Each month, new header images are selected for this blog to reflect the activity and changes of Mama Earth around us. Today I honour the Elder tree (Sambucus nigra), which blossoms in many locations from late June into late July.
Elder is a powerful tree, considered magical and holy by many cultures, as a source of medicine and tasty delights by herbalists and kitchenwitches, and is known as the “medicine chest” of country folk because so many parts can be used in medicine: the flowers, berries and leaves.
Elder is associated with the energies of the Mother goddess(es), with the wisdom of the Crone, with deep magic… and with the cycle of transformation (birth, death and rebirth). Flutes made from Elder wood are said to communicate with the Fae.
The Celtic Ogham Runes include the Elder as one of its symbols: Ruis or Ruish (pronounced roo-eesh). Many consider it to be the final tree, the 13th lunar month, at the end of the calendar year and Winter Solstice, because of its strong association with the Crone and transformation.
The elderflowers of June become the elderberries of August, which can be collected and dried for wildcrafting cough and cold rememedies. Packed with Vitamin C and anti-oxidants, the berries become available just as we are moving into Autumn and cold season. Winemakers also make a delicious wine from the berries. I love how Mama Earth prepares us with the medicines we need, just when we need them!
There are so many ways to use Elder, but at this time of year it’s the blossoms we seek.
When collecting any plant materials, forage away from traffic, pollution and people. Collect respectfully by asking the plant for permission first, leaving a small gift for the plant (a favourite herb, cornmeal, etc) and then taking only what you need, to ensure the ongoing health of the plant (or tree, in this case) and that there will be material for others. In this case, we also want the Elder to be able to produce its berries later in the year, and over-harvesting would prevent that.
The pollen of elder flowers gives us that lovely and unique Elder taste and fragrance, so be sure to have a tightly woven collecting bag to store your harvest . . . and do keep the flowers as upright as possible to ensure pollen preservation. It’s important not to wash the blossoms as you will lose the pollen. Instead garble (pick over) the flowers to remove any bugs or dirt before making your cordial or water.
Basic Elderflower Cordial
A classic elderflower cordial uses just the blossoms and sugar, but you can also switch it up with other sweeteners. A touch of local organic honey could be just the trick! This recipe calls for lemons but some folks prefer limes. Try it both ways!
This recipe is from Georgina Hayden:
- 15 heads elderflower (be sure to cut the stems as short as possible)
- 500 grams / 1.1 pounds fine granulated sugar (roughly 2-2.5 cups)
- 1 litre water (roughly 4.25 cups)
- 4 tablespoons liquid honey
- 2 lemons (unwaxed as you will be grating the rinds)
- Add sugar, honey and water to a saucepan. Gently bring to a boil, while stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
- Add the grated lemon rind and the elderflowers (be sure to place them blossom down and ensure they are completely submerged)
- Squeeze in the juice of one lemon, then slice the remaining lemon and add to your saucepan.
- Top with a lid and allow it to infuse for a full 24 hours.
- Using a fine mesh sieve or muslin/cheesecloth, sieve into a large bowl and compost the remains.
- Store in sterilized bottles in the refrigerator
Add a few tablespoons to a glass of water, to carbonated water or even your favourite bubble (prosecco, cava, champagne). Experiment with the ratios to find your perfect blend. Delicious and refreshing!
You may like the pop that Citric Acid gives to a cordial. If so, try this recipe from BBC Food which yields a larger batch with a longer shelf life (3-4 months vs 3-4 weeks, if kept in the refrigerator).
Elderflower Lemon Water
Cordials can be quite sweet and not suitable for all WOE (ways of eating). You may prefer an infused Elderflower Water instead, such as this recipe from Nest & Glow:
- Elderflower, 12 stems
- Lemon, 2 juiced and 1 sliced
- Ginger, 2” sliced
- Water, 2 litres
- Sweetener (optional)
- Add all ingredients to a jug or large mason jar
- Stir well and leave in the fridge overnight
- Optional: Strain and decant into bottles or jars, and refrigerate
- Enjoy within 3-4 days.