Elder or Sambucus is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere; I see it in ditches and fence rows, often growing in clumps and blooming in May and the beginning of June in the South. I have been gathering the blossoms since I was a child growing up in Germany, where we made pancakes, syrups and a sparkling summer drink. I usually try to find a patch removed from the road, as with any gathering of wild foods. The flower clusters brake off easily, you don’t need any tools for gathering, usually the blackberries are pretty bad in the same area, I would recommend boots and thick pants. You can flick any insects out of the flowers while you are still outside, don’t shake your flowers too vigorously or you might loose a lot. You want to gather the most pristine, open flower heads you can find, they will have the best flavor. Please make sure you have correctly identified the plant, before gathering and using it. I have posted a link at the end of this article for identification.
Do not wash the flower clusters, a lot of the flavor is in the pollen. I cut the thicker stems off the clusters, since the leaves, twigs and branches contain cyanidin glycoside, which may produce illness if ingested in sufficient quantities. I also remove any blossom which a wilted/brown already, which are usually at the margins of clusters and can easily be cut away with scissors.
Elder Blossom Syrup
- 1 qt water
- 2 lbs white sugar
- 2 tbsp citric acid; can be found with canning supplies
- 1 organic lemon
- 14 elder flower clusters
Heat and stir the first three ingredients until dissolved in a pot you won’t need for the next few days. Remove the yellow part of the lemon rind (zest) with a vegetable peeler, peel the lemon and discard the white pith. Slice the peeled lemon. Add the lemon and zest to the sugar water; once cooled down, add the elder flowers and cover to keep insects out. Steep for three days, strain and bottle the syrup. Keep the syrup refrigerated. It tastes great with a dry champagne/prosecco or sparkling water. I would recommend a ratio of 5:1.
Other uses for the syrup:
- Use the syrup in place of simple syrup in mixed drinks
- Use it to make Elder Blossom Ice Cream
- Brush it on top of cake layers to keep them moist and give a light floral note
- Caramelize carrots in it
- Use it to sweeten tea
- Add a touch to a salad dressing
- Make Elder Blossom Jelly
Dangerous Sparkling Elder Flower
- 2 quarts of spring water
- 3/4 – 1 cup of sugar
- 2 organic lemons
- 6 elder flower clusters
- enough swing top bottles to hold 70 oz
- the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled as long as you have enough empty bottles
Heat a little of the water in a sauce pan to dissolve the sugar. Pour the sugar water and the cold water in a non reactive (glass, enamel, plastic) container. Remove the yellow part of the lemon rind (zest) with a vegetable peeler, peel the lemon and discard the white pith. Slice the peeled lemon. Add the lemon, the zest and the flowers to the sugar water and cover to keep insects out. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
You can stir it a few times to make sure all the blossoms are submerged. Filter all the solids out and bottle in swing top bottles. Leave the bottles at room temperature 2-3 days. But let extra gases out every 8-10 hours. This is where the dangerous part comes in. If you don’t burp your bottles regularly, you have a ticking time bomb. If you have too much pressure built up to burp the bottles without loosing all the contents, you can refrigerate the bottles first and then set the refrigerated bottle in a bowl to catch any overflow. If you are not very good at remembering to burp your bottles regularly, set them in a place where they won’t kill anyone in case they do explode. That all said you can probably tell by now that this makes a great sparkling drink reminiscent of Champagne. It might have a small amount of alcohol, but not enough to get you drunk at least at this stage of fermentation. After 2-3 days you can start tasting your brew and refrigerate it when it is nice and bubbly and you like the flavor. I like drinking mine fairly quickly, I don’t think that the flavor improves with age as it does with wine.
Elder Blossom Pancakes
- 2 1/8 cups of milk
- 4 eggs
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp melted butter and some more butter to grease the pan
- 2 tbsp sugar
- pinch of salt
- 10 elder flower clusters
- powdered sugar and/or a syrup
You can put all the ingredients, but the flowers in a blender to make the batter, or you can beat it by hand until the lumps are gone. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes, or longer. If you let it rest longer, cover it and put it in the fridge. Heat a frying pan or griddle to medium high and grease it with some butter. Hold a flower cluster by the main stem and dip it in the batter and then place it in the pan. While the first side of the pancake is browning snip all the stems off with a pair of scissors. Once the edge of the pancake looks cooked flip it over and brown the second side. Since Blueberries are ripe at the same time, I served the pictured batch with blueberry syrup and powdered sugar, a very yummy combination.
Remember that Elder Blossoms turn into Elderberries, another delicious, nutritious wild food; so don’t pick all the flowers.