WE’VE STARTED SERVING elderflower drinks in GROW HQ of late, and I am reminded, as I generally am at this time of the year, to get out there and forage some elderflower for our own drinks at home. I always think that elderflower is a great starter for novice foragers because it’s so easy to identify.
The biggest clue is that the flowers are cream, not white. They also have an unmistakably earthy, almost musty, aroma. The season for elderflower is short – about six weeks or so – so it would be a shame not to have a batch of elderflower cordial in the fridge for the summer months. There are great big blossoms of creamy-white elderflower in hedgerows at the moment, so it’s a great time to get out there and start foraging.
Remember when foraging for elderflower that you should not take more than a few heads from each bush – this ensures that there are enough flowers remaining to allow the bush to thrive (keep next year, and other foragers, in mind). Better to pick a few flowers from lots of different locations, rather than stripping a bush in one location completely bare. Pick flowers that are at their best – that is, you don’t want to pick heads that the flowers aren’t open on, nor do you want ones that are obviously passed their prime. You will need about 30 heads to make a decent batch of elderflower cordial and champagne.
It’s good to pick on a sunny day as the heat will heighten the smell, making the elder easier to identify. Collect them in a brown paper bag, rather than a plastic one – this will allow them to breathe. As is always the case with foraging – avoid picking flowers at roadside as they may be tainted with petrol fumes.
Champagne and cordial will keep for months
Use the flowers as soon as possible. Both elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial will keep for months in sterilised, sealed bottles. We once found a bottle of elderflower champagne that we think was two years old in the back of a press and it still tasted lovely. (Incidentally we’ve also had a bottle of the champagne explode in the press once – it’s seriously fizzy stuff).
The cordial has loads of uses – you can use it diluted for a refreshing summer thirst quencher or make ice-pops (one part cordial to two parts water). I like it diluted with fizzy water and served with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint. Of course if the sun is over the yardarm, you could always add a shot of vodka or gin (an “elder-tini” if you will).
You can also use it undiluted to splash on fruit salads, as a marinade for chicken or even as the base for a vinaigrette (mix with mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil and season well).
The champagne is wonderful – it’s non-alcoholic, but feels decadent – like something Patsy from Ab Fab might drink assuming she didn’t actually know it was non-alcoholic. When stored in a bottle, the natural yeasts in the flowers ferment to create a delicious, fizzy summer drink that everyone (even the kiddies) can enjoy. See recipes for cordial and champagne below.