. If our project can demonstrate improvements in fat oxidation and insulin sensitivity in a human feeding study, elderberry-producing Vermont farmers can use the study as a marketing tool to generate interest in consumers, while assisting farmers in meeting the requirements of the clean water act of Vermont.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.