Friday, 3 June 2011

Magical Elder

The Elder tree grows almost like a weed in London. It's associated with witches (they use it for their broomsticks), wizards (an Elder wand is the most powerful in Harry Potter), with death (turkey and peacocks will die if they consume the berries) and Judas reputedly hung himself from an Elder tree. It also has medicinal properties; a possible cure for flu, syphillis and mucus. 
The umbrella shaped white blooms are ready to be picked now, at the Pagan spring festival of Beltane. Pick these lemony almost gooseberry scented flowers in the morning, rather. In the afternoon they can  start to smell a bit like cat's piss. 
The berries will be ready in September, for Samhain, or Halloween. 

Elderflower Cordial recipe

Elderflower Cordial recipe

1.8 kg sugar (any kind)
1.2 litres of boiling water 
4 unwaxed lemons, zested and sliced
15 - 20 elderflower heads (shaken but unwashed - water gets rid of the pollen/flavour)
50g of citric acid (I've seen this in Ikea and Indian shops but if you can't get it, just skip it)

Heat the sugar and water to make a syrup. 
Pour the boiling water over the sliced lemons, zest, and elderflower heads.  
Add the citric acid. 
Leave to steep for 24 hours.
Strain the cordial through a sieve or chinois and then through cheesecloth.
Heat it again to boiling (don't burn it!) and bottle it in bottles fresh out of the dishwasher while its hot (otherwise mould grows at the top of the bottles!)
Enjoy with champagne, or Victoria Moore's suggestion, with white wine spritzer, or drizzled over icecream, or in desserts.

Elderflowers are also good in savoury dishes. Here is a recipe from my book

Elderflower Fritters recipe

8 to 12 elderflower heads
Oil for deep frying

1 egg, beaten
200g sifted plain flour,
20g corn flour
180ml soda water or sparkling water, chilled
Sea salt, to taste

Mix all the batter ingredients in a bowl, salt to taste. Don't overwhisk the batter as it will become too tough.
Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to around 190C. Dip the elderflowers lightly in the batter, then deep fry until lightly golden. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve immediately.

Option: sweet Elderflower fritters. Replace the salt with sugar and sprinkle with sugar. 

Elderflower Champagne recipe

A subtly flavoured soft drink. This again is in my book under the 'flower menu'.

Elderflower Champagne recipe

Makes about 4 litres. Allow 2 to 4 days for this process.

3.5l of boiling water plus 500ml of cold water
1 kg of sugar
20 Elderflower heads
1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
4 unwaxed lemons, zest and juice
Pinch of fast action dried yeast

Pour the boiling water in a saucepan or bucket, add the sugar until dissolved. Then add the cold water, the Elderflowers, the white wine vinegar, the lemons.
Let it cool. Add the yeast.
Cover and leave to ferment for 2 to 4 days. 
Strain into a fresh container using a cheesecloth or chinois. Then funnel it into sterilised bottles. 
Keep in a cool place. Bottles can be either swing top or plastic. Leave room at the top for the gas to expand. If it's getting too fizzy put it in the fridge. Serve cold, will last a year.

Elderflower Cheesecake recipe

Elderflower Cheesecake recipe

150g digestive biscuits, crushed
75g butter, melted
100g caster sugar
225g cream cheese
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out or a few drops of vanilla essence
50ml elderflower cordial
225ml whipping cream, whipped 
Elderflowers, to garnish (optional)

In a bowl, mix together the crushed biscuits and melted butter. Press this mixture into the bottom of each of six glass ramekins.
Bring the sugar to the boil in a pan. Let it cool.
In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese vanilla seeds, cooled sugar mixture and elderflower cordial together. Fold in the whipped cream.
Spoon the mixture into the ramekins and garnish with a sprig of elderflower.


  1. some fantastic recipes in this post. Thankyou for reminding me of all the many uses of elderflowers. the warm sun today made the garden smell of the spicey lemony taste of my elder trees. Lovely!

  2. There are lots of blog posts about elderflowers at the moment .. but this one has the brilliant extra ingredient of fascinating facts about the history of elderflower & some fab photo's too.

  3. I've been meaning to go elderflower wild this year but somehow life has just been too busy. Everyone is now going on about it on their blogs and I'm feeling a tad bit jealous...oh year I guess! xxx

  4. I make Elderflower Drizzle Cake. Stuff a teapot full of elderflowers and make a strong brew. Make a syrup from the tea, and pour it over a plain sponge cake. Leave for a few hours.

    Try to save some of the syrup to make a buttercream topping and / or filling.

  5. I adore elderflower but they flowered early this year and I never had chance to pick any! I'm so pleased you posted the fritter recipe as I only managed to collect 6 flowers today at Haggerston Park...! Thanks v much...

  6. The elder wand is not "one of the most powerful", it's THE most powerful! Get it right!

  7. Beautiful. Elderflower fritters sound awesome and as for the champagne...oof! I don't have any elderflower bushes near my house so will be embarking on some intrepid roadside foraging/thieving very soon! :-)

  8. I wish I knew how to recognize elderflower in the wild. Love the recipes in your here through a friend of yours Aldrey.

  9. `Hi valentina,
    the sprig on the cheesecake is the flower...smell it, it's so distinctive!

  10. I've just written a blog post about my magic elder fritters...thanks for the recipe!


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