Elderflower power

Elderflowers are prized for their medicinal qualities and also for their culinary uses, Kitty Scully reports

Golden bottles of cordial lighten up summer barbecues as a refreshing drink or added to white wine or champagne to make seasonal spritzers.

The sweetly scented flower of the Sambucus Nigra or Elderflower. The Elder Mother, is said to dwell within the tree, has the power to work strong magic, according to old beliefs.

WAKE up and smell the elderflowers — the countryside is now abloom with magnificent creamy flat-topped sprays.

Their heady sweet scent permeates country lanes, roadsides, graveyards, parks and gardens and these sprays (umbels), containing hundreds of tiny five-petalled flowers, have more uses than any other single species of blossom. Elders are a prized gift bestowed on us by mother nature. They are extremely accessible and in bountiful enough supply to ensure a harvest that opens up a myriad of possibilities.

The delicate flavoured flowers with the aroma of Muscat grapes turn up in wines, cordials, sorbets, jams, deserts and sauces. Elderflowers bloom for about three weeks and are not only valued for their culinary use, but also prized for their medicinal qualities. Elderflower extract is used in a wide variety of vitamins and tonics, in skin ointments and eye lotions. Elderflowers are also rich in Vitamin A, B and are used for the treatment of colds, flus and hayfever.

They help correct kidney functions and also aid to clear catarrh, enhance immunity and cleanse the system. Elderflower has anti-inflammatory properties and is therefore a natural remedy for ulcers, burns, cuts and other wounds.

Elderflowers can be chomped straight off the branch on a hot summer’s day to induce a frothy sweet sensation. They make a great decorative and nutritional addition to salads. They can be used to flavour sauces, vinegars, pickles and preserves (especially good with gooseberries).

They can be dipped in batter and deep fried to make fritters. They can be used fresh or dried for herbal teas. Perhaps the best use for elderflowers is their transformation by infusing them with fresh lemon juice and water to make a highly concentrated deeply refreshing and uplifting summer drink — Elderflower Cordial. This is a very simple process and is ideal for employing the helping hands of children. Making the cordial is unlike other traditional recipes that involve complicated processes and lengthy periods of maturing. With a small amount of effort these flowers can be transformed into an exquisite floral flavoured drink with mass appeal to children and adults alike.

When collecting the blooms avoid collecting flowers on busy roadsides or from fields sprayed with chemicals.

Harvest flowers on a warm sunny day when the fragrance and nectar are at their best.

Bring a garden hoe to help reach the high branches where the umbels are often the most desirable. Choose creamy-coloured blossoms rather than white, and avoid washing the flowers as this will spoil the fragrance. It is advisable to let the flowers sit for about an hour to let all the little insects crawl out. Treat your flowers gently so as not to lose the valuable pollen.

ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL

* 900g (2lb) organic sugar

* 30g (11/4oz) citric acid (available to buy in chemist shops)

* 600ml (1 pint) boiling water

* 1 lemon preferably organic and unwaxed

*10 elderflower heads (using a scissors, remove as many of the green stalks as possible).

INSTRUCTIONS:

Place sugar in a large heatproof, acid-resistant bowl eg stainless steel or glass — not aluminium.

Add the boiling water and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Stir in the citric acid.

Grate the lemon and add the rind to the bowl.

Slice the lemon and add the slices to the bowl with the elderflower blossoms.

Cover and stand for 12 to 48 hours.

Strain through muslin and bottle and store in a cool dark place.

Leftover lemon slices can be used to make a sublime marmalade or curd with a hint of elderflower — ensure to remove the bitter, white pith beforehand.

This cordial is highly concentrated and needs to be diluted with water to taste. It is especially good with sparkling water, a slice of lime and a sprig of mint. This cordial is a wonderful alternative to additive filled soft drinks. A few drops also enliven a gin or vodka and tonic and make sensational spritzers with white wine and champagne. It is very versatile in cooking adding a wonderfully unique flavour to sorbets and a variety of deserts. It’s great poured over pancakes or ice-cream. During the winter months it can be diluted with hot water to make a soothing drink that helps cure sore throats and ward off winter flu’s.

The Elder Tree (Sambucus nigra) is small and is more like a compact shrub when young. However, it can become tall, straggly and a bit unruly in old age The Elder Mother is said to dwell within the tree and she is said to have the power to work strong magic. She will avenge all who harm her host tree and who use any of its parts with selfish intent.

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