Elderflowers are reaching a new level of popularity because they are easy to grow and use in recipes, and have many health benefits. The sweet umbels of creamy colored flowers that can reach 12″ across are so fragrant and have a unique smell – kind of like floral, creamy, and summery all in one package!
You can use elderflowers in seasonal recipes, plus learn how to identify and forage for them. The fragrant summer blooms are a great addition to desserts, drinks, and salads. Full of antioxidants and bioflavonoids, elderflowers contain many health benefits, mostly boosting the immune system and helping with sinus / upper respiratory infections.
The small purple berries are also packed with antioxidants and vitamins and some experts recommend elderberry to help prevent and ease cold and flu symptoms.
All cultivars look very similar with their shrub-like plant structure, compound leaves, and big, beautiful clusters of white flowers which turn into purple-hued berries. Blooming in late June and July, they resemble snowball hydrangeas, but are flat instead of umbrella shaped, and produce amazing edible fruits. This is a plant that can cross over from a food to a medicinal product. Commonly found on roadsides or fields, you can also easily grow this large shrub in your own landscape or forage locally.
The berries can be used for making juice, jams, chutneys, pies and wine, and the flowers boiled with sugar to make a sweet syrup or infused into tea. The flowers or ‘elderblow’ can also be eaten fresh in salads.
A great landscape addition, Elderberry or Sambucus canadensis, abundantly flowers and if you can beat the birds, the fruit is very tasty. Once the flowering is completed, dark purple berries form. But the leaves, stems, bark and roots are toxic, so it’s important to be vigilant about not including any of these when processing elderberry or elderflower preparations. The only edible parts of the elderberry tree are the berries and flowers, so beware! Like many other plants such as Rhubarb, you have to know what parts to eat.
Check out this interesting video about elderflower.
There are other varieties of Elderberry that are very interesting to use in the landscape.
Growing by leaps and bounds using suckers, one elderberry is plenty for my needs. In fact, I remove lots of suckers and cut it back to the ground in the early spring to control its growth. Deer leave it alone as it is planted in a high deer traffic area and they never touch it.
Making Elderflower Liquor
Recently, I collected the elderflower umbels in preparation for making elderflower cordial. Elderflower concoctions and flavorings are big in Europe in all forms, but relatively new to the U.S.
Fragrant and refreshing, summertime elderflower cordial is easy to make. All it takes is an abundance of elderflowers and some vodka! It really is easy and will darken slightly to a champagne color with age. Mix the cordial with sparkling water or add to wine, prosecco or champagne. I like using it in a gin and tonic.
Collecting fragrant elderberry flowers to make cordial
Tips on Collecting Elderflowers
- Avoid collecting from polluted areas
- Wait for the tiny flowers to fully open and haven’t started to turn brown
- Pick in the morning before the heat of the day as their flowers fade fast
- The flowers should smell blossomy and sweet with no unpleasant odor
- Always use them as soon as possible after picking
- Dry them for using later by placing on an old window screen in a dark space for a week or use a food dehydrator
Home-Made St Germain Or Elderflower Liqueur
Elderflower liqueur is the alcoholic version of Elderflower cordial
- 20 large elderflower heads
- 1 litre (1 US quart) of vodka
- 1 lemon cut up
- 1 qt mason jar
- 1/2 C sugar
- 1/3 C water
- Pick your elderflowers in the morning before it gets too hot
- Give each flower head a good shake to get rid of any creepy crawlies, although you will strain them out later.
- Snip the tiny flower heads off the thick stalks, leaving only the thin stalks attached to the flowers. The thick stalks are toxic.
- Place in the mason jar, along with the cut up lemon and pour the vodka in until it completely covers the lemon and the flowers. (This should prevent the flowers from turning brown but don’t worry as an odd few will only result in a darker liqueur and it won’t ruin the taste).
- Place in a cool, dark place for two to four weeks.
- Make a sugar syrup by gently heating the sugar with the water until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool before using.
- Strain the elderflower, lemon and vodka liquid through a muslin cloth or cheese cloth into a bowl.
- Add half the sugar syrup and taste for sweetness before adding the remaining syrup if required. I use all of the syrup and I find it isn’t overly sweet.
- Pour into clean sterilized bottles and leave for for two months in a cool dark place to mature.
- Keeps for years but will darken with age.