It’s elderflower season and roadsides, parks, verges and hedgerows here in South Wales are awash with huge, cream-coloured flower heads. The beautiful, fragrant, sweet-smelling blossom is just waiting to be picked and converted into delicious cordial for all sorts of lovely culinary uses. Serve diluted with ice cold still or sparkling water or add to sparkling wine or champagne. If you want to bring the refreshing, summery flavour of elderflower into your cooking, you could try some of these…
- - Elderflower & lemon tart
- - Elderflower sorbet – so easy to make as it’s just cordial, water & sugar
- - Add a splash of elderflower cordial onto strawberries or fruit salads
- - Elderflower custard on to fruit crumble
- - Elderflower ice cream
- - Gooseberry & elderflower fool – wrap the elderflowers in muslin and infuse into the cooking gooseberries
- - Elderflower vodka – a 3 month infusion worth waiting for
- - Elderflower vinegar – makes an original, seasonal salad dressing
The basis for most of these uses is a good elderflower cordial. Here’s how I make mine…
(I don’t put oranges in my cordial but it’s down to personal preference so if you want to add orange juice just zest and juice 2 unwaxed oranges and add to the mixture at the same time as the lemon zest and juice)
- 1 ½ litres boiling water
- 25-30 elderflower heads (about 170g)
- 750g caster sugar
- 3 unwaxed lemons, zest & juice
- - Shake the elderflower heads to remove any bugs or dirt
- - Place the elderflower heads in a large non-metallic mixing bowl with the lemon zest
- - Pour the boiling water over them, cover and leave overnight to infuse
- - Strain the liquid through a clean tea towel into a saucepan
- - Add the sugar and the lemon juice then heat gently to dissolve the sugar
- - Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes
- - Transfer to sterilised bottles using a funnel
What about citric acid?
Lots of elderflower cordial recipes include citric acid (about 50g for the above quantities). Citric acid will lengthen the shelf life of your elderflower cordial and will also make the end result more tart. I personally don’t bother using it because the cordial will keep for a few weeks without it and, if you want to keep it for longer, you can just freeze it. For a sharper taste, simply add more lemon zest and juice. However, if you do wish to use citric acid you can buy it from Waitrose, the chemist and from Wilkinsons. Add it to the elderflower liquid with the lemon and the sugar.
IN A HURRY? Place the elderflower and lemon zest into a saucepan with 1 ½ litres of boiling water. Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Strain through a clean tea towel. Return the liquid to the saucepan before adding the sugar and lemon juice and continuing as above. This will create a weaker cordial than the 24 hour infusion method so you won’t need to add so much water to dilute it.
A natural remedy
Elderflower is rich in Vitamin C and has immune-boosting properties. It is anti-catarrhal, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory so it provides a good, low-level treatment for cold, flu, ear, nose and throat problems.
Never eat foraged plants unless you are 100% sure what they are and that they are edible. To the uninitiated, elderflowers look a bit like other plants (rowan, hogweed, cow parsley) but they are the only ones that smell of elderflower!
The elderflower season runs from mid May to July.
Pick young, sweet-smelling elderflower heads that have a mixture of flowers and also a few buds on them. These flower heads are likely to be covered in pollen (cream-coloured dust) and it’s the pollen that gives them their flavour. It’s no good picking wet elderflower as the rain washes the pollen away. The best time to pick is first thing in the morning on a sunny day.
Elderflower heads don’t stay in peak condition for very long so it’s best to get to work as soon as you get home. If you have to store them, you can put them loosely into a large container and keep them in the fridge for a few hours.
Elder trees grow everywhere so you won’t have to head off into the wilds to find them. They are often very close to human settlement so parks, open ground, verges and hedgerows are good places to look. Avoid elderflower on the fringes of busy roads and at low levels in areas where people may have walked their dogs!
Don’t pick all the blossoms from the tree otherwise you won’t get any elderberries later in the year (more on those in the Autumn).
Elder has hollow stems that burn really well – its name comes from ‘aeld’, the Anglo Saxon name for fire (although ancient folklore says you should never burn elder as it is extremely bad luck!), The similarity in leaf shape gave ground elder its name. The bane of gardeners lives, ground elder is also edible and can be used much in the same way as spinach.