Who doesn’t love bending over to smell a newly-bloomed rose or bunch of lilacs? Or treasure-hunting for the prettiest bloom in town?
But there are some flowers that you don’t seek out.
These draw you in, and lead you off the well-worn path to discover what in the world smells so gosh darn good. And that is the beauty of elderflower.
Also called elderblow (so delicate, they could blow away), they have been a source of inspiration for centuries.
From medicinal uses, to culinary delights, to the elder wands of Harry Potter, there’s no shortage of elder lore.
That being said, these blooms only come around once a year for their short, early summer season. And I’d much rather smell and taste them for myself, rather than read about them. Wouldn’t you?
Here, we’ll discover the many uses of elderflower, and how you can get some of your own.
What Form Do You Eat Elderflower in?
You can ingest it as tea, tincture, liquor, syrup, or oil.
That same syrup could be used in a variety of baking projects–lemon and elderflower tea cake, anyone?
Then there’s the classic elderflower cordial, ever-refreshing. Sip on some of that cordial with seltzer or tonic water, and you’ve got your own homemade soda.
You could also add some gin to your mixed drink for a bit of spice. For other alcoholic beverages, there’s elderflower champagne and ciders as well.
The syrups are also infused into jelly and ice cream for a sweet floral twist.
Or, try frying the whole head of flowers in batter! Dust it with powdered sugar and you’ve got the forager version of a funnel cake.
While all that is well and good, you’re most likely to sip on St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur. It’s famous for a reason!
Though cheers to you if your first foray into this world is with elderflower funnel cake!
What Can I Expect When Trying Elderflower?
Assuming you enjoy sweet floral notes, that is.
Elderflower is rather flowery and tastes of honey and summertime. Some report notes of vanilla, spice, sweet white wine, or even lychee.
Of course, it depends on where the elderflower is grown.
Like cacao, elderflower’s taste will vary depending on the region it was grown in, as well as the variety.
Sambucus nigra is going to taste different than Sambucus canadensis.
Do Elderflowers and Elderberries Come From the Same Plant?
Yes! They both come from the elder tree, also known as the elderberry tree, elderflower tree, or Sambucus.
However, unlike the flowers which can be consumed raw or immediately after harvest, the berries require a bit more work.
Those beautiful berries are toxic and must be cooked to be safe to eat.
Is the Entire Elderberry/Flower Plant Edible?
Although the entire Sambucus plant is gorgeous, only a few bits and pieces of it are edible.
The leaves, roots, bark, stems, and branches are not edible.
In fact, if you drink teas brewed from the leaves, roots, or branches, you may be slowly poisoning yourself.
Yep, like cherries, these parts of the bush contain cyanide, which we’d all do best to stay away from.
So, only the berries and flowers are safe to eat, so long as they’re harvested and prepared correctly.
See, most elderberries are toxic when raw or unripe, so they must be cooked before consumption.
There's one exception:
Black elderberries. Although they’re not technically poisonous, it’s still recommended that you cook them.
Ingesting them raw may cause nausea and gastrointestinal distress. And who wants that?
Common Uses for Elderflower
The most famous and common use of elderflower is the one, the only, elderflower cordial. Thankfully, it’s easy to make too.
After making your basic simple syrup, add in some lemon (zest included) and then your freshly-picked bunch of elderflowers.
Try to avoid putting in the stalks–they’re poisonous, remember?
Then, let everything sit and steep for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
Once strained, your cordial is good to go!
Add it to seltzer, bathe your sponge cakes in it, or freeze it for the most delicious ice cubes you’ve ever had.
If sparkling drinks aren’t your thing, try baking with it! You can always substitute rose water or orange blossom water for elderflower syrup.
In general, elderflower works best in cakes, trifles, and tarts, combined with other summer flavors. Bring on the strawberry!
And if cake’s not cutting it, what about tea?
A bit of hot water and dried (or fresh) elderflower will soothe any sore throat. Those famous Ricola cough drops are actually just elderflower bombs.
That’s not all, though. Elderflower is also an ingredient in some skincare products for its purported anti-aging effects.
You could even make your own elderflower cider! The possibilities are endless.
What Does Elderflower Liqueur Taste Like?
Elderflower liqueur will still carry the sweet, delicate floral flavor that it is renowned for.
Some claim to pick up notes of citrus or passionfruit, though that also depends on what brand they’re buying.
No matter what, elderflower liqueur should be very sweet and very light. Wholly refreshing!
St. Germain’s is the most popular elderflower liqueur brand, but you could also try to make your own at home.
What Are the Health Benefits of Elderflower?
Well, where to begin?
Plus, it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. So, any common respiratory issues you may be experiencing (colds, flu, sinus infections, etc.), elderflower can help!
Hence its prevalence in cold-targeted teas and cough drops.
It's also a known antiviral and antibacterial herb, which could help those with mild allergies or act as an immune system boost.
Like insulin, elderflower can help reduce blood sugar levels. And, if that weren’t enough, elderflower can also relieve constipation.
Now, that’s only for ingesting it. If you want to apply elderflower as a salve or paste, you could use it to mitigate arthritis, alleviate pain, or reduce joint swelling. It has also been used to stop or slow bleeding.
Of course, that’s not all. It can also be used as an oral rinse (antiseptic, remember?) for mouthwash.
The question isn’t what can elderflower do...it's what can’t elderflower do?
Where Can I Get Elderflowers?
You can buy elderflower in supplement form at health stores or local apothecaries.
It’s also available online, though I caution against buying vitamins or herbal medicines without proper research.
You can also grow your own! They tend to grow voraciously in North America. So as long as you’ve got a container or a little plot of dirt, you should be just fine.
Speaking of growing, you could also go foraging for them. However, it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for and take a guide with you, especially if you’re new.
If you’re foraging or picking your own, pick the blooms that have just opened and are still completely white. If wilted or brown, they may taste bitter.
By the way, these plants need flowers to produce berries. So, only pick as much as you need, making sure to leave enough flowers to transform into berries in a few weeks' time.
You could also buy them dried from a reputable herbalist or nursery, or buy any of their products at stores around the world.
As for online sources, try any of the following:
Norm’s Farms also sells other related products, such as elderberry jam or extract.
While the Midwest Elderberry Cooperative won’t deliver your flowers till the summer, it’s always great to support local farmers in any way you can.
Come May and June, you can find me wandering around my local forests, following the tantalizing scent of elderflowers.
Searching for relief from your runny nose or sore throat? Brew some elderflower tea!
Thirsty after a long, hard day’s work? Grab some elderflower cordial and drink it with seltzer.
Craving something light and sweet? Make some elderflower tea cake!
Stay away from everything but the berries and flowers, and make sure to consume safely.
Aside from that, happy eating!