The Summer Solstice may have just passed but the hedgerows and woodlands are still full of the beautiful blossom of the elder tree, with the sweet scent of its fragrant and delicate elderflowers. Elderflower is a late spring and summer flower, come August it begins to produce rich, dark elderberries that can be harvested to make elderberry wine.
The white, frothy elderflowers tend to bloom in late May, and June is typically the best time of year to collect them as the flowers are at their freshest. The petals are small and clustered, but form a broad umbrella that is enticingly scented, like a melting dollop of perfume-infused ice-cream.
The crowns of elderflower have long been gathered. Some are dunked in batter and fried, while others find their way into cordials, wines or bottles of fermented fizz (or gin!). The harvesting of the flowers has little impact upon the tree’s regeneration, however, and by August those pollinated flowers that remain will have transformed into berries that ripen from green to deep claret. We use the elder berries in our Sloe & Elderberry Gin liqueur, a gorgeous combination of velvety and fruity, and a real treat to enjoy at Christmas AND throughout the year.
Our team’s top tips for foraging elderflower:
Pick the flowers on a warm, dry day. Look for elderflower in hedgerows and verges between fields, in parks or green spaces. Avoid collecting it from busy roads as the flowers will absorb the traffic fumes, and pick the ones that are higher than doggy height (for obvious reasons!).
Take a pair of sharp scissors and remove the flowerheads just below where all the small stems meet the main stem – you want as little of the green stem in your recipes as possible. Gather only a few flowerheads from each tree so as to allow as many as possible to develop into berries – a crucial late summer food source for birds, mammals and insects.
When you get home, give the flowers a little shake to remove any ‘unwanted visitors’. You can easily spot insects on the underside of the flowers, and it's easy to pick the stubborn ones off. Some people soak or rinse them in cold water, but the flavour will be less powerful as you rinse off the pollen that way.
Our classic juniper led Hedgerow gin was inspired by the hedgerows of North Yorkshire where we have abundant botanicals to add subtle tones and flavours. On the basis of what grows together, goes together, we use the hedges as our inspiration. We collect the elderflower that we use in our gin from the local area surrounding Green Farm. Elderflower is known for its floral and fruity flavour and is generally described as fresh, subtle, and aromatic.