While technically it’s not summer yet, one of my summer favourites is ready to gather. Its flavour is one of the things that make a summer and its arrival means time to put it to good use. The Elder is a fairly common sight. It likes disturbed fertile soils – often the same places as nettles so don’t wear your shorts!– and grows in a many different habitats including roadsides, railway embankments, waste ground, hedgerows, woods and grassland. It is technically a tree though never substantial, and a bit bigger than a bush. As always with foraging be 100% confident with your identification using a plant ID book if you are unsure. There are other shrubs and plants with white flowers at this time of year. Recently, on the radio someone admitted trying to make Elderflower drinks with Cow Parsley! Don’t wash the flowers as the natural yeasts in them are needed for some of the uses, just give a gentle shake to remove any insects.
The most well known uses for Elderflowers will be for Champagne (fizz if you bow to EU “protected designation of origin” rules!) and Cordial. I’ve got my first batch of this year’s champagne on the go already. It is very simple to make and only needs 4 heads of the flowers for a gallon of drink. It is a wonderfully light, sparking drink and is fantastic cool on a warm summer evening. It’s that good that I’ve made it by the case for parties! The fizz does carry a bit of a health warning though – bottles can explode if they are thin glass. I have used flip-top “Grolsh” style bottles for many years without incident.
The cordial needs quite a few more heads and again is the flavour of summer for me. Some recipes call for citric acid. You can get this from homebrew shops (best) or a chemist. You may get a quizzical look when you ask. Apparently, drug dealers also use it! Make cordial by the gallon and put it in empty (and clean) plastic milk bottles and freeze to enjoy at any time of the year. On those warm summer evenings remember that you don’t just have to dilute it with water – friends enjoy it with white wine! The cordial can also be used for ice-lollies for the kids and a sorbet or granita for the grown-ups.
Dried for tea
Fool (optionally with (wild) Gooseberrries)
Fritters (dip flowers in batter, deep fry, drain on kitchen towel, sprinkle with sugar and eat while still warm!)
Panna cotta (made with seaweed of course!)
In jams e.g. Strawberry or Gooseberry
Gooseberry & Elderflower chutney
Remember not to strip all of the flowers from any one Elder. You want to allow some to grow into berries both for the birds and for you, but that’s another story.