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.
TIPS FROM CLAUDIO ON FORAGING FOR ELDERFLOWER
- Leave the first flowers for pollinators.
- Find a plant away from the road and other pollutants.
- Look for flowers that are creamy-white, not brown or green.
- Pick flowers early in the morning when some of the flowers are still closed.
- Only pick a few 'umbrellas' per plant. Keep in mind that whatever you take is being taken away from insects and birds.
- Gently shake the flowers to remove small insects. There is no need to wash the flowers, this will impair the scent.