How to use elderflowers

  • By
    Carol Wilson - Food writer

Find out what to do with these fragrant, early summer flowers.

Elderflower cordial

I love the delicate elderflowers that explode in hedgerows and country lanes at this time of year. For me, their rich sweet scent is synonymous with early summer. It's said that summer starts when elder trees burst into flower and ends in late August when the berries are ripe.

In the past, country people wore a sprig of elder in their hats to ward off midges and bunches of the fragrant flowers were hung in stables to discourage flies. Elder was traditionally planted around dairies too, because it was believed to keep the milk from turning.

Gooseberry & elderflower foolI add a couple of elderflower sprigs when cooking fruit for tarts and desserts, removing them at the end; the lacy blossoms have an unmistakable heady Muscat grape fragrance which has a particular affinity with tart fruits such as rhubarb and gooseberries. They're also delicious dipped into a light batter and fried until crisp. I stir a few flowers into cake and muffin batters to give them a light, sweet scent.

Mrs Beeton advised the beneficial properties of elderflower wine, a liqueur (excellent drizzled over fruit salads) is made from them, and of course they also make a wonderfully refreshing non-alcoholic elderflower cordial - a perfect summer drink.

Elderflower cordial is easy to make with freshly gathered elderflowers, which are infused with lemons, sugar, water and tartaric or citric acid. If you don't have any elderflowers close by, shop-bought cordial is a good substitute and is delicious added to creamy desserts.

The best time to pick elderflowers is on a dry, warm day when the blooms are newly open, well away from traffic fumes. Give them a gentle shake to dislodge any insects and rinse briefly in cold water before using.

Any more ideas for using elderflowers?

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