We’ve been on the watch for the frothy creamy panicles that herald the start of summer, and over the past week they have finally started to bloom. The season to use the elderflowers as an edible ingredient is extremely short, usually end of May to the last week of June. Best picked in the morning on a sunny day when the pollen is rich and their sweet, heady grape-like aroma is at its strongest.
The Elder has been cultivated as source of food and medicine since the Stone Age, and there are recipes for elderberry-based medications in the records dating as far back as Ancient Egypt. We will be sharing a short guide on elderberries when they are in season from late summer to mid autumn.
Sambucus nigra L.
Elder, black elder, common elder, elderflower, sweet elder.
Adoxaceae (formerly Caprifoliaceae)
Flower (& berry from late summer to mid autumn)
End of May to early July
Europe and parts of Asia and Africa
Rich in vitamin C, flavanoids, mucilage,essential oils, mucilage, tannins, quercetin, free fatty acids, triterpenes, phenolic acid, minerals, sterols, sugars, tannins, hydrocyanic glycoside sambunigrine
WHERE TO FIND THEM
Hedgerows, woodland, wasteland and canals
HOW TO IDENTIFY
A rather untidy, many-stemmed, deciduous tree or shrub that can grow up to 10m tall. It has arching branches with corky bark that is grey-white in colour. The leaves are pinnate with 5-9 leaflets per leaf and ovate with saw-toothed margin and prominent midribs. In spring it has flat, frothy, creamy-white blossom followed by clusters of small red berries in the late summer, and as they ripen turn blackish -purple in August.
HOW TO HARVEST
Using a pair of sharp scissors or secateurs, snip the base of the flower cluster stalk. Make sure you only remove a few clusters from a tree, so that it will be able to produce berries in autumn.
CLEANING & STORING
Gently shake each flower head to get rid of insects. Use them immediately for the fullest flavour or dry them by laying them, flowers down, out of the sun for a day.
IN THE KITCHEN
Make sure you always process the flowers and never eat any of the green parts, they will make you very sick.
Elderflowers can be used to make a delicious champagne. Turned into an allergy relief tincture. Freshly scattered over salads, fried into fritters, infused in cordials, syrups, spirits, vinegars and chutneys. Adds a wonderful delicate flavour to these refreshing summer lollies and, they can be crystallised and used for edible decorations for cakes and desserts such as fruit salads. Dried elderflowers also make a wonderful purifying tea.
Elderflowers can help reduce pain and swelling in joints and is also known to lower blood sugar levels, very similar to the way insulin works.
Go easy at first and make sure you are not allergic to it. ALWAYS eat in moderation.
Other than the flowers and ripe fresh berries, all other parts of elder contain alkaloids and cyanogenic glycosides, which may cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, as well as depression of the central nervous and respiratory systems. This reaction occurs only if these plant parts are used fresh, as cooking or drying reduces the cyanogenic glycoside content; however we strongly advise that you avoid all the green bits and the bark.
Elderflowers are considered safe for small children + pregnant and breastfeeding women; however, it is always a good idea to consult a trained herbalist, experienced alternative medicine practitioner or a healthcare provider before using wild plants as medicine or food.
Unless you are 100% sure of what it is and 100% sure that it is edible, DON’T EAT IT! Harvest only what you need from large, healthy shrub. Simply pinch or snip the heads from the bush at the first joint so you avoid damaging the populations. Consider pesticides, herbicides, pollutions and dog pee. Think about all that could, might and will have drifted onto your plants and pick wisely.