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Nature Connections 32 - Excellent Elderflowers

Today's activities are all based around the wonderful elderflower. Elder is an ancient native hedgerow plant and has many fascinating uses: the flowers, berries, bark and wood can all be used in different ways. It is often seen as a weed tree as it thrives in hedgerows and on rough/ waste ground. Elderflowers have been used for years in medicines around the world. They contain a variety of antioxidants (including vitamin C).

Did you know? In folklore, Elder was thought of as a protective tree – it was believed to keep evil spirits from entering the house if grown outside the door. Elders were also said to protect people from lightening when they sheltered under them from a storm. And as folklore has it, if you want to see fairies, all you need to do is stand under an elder tree on Midsummer’s Eve.

Out and About- Foraging for elderflowers

As with any foraging, it is essential you go with an adult and someone who is confident at identifying elder. The plant has masses of creamy white flowers which appear in late-May and June. They have a sweet smell.

The leaves consist of 5-7 leaflets, in pairs with a single end leaflet. Each leaflet has regular teeth and a pointed tip. The top of the leaflet is dark green and matt. The underside is paler.

The bark is greyish-brown. The young bark contains a lot of speckled ‘warts’. As the bark becomes older, it develops deep creases.

When you are foraging for the flowers, use a pair of secateurs or sharp scissors and cut the flower heads just below stem. Gather only a few flowers from each tree to leave as many as possible to develop into berries. You will only need 12 flower heads for the cordial. Try to avoid taking any flowers from a plant near a road or polluted areas.

In the garden- Elderflower Cordial

See the recipe and instructions below for how to make the cordial. However all of this can be done in the garden, using a campfire to boil the water. We make this every year at forest school and there is something very satisfying about the entire process of foraging, preparing and then drinking the cordial outside. 

Staying at home- Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower cordial is a delicious and refreshing drink. It is particularly nice with sparkling water and ice. 

You will need: an adult to help with the boiling water, 12 heads of elderflowers, a colander, sieve, muslin or t-towel, 2 lemons, 400g of caster sugar, 1 litre of water, saucepan, jug, recycled glass or plastic bottle and a wooden spoon.

Try it: 

  1. Pick the flowers off the stalks (12 bunches/ heads).

  2. Rinse the flowers in the colander to remove any insects.

  3. Cut up 2 lemons into slices.

  4. Put the lemons and elderflowers into a saucepan.

  5. Add 1 litre of boiling water.

  6. Add 400g of caster sugar. Stir well.

  7. Leave for an hour or so to infuse.

  8. Strain the liquid into a jug (using a sieve with a muslin over the top to catch all the smallest particles, a funnel) and then pour into a recycled glass or plastic bottle. Use with a 3 days or free in an ices cube tray. Dilute as a cordial to taste.

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