Adventures in Elderflowers, Week Ending 6/14/2020

Here in Maryland, the weather finally warmed to late-spring / early-summer temperatures. Unfortunately it did so all at once. All my cool-weather garden crops protested by bolting. Then the temperatures plummeted again, so my warm-weather crops (tomatoes and peppers especially) are also failing to thrive.

Luckily, wild plants are less finicky and this year I have been blessed by an abundance of elderflowers.

Elderberry in bloom
Elderberry in bloom

Last year, I didn’t try to collect or use any of the elderflowers, because I didn’t know what to expect for the actual elderberry harvest. In actuality, we ended up with WAY more elderberries than one family could conceivably use, even after leaving a significant number (i.e., all the ones I couldn’t reach) for the birds.

(I did not use as many berries as I’d expected during cold and flu season, due to the arrival of COVID-19. I am not a professional herbalist or expert by any means, but I read some information online suggesting elderberry syrup could actually make COVID worse. I had even tried making elderberry gummies to encourage the teens to actually take the “medicine”! By the way, real gummies – made with just fruit syrup and gelatin – mold pretty quickly, even in the fridge.)

Some elderflowers always remain beyond my reach
Some elderflowers always remain beyond my reach

At least this year, I know I can freely experiment with the flowers!There are almost as many uses for elderflowers as the berries. They can be used for a natural champagne, using the native wild yeast for fermentation; battered and fried like dandelion fritters; made into jelly; or incorporated into a number of savory dishes. Marie Viljoen has several delectable looking recipes in Forage, Harvest, Feast. I opted for the “Fermented Elderflower Cordial”, as it seemed both tasty and easy. (My most important criteria when choosing recipes.)

She recommends leaving the flowers in a bag overnight to make them easier to remove from the stems. Unfortunately it was several days before I had the time to get back to them, by which time the flowers were relatively dry.

Dried flowers and lemon zest, ready for the mason jar
Dried flowers and lemon zest, ready for the mason jar

I had hope the bugs would have left by then too, but no such luck. When Viljoen recommends allowing the bugs an egress, she is NOT kidding. They became increasingly apparent as I removed the stems and just the flowers and petals remained.

Mystery insect did not appreciate me trying to take his photo
Mystery insect did not appreciate me trying to take his photo

A gazillion small insects scurried through the petals. I couldn’t tell what most of them were. I left the flowers on a baking sheet in the sun for 15 minutes, by which time most of them had finally departed. I was finally able to

Fermented elderflower cordial in progress
Fermented elderflower cordial in progress

Did I say this recipe “easy”? I think I still managed to mess it up. It has been five days since I started the cordial, by which time there should have been bubbles indicating the fermentation had really gotten underway. Luckily I have plenty more flowers to try again!

What is your favorite use for elderflowers? What other forage are you finding this time of year?

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