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For a brief season, between May and June, London is saturated ripe with elderflower. Heads of creamy and white little flowers blossom from Elder trees on the road side, hedgerows, bushes, parks, woodlands and in someone’s front or back garden. Who knew they grew in abundance next to us and not just romantically somewhere in the deep countryside. Anyone can pick elderflower and make cordial, good to drink all summer long as well as pairing it with other delicious ingredients in sorbets, ice-cream, cakes, biscuits, cocktails, smoothies and so on…elderflower champagne!I have never foraged anything before, the thought reminded me of being a grumpy and ridiculously embarrassed teenager by my jubilant mother and her ecstatic friends. Instead of building sand castles with their kids they were chirpy and feeling happy-go lucky with picking cockles and the occasional crab on the the beach while other “white” kids looked on screamish-ly, pointing at those “Chinese” people “eating snails” on an open barbecue .
But now that I have passed the age my mother used to be when I was that intolerant crabby girl I understand all of the little joys she had and still embraces. Like the delight of eating something you’ve personally grown or picked. The gratification of watching something blossom and nurturing it to harvest.
Have I started to leave those days of glistening indulgence at party houses and champagne events to the side of inclination? Am I leaning towards plants, gardening, foraging and bagging long walks in the woods? I’m googling about the differences between cow parsley and hemlock, rock samphire and marsh samphire and I feel so excited and enthusiastic to learn about the elder trees whose been standing around watching us grow whilst we have been ignorant to all of its blessings.
It is the whiffs of pungent, creamy yet citrusy jasmine combined with floral grassy elderflower mixed in with the powdery perfume of lavender from trees and bushes, saying, hi, how are you? And thats when we love those summer time nightfalls, the ones where we have felt so good, happy and alive after an evening with fine friends, wine and song.
One of the happiest times of my life is discovering and picking elderflower with James. We spent two days looking at the start of the season when they were only just beginning to show. We were so pleased when we came across a tree filled head to shoulder with creamy buds but it was in front of someone’s house. James went in for some that he could reach anyway but out came an elderly gentleman, as he pulled one off the old tree. Thats elderflower you know, he said. James tried to act cool hoping he wouldn’t get told off for trespassing but the handsome old gentleman carried on saying, this used to be a dairy and they grew an elder tree here because the flowers would keep the milk from curdling. James and I were fascinated! My wife still makes the cordial every summer, its great for puddings! Your wife is behind you, said a beautiful, gracious and elegant lady. They chuckled and he put his arms around her as if there was not a day he could remember that he didn’t love her from top to bottom.
There are many myths and tales about the elder tree, how the blossom and berries are life curing, giving and protecting against bad spirits.
Here, my elderflower cordial recipe. I use less sugar than other recipes I have come across.
Elderflower grow on bushes or trees not from the ground, don’t confuse them with cow parsley or similar blossoms.
Culivate elderflower from non polluted areas.
Pick blossoms that still have a little few buds on, they are the fresh ones.
Leaves ones that are brown and fully blossomed, they are spent.
There are white ones and cream ones, the creamy ones smell and taste better.
Some people think elderflowers smell of cat pee, but I find that some of them do smell pee-ey and most smell beautiful. Leave any funny smelling ones.
Leave some for the birds and insects and for elderberries in the autumn.
Best to make cordial from the blossoms as soon as you’ve picked them.
300g elderflower or a carrier bag’s worth, picked at the neck of the stem
3 litres of boiling water from the kettle
2 or 3 lemons/ limes
1 kg of muscavado sugar or caster sugar or rock sugar (you may wish to add more)
Tap on a surface to rid insects from elderflower blossom. I don’t wash them because the goodness is in the pollen.
Find a container with a lid or something to cover. Place sliced lemons and/or lime and sugar.
Bring water to the boil and pour over. (you may need to fill 2 kettles) Make sure the sugar dissolves by mixing it around a little.
Add elderflower heads, submerge in the hot water and cover for 24 hours.
You may wish to add citric acid and/ or campden tablets (what they put in wine to let it keep longer) to preserve the cordial for longer.
After a day, strain off the flowers and citruses and fill sterilised bottles with the cordial. Keep refrigerated or frozen.
Delicious with sparkling water, in sorbets, smoothies etc.
Health benefits of elderflower (stuff I read online)
-high in Vitamin A, B & C – A combination of these vitamins and phytochemicals, like flavonoids and quercetin, give elderflower its anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antiviral properties. The herb is also an effective diuretic, laxative, and insect-repellent.
-strengthens the immune system
-clears lymph nodes, swollen sinuses, bronchitis
-high in antioxidants, protecting from radical damage to the skin and body
-treats against asthma, colds, flu and allergies like hayfever
If you’ve over picked, (which I have), you can bag it up and put the flowers in the freezer or dry them out on a tray for tea in the future.