Molly Tait-Hyland

The Ingredient Edit: Elderflowers

by Molly Tait-Hyland The Land 1 May 16

Late spring brings many pleasures: the return of the long light-filled evenings; the first asparagus and sweet tender broad beans, and a feeling of anticipation. Summer is coming. But, it’s the first elderflower, the small creamy-white blossom with the heady muscat grape fragrance which, for me, truly heralds the start of summer.

Elderflower comes from elder or Sambucus nigra, small trees of the family Adoxaceae. This unfussy shrub grows almost anywhere as long as there is a fair amount of sunlight. In fact, an elder twig pushed into the ground, will most likely take root.

Elderflower, purportedly, has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s long been used in folk medicines of Europe and North Africa to treat ailments such as the common cold, rheumatism and hay fever. Claudio Bincoletto, Thyme's wild food expert, recommends using elderflower to soothe inflamed eyes. Simply heat water to 85°C and steep the flowers overnight. The next day, soak a delicate material (such as cotton) in the water and apply as a compress for 10-15 minutes.

Elderflower cordial is delicious in cocktails (no doubt The Baa has something appropriate) or, add it to Champagne. Try pairing elderflower with other late spring/early summer fruits such as rhubarb or gooseberries - perhaps in a pie. Make elderflower fritters: dip the flowers into a light batter, fry briefly, quickly toss in caster sugar and eat hot with a dollop of jam. If you’re looking to impress, try Charlie Hibbert’s recipe for pine nut meringue, rhubarb and elderflower cream - on the menu at the forthcoming Thyme’s Table with Charlie and James Chase from Chase Distillery. In the coming weeks, when you do first sniff that unmistakable perfume, take a moment, take stock, summer is very nearly here.