This is a very exciting part of the summer for me and all Elderflower enthusiasts! Elderberry Sumbucus nigra is one of the most widespread native plants of North America. It is a hardy perennial plant with several species, each of them having a little different maturity time, flavor and fragrance. Elderflowers bloom in early summer in a short window that must be carefully watched for just the right harvest time.  Elderberry flowers and fruits have been a popular folk remedy due to their antiviral and autoimmune boosting properties, and they remain popular to this day.

Elderberry flowers have white or cream-colored, honey scented blossoms look like large white umbrellas and grow in large clusters. As not all blossoms mature at the same time, they usually need to be harvested in stages. Do not pick all the flowers; the best part of their gift comes in their berries at the end of the summer. Their end stage are dark berries that are delicious made into syrups, jams or wine. Birds also love elderberries and you will enjoy excellent birdwatching as they flock to your yard to scavenge.

bush covered with white flowers

Foraging Rules

If you do not have elderflower bushes in your yard, they are easy to find in public areas such as along the roads and in parks. Do some research to see if foraging for food is allowed in your area. Any time you are foraging, familiarize yourself beforehand what the plant exactly looks like and be aware of possible lookalikes that are not edible or could be even poisonous. Elderberry’s leaves, twigs, branches, seeds are not edible.

Harvesting Elderberry Flowers

The secret to making the best tasting syrup is to pick these delicate flowers on the day you are ready to make the syrup, ideally on a sunny, dry morning, after any dew has evaporated, but before it get too hot. It is said that the heat draws energy from the plant which decreases its healing properties.  Using garden scissors, gently clip off the flower heads, keeping them as upright as possible. Place them in a bowl or a basket very gently. Shaking them too much disturbs the pollen. Let them sit for couple of hours in a shady spot or on your kitchen counter, so that any insects hiding in the blossoms to have a chance to escape.  Do not rinse the flowers or you will remove the pollen which is what holds the flavor. Gently remove the flowers from the stem over a bowl. Stems, twigs and leaves are not edible.

picked elderberry flower heads sitting on a pan

Elderberry Syrup

The recipe uses a simple syrup. More simple syrup recipes and detailed instructions are here:    

Cordial is an old fashioned term for non-alcoholic concentrated syrup and the terms are often used interchangeably. Elderflower drinks are still popular popular in Germany, France and Sweden. Elderberry Spritzers are very refreshing and a healthier alternative to sodas.  They are very easy to make using Elderberry Syrup. The intensely fragrant honey blossom flavor pairs well with any citrusy flavors. Combine Elderberry Syrup with sparkling water and add ice and sliced lemon. There are several elderflower based liquors that are very popular and works well in cocktails. Elderberry syrup lasts in the fridge for three to five months. The sugar or honey and citric acid act as preservatives by raising the acidity level so bacteria finds it inhospitable to live in.  Syrup can also be used to replace some of the water in recipes to add flavor to cakes, and other desserts. 

measuring cup filled with white powder on a counter next to a back labeled citric acid

Ingredients

(This recipe can be halved or doubled depending of the amount of elderflowers available)

50 heads of elderflowers, stalks removed

8 cups of water

6 cups of sugar either granulated or caster

6 unwaxed lemons (since we will be using the peel, organic are preferred)

3 Tbs of citric acid

Optional ingredients: honey, cloves, ginger or cinnamon.

a lemon being peeled

Instructions:

Using a vegetable peeler or zester, cut strips of lemon zest from 2-3 of the lemons. Then prepare all 6 lemons by either juicing or thinly slicing them.

In a large pot heat the water, sugar, lemon zest, lemons (either juice or slices) and spices stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and gently add elderflowers. Cover the mixture with a kitchen towel and let the mixture infuse at room temperature for 3-4 days, stirring the mixture once or twice a day.

lemon peels in a deep pot with water
elderflowers and lemon peels in a deep pan with water, being stirred with a wooden spoon

On the third day, strain the elderflower mix using a fine-mesh sieve lined with a cheesecloth, pressing flowers with a wooden spoon to remove all of the liquid. Add citric acid and stir to dissolve. Using a funnel and a ladle, transfer the elderflower syrup to into clean bottles and close tightly. The cordial is ready to drink right away.  Store in a refrigerator 3-6 months.

flowers being strained out of liquid through a sieve

Elderflowers can be made into a fragrant tea and is probably the simplest way to enjoy them.  They can be dried to last until next harvest.

Elderflower Tea

dried elderflowers on a pan

Elderflowers should be dried away from direct sun, in a well-ventilated location, spread in a thin layer and turned occasionally until they are dry completely so they do not mold.

close up of dried elderflowers in a jar

Store in a jar away from direct light. Make sure the plants are fully dried and healthy looking.

Magda Born

mborn@kckpl.org

Community Services Librarian

Kansas City, Kansas Public Library

625 Minnesota Ave.

Kansas City, KS 66101

913-295-8250 ext 1103

Resources:

drinking french book cover

Drinking French : the iconic cocktails, apéritifs, and café traditions of France, with 160 recipes by  David Lebovitz and Ed Anderson

Book Call Number:  641.874 LEBOVITZ

book cover edible wild plants for beginners

Edible Wild Plants for Beginners by Various Authors

Format: HOOPLA E BOOK

book cover everything elderberry

Everything Elderberry by  Susannah Shmurak

Format: HOOPLA E BOOK

book cover the elderberry book

The Elderberry Book by  John Moody

Format: HOOPLA E BOOK

book cover black elderberry monograph

Black Elderberry Monograph by  Ken Jones

Format:  HOOPLA E BOOK