elderflower foraging guide

During late spring and early summer, Elderflower can be found growing on Elder trees in hedgerows all over Britain and Ireland, but pick it quick as it doesn’t last long. This guide will teach you everything you need to know so you can identify, pick and use elderflower.


What is Elderflower?


Elderflower is the white flower of Elder trees. Elderflower can be found on an Elder tree in hedgerows across Britain and Ireland from late spring to early summer. It is a flower that has been used for hundred of years in everything from salads and sauces to teas and medicine.


Health benefits of Elderflower


Like many other plants, Elderflower is packed with antioxidants and other active nutrients that benefit you in a number of positive ways.


Elderflower is excellent at helping to sooth sore throats. The syrup has even been said to help throat infections such as tonsillitis. While tea made from elderflower has been said to help with colds, flu, indigestion, stomach cramps and to have relaxing properties that can help with insomnia.


Elderberries, which come in after the flowers around September or October, are highly nutritious with lot of vitamins A, C and D; they have more Vitamin C than oranges (just like spruce tips)!


They also contain a large amounts of iron and potassium as well as being rich in folic acid, linking them to the prevention of many illnesses like eye disease, anemia, allergies, headaches, arthritis and rheumatism.


Where and when to forage Elderflower


Generally, when foraging elderflower, it’s more common in hedgerows and areas where a lot of elder trees grow, but they can be found on their own at times.


Keep your eyes peeled when for them growing in parks, gardens and sometimes on roadsides. The white flowers of the Elder tree stand out a bright contrast along busy roads, woodland edges or near old hedgerows and ditches as well.


Elderflower grows throughout the year but blooms and should be collected from April to early June depending on the area. The berries then come along and can be found in autumn between September and October.


Identifying Elderflowers


Elderflowers are the white floral heads found in spring on a wild plant called an Elder tree or Elderflower tree as it’s often called. They can grow up to 6 meters (20 feet) tall. If you see a mass of green leaves dotted with white flowers in a hedgerow then it’s likely to be elderflower.


Leaves: Elder leaves come out from the branches in bunches of 3 or 5 when they’re small. They grow bigger depending on their age and some elder trees have very big leaves while others have tiny ones so it’s hard to tell how old an elder tree really is without digging around it and seeing its stem growth.


Stems: Elder trees have white, hairy stems that grow straight up and have the same growing pattern as ivy. Young elder trees are covered in fine hair but this falls away as they get older.


Elderflowers: Elderflowers look like cotton wool on a head of broccoli. They start out life green and turn into their fluffy white selves when summer hits. Elderflowers are instantly recognisable by their velvety fluffy look and their shape – round with a protruding bit in the middle called an umbel.


Elderflowers aren’t just pretty to look at however; they’re really good for you too! Their signature smell comes from an essential oil found within the plant that has antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties.


Elderflower Recipes


When thinking about how to use Elderflowers, consider that like most plants you can use it fresh or prepare it in many ways like drying or pickling. To get more inspiration try visiting the BBC elderflower recipes here. 


The freshest flower heads can be used to make Elderflower cordial, Elderflower champagne and Elderberry wine in autumn.


Why not try our cordial and champagne recipes to give your cocktails that summer flavour or your garden parties that pop!


How to make Elderflower Cordial


Follow the simple and easy steps below to make your first batch of this delicious cordial or elderflower syrup as it’s sometimes called that takes any drink to the next level.


Foraging Time: Half a day


Step 1. Preferably use fresh Elderflowers, but you can also try and use dried if there is not enough Elderflower season in your area (usually April- June).


Preparation: 15 Minutes


Step 2. Gather Elderflowers and wash them to remove any dust from the surroundings. About 20 elderflower heads will do.


Step 3. Pick off any unwanted leaves and stems that may have gathered around the flowers when harvesting them.


Step 4. Place Elderflowers in a clean glass, plastic or ceramic container such as a big measuring cup.


Cooking Time: 20 minutes


Step 5. Make a simple syrup by adding 2.5kg of caster sugar to 1.5 litres of cold water in a large pot. Gently heat over pot till the sugar has dissolved.


Step 6.Once the sugar has been dissolved, bring the mixture to the boil, then turn off the heat. Fill a wash bowl with water and give the flowers a gentle swish around to loosen any dirt or bugs. Lift flowers out, gently shake and transfer to the syrup along with the two unwaxed lemons worth of juice, lemon zest and 85g of citric acid, then stir well.


Bottling Time: 35 minutes


Step 7. Cover the pot and leave to infuse for 24 hours. Be sure to take is that amazing smell coming from cordial mixture.


Step 8. Line a strainer with a clean cheese cloth or use a sieve as an alternative. Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through to a container below. Use a funnel and a ladle to fill sterilised bottles and the cordial is ready to drink straight away.


It will easily keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. Or freeze it in plastic containers or ice cube trays and defrost as needed.


How to make Elderflower Champagne


Elderflower Champagne is a traditional French summer drink that has been brewed for hundreds of years and is an amazing.


For this recipe you’ll need white wine vinegar, sugar and some Elderflower heads as well as the Elder flower Champagne recipe below. Here’s another recipe from our friends over at the Spruce Eats.


Our recipe makes one bottle of Elderflower Champagne but if you have a lot of elder trees around you, there’s no stopping for much you could make. Just be sure the only take what you need and leave some flower heads on the tress so they turn into elderberries later.


For every 1 litre bottle, or thereabouts, you will need about 4-6 heads of Elderflower. So follow these steps to get popping!


Foraging Time: Half a day


Step 1. Our elderflower foraging recommendation is the same for champagne as it is for the cordial so why not try make both?


Preparation: 15 Minutes


Step 2. After foraging for elderflower, place the pale yellow flowers on a board and break off and of the long stems before the bunches begin. Don’t wash them as the natural yeast is what eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol. Give them a shake to remove bugs, leaves and anything else that might be hiding in the floral mass.


Cooking: 30 Minutes


Step 3. Make a simple syrup in a saucepan similar to the cordial recipe but this time once it’s ready top it up with three times more water. Add in the vinegar and elderflowers. Now give it a stir. Now cover and leave for three days.


Top Tip: To help speed the brewing process along you can add in two tablespoons of white wine.


Bottling: 40 minutes


Step 4. Strain the liquid into a large container that you can pour from. Now using a funnel, or just being very careful, pour the liquid into your steralised glass bottles and leave for a week.


Now everything is done you can step back and waft in a kitchen that’s full of scented wild elderflowers. Plan a party for next week and get popping those bottles.


Elderflower Fritters with Elderflower Syrup Sauce Recipe


If you want to try your hand at cooking elderflowers then this recipe is for you. Start by collecting a handful or two of elderflowers, when you bring them home cut off the stalks and put them straight into a ziplock bag. You can wash your flower heads as soon as you have cut them if you want to get rid of any insects.


Ingredients for the Elderflower Fritters:  150g plain flour, 125ml milk, 75ml vegetable oil, 2 Eggs, 1 tsp baking powder, a generous pinch of salt, 10 Elderflower heads, and 3 tbsp Vegetable oil.


To make Elderflower Syrup: Follow the recipe above.


Method To Make Elderflower Fritters: Start by making your batter. In a bowl sift together your flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk in your milk and vegetable oil till it all combines. Then slowly beat in your eggs till everything is mixed through.


Heat the oil in a saucepan. To check if it’s hot enough add some drops of batter into oil, if it floats its ready!


Dip the elderflower heads into the batter and then put them gently into the hot oil to fry. Once the batter is lightly golden brown remove the heads and dust with icing sugar before serving. What a treat!


To make the elderflower syrup simply follow the previous cordial/syrup recipe.


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