Elder Flower Sambucus nigra
When the elder is blooming, summer must be booming! Well hopefully it will be; but rain or shine the elder will be flowering as summer gets underway. There are few other wild foods that have quite so many uses as the flowers do. Everyone knows about elderflower cordial, but there are also; fritters, elder-delight, vinegar, jelly, panna-cotta and champagne!
What to look for:
The flowers form distinctive cream frothy umbel like clusters of tiny flowers. The leaves are pinnate; made up of pairs of smaller oval pointed leaves with a single leaf at the end. The fruits ripen in August / September turning dark purple. The leaves and fruits are mildly toxic – the berries need to be processed or cooked. The flowers are the only part that can be eaten raw.
Where to find it:
Abundant in hedgerows, around old farm buildings, edges of woodlands and on waste ground.
When is it about:
The flowers are available throughout June and into July. In some places they start flowering at the end of May.
8 elderflower heads (in full bloom)
4 litres (8 ¾ pints) of water
30ml (2 tablespoons) white wine vinegar
600g (1lb 5oz) sugar
1 unwaxed lemon thinly sliced
Gently warm ½ litre (1pint) of water, add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then leave to cool.
Place flower heads, sliced lemon and white wine vinegar into a clean bucket or large bowl. Pour in 3½ litres (7 ¾ pints) of cold water, then add the dissolved sugar, giving everything a good stir to mix together.
Cover the mixture with a clean tea towel or piece of muslin and place in a cool place to steep for 2 – 3 days. Strain the liquid through a muslin lined sieve and pour into warm sterilised bottles – swing-top stoppers are better than screw on caps, as they release pressure if the champagne gets very fizzy.
Leave the bottles for 2 more days, then test to see if it’s fizzy. Once the champagne starts to work it needs to be drunk within a week or so. Storing in the fridge will slow down the fermentation and do check it doesn’t become too fizzy – if left too long it will become explosive!
Note: Do not eat any wild foods unless you are 100% certain about your identification.