How to use elderflower?

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09/08/2016 Written by Gin Foundry

The Elderberry is a small bush, peppered with delicate white flowers (i.e. elderflower) that flourishes widely in countries such as the United Kingdom and France, spreading in hedgerows across many of its fields.

The bush produces small, dark berries that are commonly used in juices and jams. The flowers are sweet, honey-scented clusters of white that, when used fresh, make deliciously sweet cordials and liqueur – the famous and globally known of which is probably St Germain’s.

The berries are known to be rich in antioxidants and are also said to reduce the time in which one suffers from the flu. They’re also used in the treatment of conjunctivitis and for relieving the pain of arthritis – the latter medicinal property discovered by a sailor, who (when elderberries were used to disguise the quality of terribly made wine) found that cheap port relieved his symptoms… Unfortunately, these properties do not distil over.

Once distilled, Elderberries keep much of their tarty nature. Deep jam-like tones are created and as a botanical, they are perfect to add a rich depth to the heart of a gin. They pair particularly well with resinous types of juniper (typically from Macedonia) as when combined, can give a booming forest fruit flavour to the mix.

Elderflower on the other hand, is as one might expect, more floral and lighter to taste. In the context of gin, it is more apparent on the nose but they also serve as a useful floral botanical to add soft freshness to a gin, as opposed to using flowers like rose or honeysuckle, that can sometimes veer into more perfumed territory.

Gins in which elderflower is noticeable to taste:

Warner Edwards have an elderflower infused gin, while Shortcross Gin use the flower to add a levity in their gin. Hendrick’s Gin makes good use of the soft sent of elderflower in the mix, although the rose and cucumber dominate so it’s not easy to discern it as an individual botanical. Silent Pool makes fantastic use of the flowers, where it is particularly apparent on the nose, adding an inviting bouquet to their gin.

Gins in which elderberries are noticeable to taste:

Burleighs London Dry Gin and Shortcross Gin make good use of elderberries – (the latter involving the flower in its botanical line up as mentioned above as well). Dorothy Parker has a delicious jammy tone as a result of the berries.

Best used:

…in a cocktail. Eldeflower liqueur and gin make great bedmates, but elderflower cordial could also jazz up a French 75 and the flowers themselves would make for very pretty little garnishes. If you like a ripe fruity flavour in your Sloe Gins, add elderberries into the mix during the infusion process.

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What Is Elderflower? 5 Fast Facts About This Versatile Plant

Though a relatively unknown plant, the popularity of the elderflower is skyrocketing due to its use in the royal wedding cake for Megan Markle and Prince Harry. But there is so much more behind this plant than its use as a baking ingredient.

Elderflower comes from the elder tree, which is native to the U.K. and parts of Europe.

1Elder Tree 2Elderflower 3Elderberry

The elder tree grows rapidly, with leaves present from March to November and flowers from June to July. The berries ripen from August to September, all thanks to the pollination from small insects. The leaves, bark, wood, flowers and berries can all be used for a variety of purposes.

Here are some fast facts about this versatile plant.

1 It May Ease Symptoms Of The Common Cold.

A National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study concluded that there was “a significant effect of elderberry on cold duration and cold associated symptoms.” That means the participants who used elderberry, the plant that the elderflower blossoms into, showed an increased recovery time from common cold symptoms.

Although the study was the first of its kind, it suggests that there may be a strong connection between the use of the elderberry and easing the common cold.

2 Its History Dates Back To 460 BC.

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According to Belvoir Fruit Farms, a company who has been using the elderberry to make cordial since 1984, the plant’s use dates back to the time of Hippocrates.

More modern creations use elderberry to make everything from lemon cake to gin and tonic.

3 The Plant Is Mildly Toxic.

Hippocrates actually used every part of the plant to “encourage vomiting and purging” in his patients.

The American Botanical Council warns that excess consumption of elderberries can, in fact, lead to diarrhea, nausea and vomiting in humans.

4 It’s Used To Make Alcohol

Who needs alcohol when you have good ol’ elderberry?

Elderflower is used to make cordial, a type of sweet liqueur. It’s made with lots of sugar and citric acid and then mixed with fruits such as oranges and lemons to add flavor.

Enjoy elderflower cordial with dessert or as a dessert replacement. The best part is it’s super easy to make.

5 You Can Use It To Make Tea

Elderflower tea is high in antioxidants such as vitamin C and quercetin, which help to protect the body against diseases. And according to Livestrong, the tea also has cholesterol benefits.

A word of caution, thought—excess elderflower tea consumption has not been studied, and it has been known to have a diuretic effect.

As you can see, there’s a deeper history behind the elderflower than meets the eye. It has been used for centuries and has endless uses. Just be careful not to overeat them, unless you want to end up like this girl:

GIF via Giphy

What is elderflower and why is it everywhere right now?

Elderflower is everywhere right now, from the lemon and elderflower cake at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to a commercial for Bon & Viv elderflower spiked seltzer at the Super Bowl.

The floral, aromatic, and (some say) fruity elements of the plant pair well with spirits, baked goods and any dish that needs a spring in its step. Chef Jamie Oliver describes its scent as “distinctly musky and sweet.”

The white elderflowers of the elderberry plant can be used to make a syrup that brings fruity and floral notes to your recipes.(Getty Images)

Both the flowers of the elderberry plant (Sambucus canadensis) and the berries (when cooked), are edible, says Daniel Cunningham, a horticulturalist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension. “I’m into the flowers for infusing cocktails or dressing up a dish, or foraging the berries for syrup or jelly,” he says. But the berries are toxic raw, as well as the leaves, bark and wood.

The elderberry is thought to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties as well as immune-boosting benefits, often used to treat swollen sinuses, colds and bronchitis.

The plant grows well in Texas, with seeds and small plants readily available at nurseries or online. The low-growing deciduous shrub produces delicate white flower heads from mid-May to July, followed by elderberries later in the season. The early blooms, with hollow stems and divided or compound leaves, are reminiscent of fennel or dill.

Drinks made with elderflower, from syrup to liqueur to spritzers.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

To use in cooking, we found several varieties of elderflower syrup and elderflower liqueur, as well as other infused beverages. The following recipes use Monin elderflower syrup ($9.95) or St. Germain elderflower liqueur (about $28.99), all available at local liquor stores. You can also try Fever-Tree elderflower tonic water (great for mixed drinks), or ready-made alcoholic beverages like Bon & Viv pear and elderflower spiked seltzer and Sprizzeri lime and elderflower wine spritzer.

Spring Salad with Grilled Chicken and Elderflower Vinaigrette(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Spring Salad with Grilled Chicken and Elderflower Vinaigrette

1 pound asparagus, cut into thirds

8 ounces sugar snap peas

1 pound fresh or frozen peas

1 bunch colored radishes, sliced thin

1 red onion, sliced thin

4 to 5 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts, grilled and diced

1 head lettuce

2 ounces fresh pea shoots

Elderflower Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Blanch asparagus and sugar snap peas for 1 minute, followed by ice bath. Drain and allow to dry for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, add asparagus, sugar snap peas, peas, radishes, red onion and grilled chicken. Fold gently to combine.

Place lettuce on tray and top with salad mixture. Add fresh pea shoots to garnish. Dress salad with Elderflower Vinaigrette.

Elderflower Vinaigrette: Mix together 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons elderflower syrup, 2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar and zest and juice of 1 lemon.

Makes 4 servings.

Braised Pork Tenderloin with Elderflower(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Elderflower Braised Pork Tenderloin with Fennel

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pork tenderloins, about 3 pounds total

2 fennel bulbs, sliced thin

1 red onion, sliced thin

1 1/2 cups white wine

1/2 cup elderflower liqueur

5 sprigs thyme

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add olive oil and tenderloins. Sear tenderloins on all sides and remove. Add fennel, onion, wine and Elderflower liqueur to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Add tenderloin back to the pot and add thyme.

Cover and braise, over medium heat, for 15 minutes.

Remove tenderloin from the braising liquid and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Slice tenderloin and serve with braised fennel and onion.

Makes 6 servings.

Elderflower Poundcake using Lemon and Elderflower Curd(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Elderflower Lemon Curd

3 lemons, zested and juiced, juice reserved

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup butter, softened

4 eggs

1/8 cup elderflower liqueur

1/8 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of a food processor, add lemon zest and sugar and process until zest is incorporated into sugar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add lemon sugar and butter. Cream ingredients. Slowly add eggs, elderflower liqueur, reserved juice from lemons, and salt. Beat until incorporated.

In a heavy pan over medium-low heat, cook beaten egg mixture until thickened, stirring continuously. Use immediately or store under refrigeration. Serve with cake or scones.

Makes 2 cups.

Elderflower New Fashioned Sparkling (left) and Elderflower Lemonade(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

Elderflower New Fashioned

2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce elderflower liqueur

Dash of citrus bitters

1 ounce Topo Chico sparkling mineral water

Twist of orange

In a 6 ounce (or larger) iced glass, add bourbon, elderflower liqueur and bitters. Stir to combine.

Top with Topo Chico and add a twist of orange.

Makes 1 serving.

Sparkling Elderflower Lemonade

1 cup elderflower syrup for mocktail or elderflower liqueur for cocktail

1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice

4 cups Topo Chico sparkling mineral water for mocktail or 750 ml bottle of prosecco for cocktail

Fresh lemon wheels

Fill a large pitcher with ice. Add all ingredients and stir. Serve immediately.

Mocktail makes 1.75 quarts. Cocktail makes 1.5 quarts.

Come summer, hedgerows are bursting with delicate elderflowers. Get collecting in June – and if you’re lucky, a few days either side in May and July, then try our favourite seasonal elderflower recipes.

It’s said that summer officially starts when elder trees (or shrubs) burst into flower and ends in late August when the berries are ripe. Their heady, sweet scent is synonymous with this time of year. The best time to pick elderflowers is on a dry, warm day when the blooms are newly open, and well away from traffic fumes. Give them a gentle shake to dislodge any insects and rinse briefly in cold water before using. Read our beginner’s guide to foraging for the golden rules.

Elderflower desserts


Elderflower is delicious mixed into cakes, tarts, trifles and jams. It pairs particularly well with tart fruits such as rhubarb and gooseberries. From casual nibbles to celebratory showstoppers, we have a whole host of fantastic floral recipes. Bake our lemon & elderflower celebration cake for the ultimate decadent dessert, or layer up a strawberry & elderflower trifle, with an irresistible lemon drizzle base. For something lighter on a warm day, cool off with a scoop of gooseberry & elderflower yogurt ice. You can whip up this easy treat with just five ingredients.

It may sound strange, but the blooms are also moreish dipped into a light batter and fried until crisp. Try our elderflower fritters with honey for a dessert with a difference.

Elderflower drinks


The subtle floral notes of elderflower cordial make a wonderfully refreshing and sophisticated alternative to alcohol – perfect for summer entertaining. Or, if you’re looking for a party starter, try infusing spirits with elderflower, as in our recipe for elderflower & gooseberry vodka. Catering for a crowd? Mix up a batch of apple, elderflower & mint punch. It’s easily doubled if a few extra guests turn up unannounced.

Elderflower cordial is easy to make with freshly gathered elderflowers infused with lemons, sugar, water and tartaric or citric acid. If you don’t have any elderflowers growing close by, a good choice of cordials is now available in supermarkets.

Have we made you thirsty? Check out our top 5 elderflower drinks.

More elderflower recipes

Prosecco & elderflower cocktail
Gooseberry, elderflower & sauvignon sorbet
Chicken garden salad with elderflower dressing
Gooseberry & elderflower yogurt ice
Homemade elderflower cordial
Elderflower & raspberry jelly
Elderflower crunch cake

All our favourite elderflower recipes

How do you use elderflowers? Leave a comment below…

The Elegant Elder Flower – If you’ve been noticing large, creamy blossoms on forest edges, then you’re probably seeing the flower of the elder.

It seems appropriate that the elder is under the sign of Venus. When you begin working with its aromatic blooms, it’s easy to understand why the elder means purification and love in the language of flowers. In fact, when standing amid an elder in full bloom, one almost feels the presence of the goddess Venus herself.

Fittingly, the delicate flower helps women remain beautiful; it has been used since ancient Egyptian times for reducing wrinkles and age spots. It also inspired the poet Seamus Heaney when he wrote his Glanmore Sonnets:

He lived there in the unsayable light.

He saw the fuchsia in a drizzling noon,

The elderflowers at dusk like a risen moon

And green fields greying on the windswept heights.

Shamans and medicine people worldwide believed elder was a healing plant and commonly used it for upper respiratory ailments and topically for skin problems. Traditionally, our herbalist elders, such as Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Pliney the Elder recognized its strength as a diuretic, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and more. Recent research from Israel and the United Kingdom has confirmed some of these claims.

Elder has long been a human ally, both as medicine and as food – read more about this herb here. And below, you will find an assortment of elderflower recipes and remedies to try yourself. Like me, I hope you find the flower an alluring early-summer resource!

10 Elderflower Recipes and Remedies

When I was in England a few years ago, I ran across a non-alcoholic drink known as “Elder Flower Cordial,” and I fell in love. When I came home, I experimented until I came up with this recipe:

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Ingredients

Thirty ounces of water
Four to five elderberry umbels, with most of the stems removed

Directions

  • Bring the water to a boil and remove from heat.
  • Add the elderberry umbels to the water, cover, and let stand for several hours.
  • Strain the flowers and measure the water before returning it to a clean pot.
  • Add the same amount of sugar as you have liquid and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Chill.
  • Add the syrup mixture to sparkling water to taste.

I fill jars 2/3 full of this syrup and freeze it for winter use. I’ve used it on pancakes and in cake mixes. It makes a wonderful punch, too.

Elder Flower Fritters

Making fritters is one of my favorite ways to enjoy elder flowers. All you need is fresh elder flowers and pre-made pancake mix. A variety of recipes can be found in old cookbooks, or use the one in this post:

Elderflower Vinegar

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Ingredients

Vinegar (apple cider, white wine, or champagne all make excellent choices)
Elder flowers

Directions

  • Fill a jar with fresh elder flowers.
  • Cover with vinegar.
  • Let sit for at least a month, strain, and pour the infused vinegar into a sterilized bottle.

When I make an elderberry oxymel, I use elder-infused vinegar. You can do the same thing with elixirs and elder flower honey.

Elder Flower Evening Beverage

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Ingredients

5 fresh elder flowers
A few springs of lemon balm
Peels from one lemon
Vodka
Sugar

Directions

  • Remove elder stems and put the flowers in a glass jar, along with the lemon balm and lemon peel.
  • Add enough vodka to cover and let sit for at least two weeks.
  • Strain flowers from vodka.
  • Add a sugar syrup (to taste) and let sit at least two more weeks.
  • Serve this delicious beverage over ice.

Elder flower for Allergy Relief

Allergies are troublesome for many of us, especially during this time of year. Check out these six plants that may offer symptom relief, with instructions on how to use them:

Formula for Hot & Moist Cold/Flu

This cold and fever tea formula, made with five common plant allies, is one to make this summer. That way, you’ll be ready for cold and flu season when it arrives. Find instructions here:

Elder Flower Wine

You may have heard of elderberry wine, but there many ways to make wines using ingredients you probably have growing right in your own backyard. Check out these seven plants and let the winemaking begin!

Elderflower Tea – Always a Wise Choice

If you’ve never collected elder flowers or made an elder flower tea, you’re in for a treat. Learn how to harvest elder flowers and transform them into a lovely beverage!

Three-Flower Vinegar

This vinegar is wonderful for the skin! This recipe calls for lavender buds, rose petals, and elderflowers. Learn how to make this skin-soothing vinegar here:

Elder Flower Sorbet

This tasty sorbet is made with gooseberries, honey, and elder flowers. In addition to the sorbet recipe, you’ll find four more ideas for using elder flowers to make elder flower vinegar, champagne, infused almond milk, and elder flower pancakes. Get all the recipes in this post.

A Free Ebook Just For You!

Sign up for the Herbal Academy Newsletter, and we’ll send you a free ebook.

Please add your email address below and click “Submit” to add yourself to our mailing list. Then check your email to find a welcome message from our Herbal Academy team with a special link to download our “Herbal Tea Throughout The Seasons” Ebook!

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

April is a wonderful month. Flowers are everywhere, fishing is getting into gear and the summer garden is laden with promise. Foraging can be a little thin in my neck of the woods, however, as the greens are starting to go as the weather warms, But there is one delight to be had: Elderflowers.

Finding the buttercream flowers isn’t too tough: Elderberries grow everywhere near rivers, and the American River is loaded with bushes big and small. I’ve never seen them before April in Northern California, but they bloom even earlier in SoCal, and in the Southeast. I’ve seen elderflowers all over the place in Georgia and Florida in early spring. The farther north you live — or the higher in elevation — the later you must wait.

Keep in mind you are looking for blue or black elderberries, not red elderberries. Red elders are borderline toxic. You want Sambucus nigra or S. mexicana.

Photo by Hank Shaw

Keep in mind that an elderberry bush is a large plant, and can even grow into a small tree. Study the leaves in the photo above: They are a lush dark green, slightly serrated on their edges, and form on stalks; each leaf should be opposite to another. The flowers are cream-colored, not white.

Sometimes over-eager foragers fail to look at the plant they are picking from and grab hemlock by mistake. This can be fatal. But hemlock looks nothing like elderberry, so I have a tough time figuring out how this mistake happens…

A good rule to live by is to not take more than a few flower heads from each elderberry bush: This ensures that the bush will have enough to spread itself, it makes you find more bushes — it’s never a good thing to have only one spot for anything you forage for — and, most importantly, selective picking means you can come back in a few months for the berries.

Only choose the most beautiful flower heads; you don’t want flowers that have yet to open or are past their prime. Collect them in a paper bag so they can breathe. Plastic will make them wilt and sweat.

You will need a lot of flowers to make cordial, and even then the flavors of these sunny drinks are subtle. What does it taste like? It is more of an aroma thing, although the elderflower “lemonade” I am drinking right now has a certain tannic backbone to it that says it is not just lemonade.

It does look like lemonade, doesn’t it? There’s a reason. You make the base for elderflower cordial by preparing a simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water), bringing it to a boil and pouring it over lemon zest, a little lemon juice, LOTS of elderflowers, and a little citric acid, which adds flavor and keeps everything stable. You let this sit at room temperature for 2 or 3 days to macerate, and the result after you strain it through cheesecloth is this lovely-looking syrup.

NOTE: If you just want to make an elderflower simple syrup, which will ferment very fast if you don’t keep it really cold, skip all the lemon and citric acid. For a quart, boil 3 cups sugar and 3 cups water. Let it cool enough so you can stick your finger in it, then pour it over a quart Mason jar full of elderflowers. Steep 24 to 48 hours, then strain. Use within 3 weeks.

I add about a tablespoon of the syrup to a pint of water to make a drink with the level of flavor Gatorade has; add more syrup for a stronger drink. It tastes a lot like an Arnold Palmer (50-50 iced sweet tea and lemonade), but as elderflowers are known to be seriously good for you, I like this better.

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Holly added some syrup to vodka to make an “Elder-tini,” which, when added to some cherries, make a damn good cocktail. Elderflower syrup is also excellent mixed with Champange (a classic), and its Italian cousin Prosecco. Heather makes a drink called a Caddisfly Nymph, which is elderflower syrup, Prosecco and a touch of Peychaud bitters.

Elderflower Cordial

This floral, sweet-smelling syrup is a perfect match with seltzer water or, better yet, champagne. I add lemon to my elderflower syrup to give it some zing, but the aroma is all elderflower. It is a delicate scent, very sweet and just a bit spicy. Incidentally, this is not the alcoholic elderflower liqueur. If you are looking for that, here is my recipe for elderlower liqueur, a St. Germain style drink. You need to infuse the flowers for at least 2 days, preferably three; I have seen other recipes that call for four days, but you might get spontaneous fermentation holding it that long. Prep Time30 mins Cook Time10 mins Total Time40 mins Course: Drinks Cuisine: British Servings: 1 quart Author: Hank Shaw

Ingredients

  • 1 quart water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 25 elderflower heads, about 2 cups flowers, stems removed

Instructions

  • Snip off the flowers from the stalks into a large bowl or bucket that will hold everything. Try to remove as much of the stems as you can; they are toxic. A few stray bits of stems will not hurt you, but you want to minimize it.
  • Zest the lemons and add it to the bowl, then the citric acid and lemon juice.
  • Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve. Let the syrup cool enough so that you can stick your finger in it without getting burned; you can leave it to cool to room temperature, too. Pour the syrup over the flowers, lemons et al and stir to combine. Cover the bowl or bucket with a towel and leave it for 2 or 3 days.
  • When you are ready, strain it through a fine-meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel into a clean Mason jar. Seal the jar and store in the fridge.
  • To serve, pour 1 to 3 tablespoons of the syrup into a pint glass and add water or seltzer. Or you can add a tablespoon to a glass of sparkling wine, or to a couple shots of vodka or gin.

More Elderflower Recipes

You can find more recipes using elderflowers, as well as all sorts of wild food recipes, here on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

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