Where I live, you’re not supposed to grow elder. They grow too well, and they aren’t native. Birds spread the berries into the native dunelands just a block away, ruining the ecological regeneration work of many dedicated botanists and volunteers.
I have one in my garden and I’m harvesting the flowers madly; so they don’t turn into berries, and because they make such delightful cordial. This recipe originates from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, though I use our own honey instead of sugar.
- Pick about 25 flowerheads, remove insects (as much as possible)
- Add the zest of 3 lemons and an orange
- Pour over 1.5 litres of boiling water and leave overnight. I use a plate to keep the flowers underwater.
- Some people add a rose petal for a delicate pink colour
- Add about 1 cup honey, heat to dissolve, add the juice of the 3 lemons and orange
- Pour into a bottle. It keeps in the fridge 2-3 weeks. Ours is for the Christmas season, great with soda for the kids.
- If you want it to last longer, add citric acid and sterilise the bottles.I don’t especially like the taste of citric acid so I freeze my mix instead, some in ice cube trays and some in plastic bottles.
- For winter use I also dry the flowerheads (in a single layer, in an old pillowcase in the airing cupboard) and use them as tea. Great for winter flu and fever.
Elderflowers are frothy and beautiful with a fresh, sappy, slightly sickly privet-y smell. With five tiny rounded creamy petals, and five stamens with yellow dots of pollen, they look like the stylised flowers we used to draw in primary school. They signal early summer, blooming at the same time as the first strawberries and raspberries, roses and rengarenga.
My tree is producing about 25 flowerheads every couple of days at the moment, plenty for tea and cordial. When the flowers are finished, I think I’ll Do the Right Thing – cut it down and grub out the roots. This decision is made easier, however, in the knowledge that I can pull over to the side of the road at dozens of locations nearby and pick bucketfuls of the beautiful creamy white flowerheads. Or the berries, in autumn, which also make a delicious medicinal syrup – if the birds don’t get them first.