Foraging for Elderflower

Guys, it’s elderflower time!
For about three weeks each year, one plant bursts into life, filling the air with a sweet, sherbet-ty smell. If you don’t know the smell, go buy yourself some elderflower cordial, and then you can learn to make your own.  

The elderflower is a fantastic tree, one that the beginner forager should be able to identify with ease and enjoy with abandon. They are, once you learn to recognise them, everywhere. I’d seen them in flower over the last days, but today was a nice dry for picking them. Don’t pick them when it’s been raining as the scent will have been washed off the flowers. 

There’s a small park near Roddens Crescent with a few trees, so we grabbed a couple of plastic bags and rattled off down the road to forage.


The tree is covered in big clusters of tiny white flowers with yellow centres. Never overpick a tree for two reasons:

  1. Leave some for the insects,
  2. Leave some if you want elderberries that the flowers will develop into.

Below is a close up of the flowers and leaves. Note the clusters of flowers and the leaves. Whilst you’ll only really want the flowers, just grab the whole stalk for now. You can process them at home.

This is the knobbly bark of the elder tree. I’ve heard it said that the jelly ear fungus (used to be called jew’s ear) is commonly found on elder tree, which might help in identification, but I’ve only seen it once, in the Botantic gardens near the Ulster Museum. That said, the tree where I did find the fungus was covered in the stuff.

Below is what the flowers look like before opening. If you see them like this, leave them alone and come back later.

I lifted a few bits of rubbish from the park before I left, my way of saying thank you to the park. 

When we got them home I laid them out on a sheet. This lets any insects vacate the premises before you use the flowers. 

Whilst I was waiting for the bugs to run away I left my homebrew stuff sterilizing with sodium metabisulphate. 

The next day I processed the elderflowers at home, pulling the tiny flowers off their branches. I wasn’t too fussy, so if some of the little branches got in I didn’t mind. 

By the end, my fingers were stained as yellow as a heavy smoker. 

I had about two pints of flowers, so I’m doubling up on a recipe in ‘Booze for free.’ I added:

  1. 7 litres of boiling water
  2. Juice and zest of 2 lemons
  3. 2.6 KG of sugar.
  4. 2 tps of metabisulphate.

Now just to leave for 4 days, stirring every now and again before the next part.

For step 2 of elderflower homebrew please click here.

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