Now is the time when elderflowers bloom. The creamy, fragrant blossoms of sambucus nigra are famous for their medicinal uses in teas and cough syrups. The blue-black berries are also chock full of vitamins and anti-oxidants that have proven activity against bacteria and the viruses that cause influenza and common cold. For your reference, the following study demonstrates the effect of a standardized extract on gram positive and negative bacteria, as well as a strain of influenza (Krawitz et al, 2011, BMC Complement. Alt. Medicine).
But more on the berries later. And more on the medicines later. Today, we are making something good for the soul: elderflower cordial.
I am almost sure you have seen the elderflower bush at least once in your life. They are a garden staple, growing into large shrubs that can reach up to 20 feet tall. The leaves are a vibrant green with a pointed end. Flowers are a creamy white with a tiny yellow center and give off a warm, sweet scent. The flowers can be expected in late Spring to early Summer (ours came a bit later this year due to a very unexpected snowfall). Berries, which are nearly black in color (hence the name sambucus nigra), will usually begin to appear in the late fall.
I should point out that there are many varieties of elder, but the specific strain of Sambucus nigra is the kind that is used both for medicine and for the gorgeous beverage I am about to introduce to you.
Elderflower cordial is a very traditional party drink in Europe. It was quite popular with Victorians, though evidence of its use has been found dating back to Ancient Rome! A “cordial,” more broadly,” is a soft drink. It typically starts with a syrup that is diluted with seltzer, champagne, or pure water. Our cordial uses the seltzter, but by ALL means try the champagne! Whatever you choose, it lends the liquid a beautiful, floral-citrus taste with a hint of sweetness.
(makes six cups of syrup)
12-15 fresh elderflower heads
2.5 lbs of sugar (5 cups)
1.5 oz citric acid (3 tablespoons)
6.5 cups of filtered water
First, trim the stems of your elderflower heads back as much as you can. You want mostly flower, and not too much stem. Next, gently rinse your elderflowers in some cold water to remove any dirt or little insects. Let them sit on a paper towel until ready to use. In a large pot, simmer the sugar and water on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. While this is happening, peel your lemon with a vegetable peeler (but don’t discard the peels!) and cut into slices. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the liquid to a boil. When it reaches a boil, remove the pot from the heat. Put your lemon slices, peels, and citric acid into the syrup and stir well. Now place the elderflower heads face down into the mixture. Cover the pot, and let influse for at least 8 hours (overnight) or up to 24 hours.
After it is done infusing, strain the syrup through a fine cloth into a sterilized jar or bottle. This will keep for up to six weeks refrigerated. You can also freeze the portion of the mixture you do not intend to use right away, and it will keep for several months.
To use: add 2-3 tsp of syrup (depending on how sweet you like it) to a glass filled with ice. Pour seltzer or club soda to the top. Garnish with sliced lemon. Enjoy!