Elderberry bushes are usually found at the edge of forests, and sometimes near the edges of plowed fields. These shrubs can grow up to 10 feet or more in height. The leaves are opposite on the branches, and are toothed. The bush loves fertile soil and lots of sun. The berries usually appear from August to October. Elderberries have their own unique uses and benefits, but today I’m going to talk about elderflowers.
Elderflowers have a light floral scent and can be used for teas, syrups, and even jams and jellies. They are delicious, and even have some impressive health benefits.
Elder is one of my most favorite herbs to forage. If you are new to foraging, make sure you add this one to your list of “to-dos”.
Benefits of elderflowers:
- Immune enhancing
- Blood purifier
- Lymph purifier
- Diaporetic (induces sweating)
- Skin astringent
- Regulates constipation and diarrhea
- Rich in vitamins and nutrients
Indications: Elderflower is very helpful in building immunity from, and treating, colds and flus. It can be very beneficial to people suffering from bronchitis. Allergy sufferers can be helped with a daily dose of elderflower tea. Elderflowers can also help those with arthritis, swelling, and inflammation. Elderflowers are a great ally for respiratory issues. Even asthma, sore throat, and sinus infections can be lessened with the use of elderflower.
A great tea remedy for the common cold and sore throat includes elderflower, yarrow, peppermint, and hyssop. Either in this combination or with just elderflowers by themselves, simply pour boiling water over the fresh or dried flowers and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.
Elder blooms in the late spring. Its heady fragrance is a beautiful reminder that summer is on its way.
Elderflowers grow on large bushes that are typically 3-8 feet tall. The branches have tiny bumps all over them, but there is no thorns. The leaves are oblong and opposite on the branches, and the leaves typically curl downward. Leaves are in clusters of 5-7 on each branch.
The flowers themselves grow in an umbrel shape (think of an umbrella), and are tiny and star-shaped. They are creamy white with yellow stamens.
Elderflowers smell heavenly. Their creamy floral scent reminds me of lilacs, but slightly different. It’s a very distinctive “summery” fragrance. Too bad you can’t bottle up that fragrance for a perfume!
Warnings for elderflowers:
As with all foraging, please please please be absolutely certain of the plant you are picking! Elderflowers shouldn’t be used in pregnant or breastfeeding women, as there hasn’t been enough research in this area, nor should anyone with liver or kidney disease.
Some parts of elderberry (namely the roots, bark, leaves, stems, and braches) contain a cyanide-like substance and is therefore considered toxic. Diabetics need to be cautious with using elderflower, as it can lower blood sugar levels, and this in conjunction with medication, can lower blood sugar too much. Elderflowers should be cooked prior to consumption because they contain alkaloids that can be potentially toxic.
Yesterday I picked several umbels of elderflowers and made a lovely elderflower cordial. It was surprisingly easy and delicious. This will be an awesome syrup to sweeten teas, sparkling water, or even drizzled on pancakes. I even snuck a couple of spoonfuls plain.
6-7 elderflower umbels
30 ounces of water
Pick 6-7 umbels of elderflowers. Make sure they are clean and free of bugs, and fully opened, with no browning. They should be a nice creamy white color. While removing the tiny flowers from the stems (I usually do this by just gently raking my fingers down the stems), boil about 30 ounces of water in a sauce pan.
When the water is boiling, remove from heat and stir in the elderflowers. Put a lid on it to keep the essential oils in the liquid, and allow to sit for a few hours.
Strain the elderflowers, measure the remaining liquid, then pour back into the pan. Put the pan back onto the burner on medium heat. While you bring that to a low boil, measure the same amount of sugar as you have of the liquid. When the liquid starts to boil, pour the sugar in and turn the heat down to low.
Simmer for about a half hour, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. After it is cooled enough to handle, pour into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. The cordial should be kept in the refrigerator and used within about a month.
You can also add citric acid and lemon, and do a water bath canning of this for longer-term storage, but I’m not really good at canning yet so I won’t discuss that here. I used natural cane sugar for my cordial, so mine turned a little darker than when using white sugar. The end result, though, is a lovely floral syrup that I will thoroughly enjoy as an ice cream topping, a pancake syrup, or a sweetener for teas.
I hope you will try to forage elderflowers next time in spring. It is truly a helpful, lovely flower.