This straightforward summer staple is a great way to see what else our woodland spaces have to offer!
Nothing completes a warm summer evening like a refreshing glass of sparkling Elderflower. With the fragrant plant occupying hedgerows and woodland greenery across the English countryside, why not try making it at home!
Here at the Gardens, we went for a wider wander through our gates and into the Parkland next door to pick our elderflower, but the plant is widespread and easily identifiable, so do keep an eye out on your next walk wherever you are.
Before foraging for any plants it is important to be certain of what you’re looking for.
From the beginning of June Elderflower can be identified by its flat-topped clusters of tiny white flowers and the knobbly texture of its branches. Make sure to brush up on any toxic plants of a similar appearance and check whether harmful pesticides are used within the area (avoid picking elderflowers that grows right next to roads- all those petrol fumes and particuants).
Pick your Elderflower from knee height upwards – this is above the height of any passing rodent or other animal. As always take only what you need, always leave enough for regrowth and for others to enjoy too!
If the fancy takes you, it may also be worth asking the tree for permission to pick; folklore relates that Elderflower trees are guarded by spirits. If you do not ask permission to pick the flowers first, the spirits may place a curse on you!
We made sure swe picked our Elderflower on a bright and sunny day after exposure to direct sunlight. It is the warmth and light of the sun that draws the flower’s pollen out, this is the part of the plant holding the famously delicious flavour. Avoid washing the flowers as this will rinse away the pollen and result in a weaker cordial- so avoid picking immeditately after a rainfall too.
On the hunt for Elderflowers, we came across many other plants like Cleavers ( commonly known as ‘sticky weed’) which have been used to treat scurvy due to their high vitamin C content. We also spotted the purple-flowered Rosebay Willow Herb which can be infused to make a herbal tea usually served with lemon and sugar.
Elderflower in hand, we returned to the melon ground to begin our cordial.
Firstly, it is important to separate the flowers from their inedible stems. The flowers and berries are the only edible part of the plant but are mildly toxic if left uncooked. Luckily cooking the plant removes the toxic chemicals, leaving it safe to enjoy!
While separating the stems from the flowers, heat up 1 litre of water in a pan before adding 500g of sugar. Maintain your pan at medium heat, avoiding boiling the water.
Peel and slice up three lemons while the sugar water is heating up. Both the sliced lemon and the peel can then be added to the water, along with the de-stemmed elderflower.
The pan should be left to simmer on low heat for around 40 minutes before then sitting off-heat for between 4 and 48 hours. The longer the mixture is left to sit, the stronger the flavour of your cordial. After two days, we strained the cordial through a muslin (just like a jam strainer)and it was ready to enjoy!
In Poland and other European countries, citric acid is added to help conserve the cordial for longer periods and storage. Citric acid can also be used in other preserves like jam making. Although it can be found in most Polish supermarkets, it is harder to find in the UK, demonstrating how traditions of making certain preserves from scratch remain alive in Poland.