How to use elderflowers
Use elderflowers in seasonal recipes, plus learn how to identify and forage them. The fragrant summer blooms are a great addition to desserts and drinks.
Come summer, hedgerows are bursting with delicate elderflowers. Collect them using our foraging tips below, then try our favourite seasonal elderflower recipes. The flowers can be used to make a refreshing cordial or alcoholic tipple, or added to cakes, desserts and even salad dressings.
When is elderflower in season in the UK?
- Elderflower blossoms appear in late May to early June and flower until August, when the berries being to ripen
- June tends to be the best time to collect elderflowers, as the blossoms are at their freshest
- Elderflowers can be picked throughout their season, but are at their most fragrant when they first blossom
Where can I find elderflowers?
- Elderflowers grow on small hedgerow trees (shrubs) called Sambucus, which are common in the UK. The more established elder trees can form a large umbrella shape and have a corky bark that becomes more fissured with age
- The leaves comprise five to seven oval leaflets with slightly jagged edges. You can find elder trees in many places, ranging from forests, parks and fields, to residential areas and along roads
How to identify elderflowers
- Look for small, dense clusters (or crowns) of tiny white flowers growing in the elder trees. These have a heady, sweet fragrance that will likely lead you to them
What equipment do I need to forage elderflowers?
- A pair of scissors or secateurs will be useful for cutting off the flower heads
- An open basket or cloth bag is preferable to plastic for storing the cut-off flower heads, as this will allow insects to escape the flowers. Plastic bags are also more likely to cause the flowers to wilt, so this is another reason to avoid them
- Sturdy shoes and a pair of long trousers are advised if foraging in an area with nettles or prickly bushes
How to forage for elderflowers
- Avoid picking them alongside busy roads, as the flowers with absorb traffic fumes – opt for hedgerows in more natural settings if possible
- Aim to pick the flowers on a warm, dry day when the blooms are likely to be newly opened and full of scented pollen
- Use the scissors to cut the elderflower heads at the bottom of each cluster of flowers
- Make sure to pick only the freshest flower heads, as the wilted or brown flowers will taste bitter. Also avoid picking premature buds that are yet to open
- Don't forget to give them a gentle shake to remove any insects before putting in your basket
- It's advisable to rinse the flowers in cold water to remove extraneous debris before using, though this will wash off some of the flavour, so be sure to do it briefly. If you’re using the flowers for cordial that will be boiled and strained, you might not wish to rinse them
General foraging guidelines
- Seek permission with the relevant landowner before foraging, as in certain areas, plant species will be protected
- Only pick from bushes with a plentiful supply of elderflower and don't take more than you need. Never completely strip an area, as this can be detrimental to animals that rely on the plants for survival, as well as causing harm to the plant species
- Be respectful of the surrounding wildlife habitats and avoid causing disruption or damage to nearby species
Read our beginner's guide to foraging for more advice.
What to do with elderflowers
Elderflower is delicious mixed into cakes, tarts, trifles and jams. It pairs particularly well with tart fruits such as rhubarb and gooseberries. From casual nibbles to celebratory showstoppers, we have a whole host of fantastic floral recipes. Bake a rhubarb & elderflower sponge cake or our lemon & elderflower celebration cake for the ultimate decadent dessert, or layer up a strawberry & elderflower trifle with an irresistible lemon drizzle base.
For something lighter on a warm day, cool off with a scoop of gooseberry & elderflower yogurt ice. You can whip up this easy treat with just five ingredients. It may sound strange, but the blooms are also moreish dipped into a light batter and fried until crisp. Try our elderflower fritters with honey for a dessert with a difference.
The subtle floral notes of elderflower cordial make a wonderfully refreshing and sophisticated alternative to alcohol – perfect for summer entertaining. Or, if you're looking for a party starter, try infusing spirits with elderflower, as in our recipe for elderflower & gooseberry vodka and elderflower gin. Catering for a crowd? Mix up a batch of apple, elderflower & mint punch. It's easily doubled if a few extra guests turn up unannounced.
Elderflower cordial is easy to make using freshly gathered elderflowers, lemons, sugar, water and tartaric or citric acid. If you don't have any elderflowers growing nearby, a good choice of cordials is now available in supermarkets.
If you’re looking for a new foodie project, try your hand at making elderflower wine or elderflower champagne. We have plenty of home brewing tips, including a guide to home brewing safety and expert advice on how to clean home brewing equipment.
Have we made you thirsty? Check out our top 5 elderflower drinks.
More elderflower recipes
Prosecco & elderflower cocktail
Gooseberry, elderflower & sauvignon sorbet
Chicken garden salad with elderflower dressing
Gooseberry & elderflower yogurt ice
Homemade elderflower cordial
Elderflower & raspberry jelly
Elderflower crunch cake
All our favourite elderflower recipes
All our favourite gooseberry recipes
How do you use elderflowers? Leave a comment below...
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