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Through the Lens

Elderberry Blossoms are Bursting Forth!

Wed, June 06, 2018

I’ve been watching my elderberry patches for a few weeks now, just waiting on them to get to full bloom so that I can grab some of the wonderful fragrant flowers.  Folk tales abound about the heady scent and magical properties of the elder flower.  This website has a great three part series on elderberry folklore.

Most folks think of harvesting the berries in the late summer for jelly, juice, syrup, wine – but the flowers are an equally tasty treat.

With all wild harvesting, make certain that you are indeed harvesting elderberries. I have seen the newcomers to foraging confuse them with queen Anne’s lace and various hemlocks and other wild roadside, ditch line, and creekbank plants that have large white umbel type flower heads.  As always correct id and safety are paramount.

Much of the elderberry plant is toxic (the leaves and unripe berries contain cyanogenic glycosides that get converted to cyanide upon ingestion), but the flowers and ripe berries have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for years.

Something else to keep in mind when harvesting elderflowers – don’t be greedy. If you harvest all the blossoms, you won’t leave anything to produce berries, and you want those berries to come late summer. Thankfully, elderberries are prolific producers of blossoms.

Harvesting elderflowers is best done early in the morning, when pollen and nectar are at their highest.

For use in the kitchen, just grab some big buckets or I prefer brown paper sacks - a set of small shears and and nip off the just the blossom. If you want to leave a small length of stem for ease in handling, just remember that the stem can be toxic, so you don’t want any big pieces of it in of your culinary creations.
Nothing seems to quite say early summer like an elderflower cordial, especially when made into elderflower lemonade – it’s quite the refreshing treat!

Elderberry blossoms are among the most fragrant of flowering shrubs; the scent hanging heavy on cool dewy morning is almost magical. They are also extremely prolific producers of pollen. This cordial incorporates just sugar, water, a little lemon in making this cordial, you’ll be combining these wonderful properties with sugar and a little lemon, that creates an elderberry flower-infused simple syrup that you can be diluted to your preference as a summer drink, in summer cocktails, or even used as a substitute sweetener.

You’ll need:

30-60 elderberry flower clusters (depending on flower cluster size)
7 cups water
4 lbs. sugar
3 lemons
cheesecloth or mesh strainer

To make this elderberry flower syrup, collect 30-60 clusters of elderberry blossoms.  Much of the flavor in this cordial comes from nectar and pollen, so collect flowers on a sunny day, not immediately after a rain, and choose flowers that aren’t past their prime and starting to turn brown or dry
Don’t rinse the flowers under water after harvesting. Rinsing will wash away exactly what you after – the pollen and nectar. Give the heads a few good shakes and any little bugs that might be hiding will come right out.

Next, create a simple syrup of water. Bring 7 cups of water to boil on the stove, remove it from the burner, and then add a 4 lb. bag of sugar, stirring until it is dissolved completely. Allow the simple syrup to cool for a while. If you add the elderberry flowers to hot liquid they turn an ugly, unappetizing brown.

My test for temperature to add the elderflowers is if I can hold my hand on the side of the pot without it being uncomfortably hot.  Once you are satisfied that the simple syrup has cooled, begin picking the flowers into the syrup. Remove as many of the larger stems as you can, but don’t think you have to pick off each flower one-by-one (that’s just too tedious for any of us!). Any tiny, tiny stems that make their way into the syrup won’t contribute any significant amount of toxin.

Next, slice thin 3 lemons, and add to the syrup.

Place the elderflower syrup mixture into the refrigerator, and leave it there to steep for 48 hours, stirring/shaking occasionally. I place it jars for ease of storing in the fridge during this process and to be able to give a periodic shake to fully mix things.

After two days in the fridge, strain the syrup through cheesecloth into cleaned and sterilized jars. Keep refrigerated for use over the next few weeks. I have found that much longer than six weeks and it starts to ferment. Some recipes for elderflower cordial call for the addition of citric acid to prevent fermentation; I can’t say that I have found this to be needed, but if it makes you feel better toss in 2 tablespoons of citric acid to the mixture.

For longer term storage – I have successfully frozen it in ice cube trays.  I have not tried canning it – although it might be possible to can the way you can any simple syrup.
Once you have your syrup – you can use it to make one of my favorites, Elderberry lemonade!

To make Elderberry Lemonade mix about 3-4 Tablespoons of the elderflower cordial with a pint of water (or adjust to your preference for sweetness). You can also make a lovely summer cocktail by simply adding 1 or 2 tablespoons to some tonic water and your favorite alcohol or white wine