Elderflowers are a common sight amongst our hedgerows at this time of the year and they’re not just pretty – they help boost the immune system and make excellent summer beverages!
Elder trees don’t just provide cream-coloured blossoms in the summer and clusters of tiny black berries in the winter – they are also steeped in lore.
Traditionally, people avoided cutting down elders and using them for firewood because they were said to house the Hag Goddess or Crone, which some believed were the spirits of witches burnt at the stake.
It is said that if you’re taking flowers or berries from an elder tree you should first ask the Hag’s permission (just in case you come across a grumpy one!!).
On a more practical note, don’t pick from busy roadsides because of vehicle fumes and always take just a few flower heads, leaving plenty for insects and for berries later.
Tips for elderflowers
Elderflowers can have a pretty potent odour at times and I came across a handy tip this week on the Wildlife Trusts’ #30DaysWild Facebook page – always pick the flowers in the morning to avoid that smell and to give your cordials etc a subtler taste. I’ve also seen pictures of pink elderflower cordial, made from a pink variety of the flower, which has become my mission to find and grow!!
Elderflowers help hay fever and colds
We’ve recently been using elderflowers for three purposes. Firstly, Becca (8) has a dreadful case of hay fever that leaves her with teary eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing and disturbed nights – not easy for a small girl who loves being outside, and who lives in a house surrounded by hay and silage fields.
On a trip to Ardmore on the Waterford coast recently, we visited the local Sunday farmers’ market, where I spoke to very helpful herbal medicine specialist who gave me three handy pieces of advice – give Becca elderflower tea with a local honey, wash her bedclothes and towels at 60 degrees and use the dryer NOT the clothesline, and wash her hair nightly. It really does help.
Elderflowers are full of antioxidants and vitamins and the tea is very easy to make – just use fresh or dried blossoms as you would any tea leaves, steep them in a covered pot/cup for up to 10 minutes, add your local honey (which, naturally, will contain local pollen) and drink. This is also said to be an excellent remedy for colds.
To get Becca to try it I had to as well, and, because I like green tea, I liked elderflower tea – she is not a fan. I used fresh flowers initially but later found a dried packet in our local healthfood shop, which I’m now keeping for when we need it during colds season.
Our elderflower cordial was much more successful with both Becca and Ava (10), possibly because it is really a sugary syrup and we serve it with ice and fizzy water.
It’s really easy to make and has a summery flavour that’s lovely on warm days, but equally nice if you’re indoors watching telly on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Simply use 2lbs of sugar, 3 tablespoons of citric acid (I use a proper measuring spoon for this), the juice and zest of 1 lemon, and 1 pint of water for every 10-12 elderflower heads or umbels (depending on how strong you want the taste to be).
Using a stainless steel saucepan, boil the water before adding the sugar to dissolve while stirring. Let the mix cool before adding the rest of the ingredients and leave overnight (I left for two nights and it was fine).
When ready, line a funnel with muslin (you may have some for jam making, or just use a very fine sieve) and pour into sterilised bottles. Store in a cool place.
You can add a dash of the cordial to plain or fizzy water or to a gin and tonic if that’s your tipple.
This is our first year making elderflower fizz – so we were on a bit of a learning curve – and we used Darina Allen’s recipe from her book Forgotten Skills of Cooking.
We just added 2 elderflower heads to a large bowl along with the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1¼ lb of sugar, 2tbsp of white wine vinegar and 8 pints of water. We left that overnight before using our muslin lined funnel to pour the mix into sterilised screwtop bottles. We used old wine bottles (well, not really old, but you know what I mean) and then laid them on their side in a cool spot for a couple of weeks.
Be warned, when you’re advised to screw the top tightly, you really should – two of our bottles have leaked. However, we managed to salvage just enough of the second bottle to sample our fizz and it’s delicious! I am now a woman on a mission not only to find pink elders, but to locate the perfect bottles for elderflower fizz!
Now is the perfect time to get picking and making, so here is an article I found with recipes for elderflower icecream and elderflower pickle if you’re feeling adventurous!
If you come across any other recipes you feel we should try then please let us know by visiting our blog. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter via the blog.