Elder is a true fairy plant when in bloom, snowy and strangely fragrant. Here in Europe, the tree remains strongly associated with protection and the crossing of thresholds.
Her airy and delicate flowers tend to appear between early May and mid-July, and the finest blossoms often coincide with the Summer Solstice (the further North you are, the later they will appear).
We just noticed the blooms last week in Ireland and out tumbled the recipe box. Elderflower has a rich culinary as well as medicinal history, having been long used for all manner of baked goods, syrups, and wines.
Elderflower Cordial—still a common sight in markets here—is traditionally served with still or fizzy water. It is simple to make and you can also pair it with a wide range of desserts (ice cream, panna cotta, jam), cocktails, and even pancakes…feel free to share with us in comments below how you use Elderflower!
What You’ll Need
- 2 pounds sugar
- 4 lemons or 2 lemons & 2 oranges (preferably organic)
- 6 cups spring water
- 2 ounces citric acid (optional)*
- 30 fresh Elderflower umbels (or flower heads)**
* Citric acid is used as a natural preservative and can be sourced from a variety of shops
** Use a good identification guide; you want to be gathering black Elder (Sambucus nigra), not red, which is toxic. People are also often warned not to confuse Elder with the deadly Water Hemlock, as this mistake has happened. Elder is a shrubby tree with a woody stem and directly opposite leaves, but Water Hemlock is a weed with alternating leaf spacing.
What to Do
- Gather your blossoms on a dry day. Do not do so by roads, as the flowers absorb exhaust from passing traffic. And remember not to take too many, as you’ll want to allow the berries to form in the autumn, for birds and more medicine! The flowers should be open and not past their prime.
- Heat up your water to a boil and place the sugar into a large pot or bowl.
- Pour boiling water over the sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Cool.
- Finely grate your lemons and add this zest to your sugar water. Then chop the lemons and add in as well.
- Add the citric acid, giving it all a stir.
- Finally, the flowers: snip or brush them firmly from the stems and minimize as much as possible the amount of stem going in; the stem portions are toxic. Stir.
- Cover your mixture with a clean cloth and let it steep for 48 hours.
- Strain through a fine cloth into a sterilized bowl or pot. Then fill sterilized bottles and seal.
- Store in a dark and cool place and use within a few weeks (place in fridge after opening).
Tip: If serving with water, just add 1-3 tablespoons of your syrup into a large glass and add your cool water of choice (still or sparkling). If serving with drinks, add a tablespoon or so to a couple shots of your liquor or to a glass of sparkling wine.