Respect your Elder!

I’ve said often that June is my favorite month.  The weather has settled, the flowers are blooming, and the bounty of the potager is flowing into the kitchen.  But it’s the elder that makes this month so special to me.  That ancient herb that has inspired so many recipes, cured so many ills, and blessed us with beauty, fragrance and much more!  When the elder blooms, all seems right with the world to me.  I’m amazed at the thousands of tiny flowers perfuming the air and delighting pollinators.  Earlier this week, I gathered 120 huge clusters of elderblow at its perfection in my big, big bowl.  Yes, I counted as I packed them into the bowl!  Not for any reason, my mind just counts automatically.  Comes from years and years of picking everlastings that had to have 50 or 100 stems to the bunch.  Elder bowl  Afterwards, the elder looked just as full of bloom as before!  The clusters should be picked when the flowers are fully opened all across the head.  Elder cluster close up  If you look closely at the edges of this cluster, you can see that some of the flowers are already turning brown, so ideally it should have been picked sooner but it’s still perfectly usable at this stage.  In fact, lots of the flowers have gone to waste as you can see from the “snow” on the sidewalk below it.  Elderblow on ground  Some of the flowers were blown off by the wind, some fell as I harvested fragile clusters.  Then each flower must be gently pulled from the stem.  Do this carefully, and remove all the stems, which can be toxic if consumed in quantity.  See flowers, no stems!  It takes a while, but I find it very relaxing.  Elder bloom close-up  It’s a good job to do when you need a break from weeding or digging, or it’s just too darned hot to work outside.  I turn a lot of the fresh flowers into Elderflower “Champagne” or into elderflower syrup, which has dozens of uses (See last year’s post on elder.)  Or, I make this delicious Elderflower-Gooseberry tart! Elderflower tart  Served with a bit of whipped cream, it’s one of my very favorite desserts!  The rest of the flowers are spread onto cookies sheets and placed in a quiet space, out of the sunlight to dry.  I say a quiet space because once I placed them on the kitchen table with a nearby open window.  When someone opened the door, it created a cross-breeze and thousand of tiny white flowers blew off the cookies sheets and onto the kitchen floor!  Don’t make my mistake!   Elderblow dried jar  If you look carefully you can see some of the tiny flowers on the tray are still white rather than the lovely golden tone.  That means not all of the flowers are totally dry, so don’t put them into a jar until they are.   I stir them a couple times a day.  In air conditioning, it generally takes 2-3 days to dry and then they can go into jars.  Clear glass jars like these will need to be stored in a dark cupboard so the flowers can retain both their flavor and medicinal qualities.  Elderflower tea is a must when I feel a cold or flu coming on, or if I just feel “blah.”  It’s delicious, especially with a bit of honey.  This is my elder today, still covered in blooms although I’ve made two huge harvests.  Elder tree  Most of the clusters (the brown-looking ones) have already been pollinated and will now produce those beautiful, black berries that will become jelly or cordials, or dried to be used in tarts, cakes, or my favorite Elderberry-Chicken dish.  As you can see, even though hundreds of clusters have been cut, there will still be LOTS of berries.  In fact, I’ve found in the years I didn’t harvest flowers, there were approximately the same number of berries ripen.  I suppose the tree can only nurture a range of berry clusters.  There’s just one last harvest of pretty white clusters, which I’ll do now.  Hopefully, it is to rain this afternoon and stemming elderflowers while watching raindrops will be a fine way to spend a June afternoon.


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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15 Responses to Respect your Elder!

  1. Laurie Graves says:

    Wonderful post. At Trader Joe’s, there once was a line of yogurt flavored with elderberry. It was my absolute favorite, but alas, they don’t carry that line anymore.


  2. March Picker says:

    What an interesting, informative post! Thank you, Carolee.


  3. bcparkison says:

    Oh I love Elder berry syrup. First time we made some a friend said” that plant is posion.” After learning the difference he made Elder wine every year. LOL


  4. patch405 says:

    Very educational post. I knew nothing about the elder and it’s versatility. Thanks for sharing.


  5. terrifortner says:

    I knew about elderberries, and their many uses, but I never knew about the flowers! What a treat thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolee says:

      I use the flowers as much as the berries! And the larger hollow stems can be used to make whistles, as long as you don’t have them in your mouth too long. Stems and wood are toxic when injested.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Helen says:

    I didn’t know that the elder stems were toxic if consumed too much. I just put them in with the flowers when I make cordial. It would certainly be nice to try something else with them!


  7. janesmudgeegarden says:

    A shrub with many uses, and valuable to have in the garden, it would seem. Your tart looks mouth watering!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Robin says:

    Fascinating info, I didn’t know that the flowers could be used too. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Melissa Winters says:

    Does the variety of elder matter? A friend has mentioned that european is better for syrup than the american variety.


    • carolee says:

      I don’t think the variety matters at all. I don’t see any difference between the ones I see in England and Germany and those here in the U.S. as far as the commonly grown ones. There are some hybrid varieties here in the U.S., such as “Johns” that grow much larger berries, but a common one is needed nearby for pollination. The super fancy ornamental ones with lacy purple foliage, etc. don’t produce enough berries to bother planting if fruit is your goal.


  10. I have used both flowers and berries in the past but never thought of drying the flowers so many thanks for another idea!


  11. My Mom always made Elderberry pie and she would often can the berries for pies in the winter. I remember as a kid, all of us sitting around the table picking elederberries off the stems.
    Elderberry pie is still a family favorite. I’ve never had the flowers in anything before.


    • carolee says:

      We picked elderberries as kids, and never used the flowers either. Never made pie, always jelly. I wasn’t introduced to elderflower usage until I went to England but now I’m a huge fan. Elderflower tea is one of my very favorites.


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