Do not eat raw - Raw elderflowers contain small amounts of toxins that are removed through cooking.
Foraged with appreciation and respect for nature to support our wild-food connection by Miles Irving and team at Forager Ltd.
Blog written with thanks by guest collaborator Gee Derrick:
It’s time now for the abundant creamy white flowers of the elder tree (Sambucus nigra) that brighten up and perfume the countryside.
The elder branches are hard, but with a soft core, which is easy to hollow out and have been used to make wind instruments such as pipes and whistles. This may explain why some of the elder’s many common names include bour- or boretree.
It's Latin name Sambucus derives from sambuke, the Greek musical instrument made of its wood. Nigra refers to the colour of the berries.
These sweet white flowers can start appearing anywhere from mid May to early July, and when they are in bloom you need to be quick, as they tend to only last a couple of weeks. When looking for these sweet, delicate flowers, you never have to go far, for elders grow all over the English countryside. Part of the reason for this is that historically the elder tree has been considered sacred
and magical. It’s been associated with myth and superstition more than almost any other tree.
Elder trees were planted by the back door of English cottages as it was believed that elder had the power to keep out negative influence, including witches, lightening and evil.
When picking them, I first ask permission to the tree, and leave some for the bees, and some more for berries to pick later in the summer.
There’s much folklore attached to the elder which tells us how valued it has always been, mostly for medicine and healing, with a revival more lately, as wild food. Folk-wise, it was thought that if one goes to sleep under an elder tree, that one would be whisked off to fairy land. In Scandinavian and German folklore, the tree was inhabited by the elder dryad or mother, whose permission was
vital before harvesting any part of it, otherwise it was feared the dryad would cause harm to home or family.
Before the 20th century, it was mainly used as a facial wash to preserve the fine complexion of ladies. It is still used as a skin tonic in France, where an aromatic water of the flowers is known as Eau de Sureau.
During Victorian times, elderflower wine was made.
What can we do with elderflowers?
The delicate scent of the elderflowers are ideal to create a refreshing elderflower cordial, as well as sparkling wine. Elderflowers taste also delicious added to pancakes, with a drizzle of honey, and can be cooked as fritters (dusted with gram flour and fried), or to flavour and decorate vinegars, sorbets and cheesecakes.
My favourite is this recipe from River Cottage, which I make every
summer, which makes a stunning, yet easy, desert: elderflower panna cotta.
Elderflower panna cotta recipe
Ingredients and suggested instructions, for 4 people:
100ml whole milk
250ml double cream
40g caster sugar
2-4 heads of elderflower
2 gelatine leaves
150ml plain yoghurt
Combine the milk, cream and sugar in a saucepan. Tie up the elderflower heads in a piece of muslin and add to the pan. Bring the liquid to the boil, but don’t let it bubble.
If you’re using elderflower heads, leave for half an hour to infuse, then remove the elderflower.
Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5-10minutes, until soft and floppy, then squeeze out excess water. If you left the cream mixture to infuse for half an hour, reheat it almost to boiling point.
Add the gelatine to the hot cream mixture and stir until dissolved. Leave to cool to room temperature, stirring from time to time.
Once cooled, stir in the yoghurt until well combined. Pour the mixture into four small moulds or ramekins, and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, until set.
To turn the pan coats, dip each mould very briefly in hot water, just for a few seconds, then turn upside down on to a serving plate and give it a shake. If necessary, run a knife around the edge. It can be served with a raspberry or gooseberry compote or jam on the side, or decorated with a few
elderflowers, some pineapple weed, or calendula flowers.