Learn how to identify and harvest elderflowers, their benefits for our health, and how to use them in recipes, remedies, and homemade skincare products.
The place where I live is well known for its elderflower blossoms. They grow here abundantly, along the rivers or railways and one can smell the scent of their blossoms when in season. The great thing about them is that they come twice a year. First batch in spring when they bloom with intense smelling yellowish-white flowers, then again in autumn when they reveal the rich tassels of the fruits blackberries, bending the narrow branches down to the ground.
What is Elderflower?
Elderflower is the flower of Elder - Sambucus Nigra, the same plant that elderberries come from. While elderberries are fruits that ripe at the beginning of fall, flowers of Elder bloom from late spring.
When Elderflower starts to bloom, the identification is by far the easiest. They produce large umbels of small white flowers (4-12’ 10-30 cm in diameter) Each individual elder blossom has five rounded tipped petals and five stamens protruding. The creamy color and distinguished scents are very typical for elder that bloom from late spring to early summer depending on the weather and location.
When they are not in bloom their leaves and stems might help you to identify them.
Elder has finely toothed lance-shaped green leaves with lighter veins that tend to fade off and narrow as they reach the edge of the leaf.
Young plants (The first year of growth) have green stems. When they grow older their stems will cover with bark. Typical elderberry plant has both green stems as well as stems with bark. On the wooden stems appear tiny bumps that become bigger with the age of plant. These bumps help you to identify the elder even if it is not flower season.
Where does Elderflower grow?
Elder shrubs can be found all over Europe, North America and other parts of the world mainly in the Northern Hemisphere. While black elder (Sambucus nigra) is native to Europe, its subsp. American black elder (Sambucus nigra canadensis) is native to eastern North America. People living in western North America can find more often blue elder (Sambucu nigra subsp. cerulea) as it naturally grow there.
When harvesting flowers keep in mind that with every blossom head you snip you are reducing the fall elderberry crop. So harvest the flowers modestly, don’t take more than 20-30 % of the flowers from one plant. Keep also some for bees! Look for fresh flowers that are fully opened that haven’t turned brown yet. Pick them early morning on a sunny day. Inspect them carefully and remove all bugs and insects by hand. Don’t wash them as you will rinse away the pollen that is the main carrier of flavor and scent of elderflowers.
you can use fresh elderflowers in cordial, ice cream, or use them to enhance jams. If you prefer to keep them for later use the best way is to dry them.
Use drying screen or paper, carefully spread them on the sunny place, keep turning them every day till dried completely. It takes a few days depending on the weather.
Hanging them upside down
Hang bunches of elderflowers upside down in sunny places where fresh air flows for several days. The scent is marvelous!
Once dried, store them in a sterilized jar in the cold and dry place, they last up to one year.
In 400 BCE, Hippocrates referred to the elder tree as his "medicine chest." Other healers, including Theophrastus, Dioscorides and Galen, regarded the elder as one of nature's greatest healing plants.
The number one antiviral herb on the planet, elderberries are packed with antioxidants and flavonoids that successfully deactivate viruses in our bodies. Known for their high content of vitamin C and antioxidants mainly polyphenols (1)
Elderflowers help stimulate the immune system and increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the blood. In other words, Elderflowers can help overcome symptoms of flu and cold. They have been for centuries used to treatment of cough, flu, and bronchitis (2)
Elderflower benefits for skin
These Sweet-scented petals with anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties also have also great benefits for the skin.
Bioflavonoids and vitamins that are present in Elderflowers reduce fine lines and the appearance of wrinkles. These antioxidants also encourage the growth of new cells and make the skin appear younger.
Improving skin appearance
Elderflowers are mildly astringent and help minimize pores and dry up oily skin. Their ability to tighten the skin and make the skin look more fresh and smooth rejuvenate its appearance.
Are elderflowers safe?
While the leaves, stems, and unripe berries of elderberry are toxic, Elderflowers are safe to be used in recipes and remedies.
Foraging or growing elderflowers?
Foraging is fun especially if you live in a place where elderflowers grow abundantly. If you don’t have elderflowers growing wild, cultivating them in your garden is easy and rewarding.
“There should, of course, be an elder tree in every herb garden"Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, A garden of Herbs, 1936
You can propagate new plants from an old shrub. That way, however you might miss some information about its productivity or disease resistance. Alternatively you may decide to purchase cuttings or live plants that will have your desired characteristics.
Other option might be to grow elder from seeds which can be challenging and most growers don’t recommend it.
The most pleasant aroma with intensely floral flavor makes elderflower ideal for making a liqueur, ice cream, Elderflower popsicles, marshmallow fluff, yogurt, or in jams. However, you can use them for making fritters too.
Elderflower also helps treat inflamed nasal passages and is a very popular cold and flu fighter. Thus making a delicious elderflower tea that helps ease coughs, running noses, and a sore throat make a sense. Elderflower tea is a natural source of vitamin C and antioxidants.
Elderflowers in remedies
I love to use Elderflower cordial to make these kid’s popular Elderberry gummies. When making them I use both Elderberries in syrup and Elderflowers in cordial that’s where their two colors come from.
In skincare products
Elderflowers are known for their softening and anti-wrinkle properties. They are especially useful for older skin so I usually make this Elderflower salve for my mom or my mom in law, which make always a great gift. If you plan to do so start with elderflower oil that you need to make this salve.
Elderflower has one of the most pleasant sweet aromas in nature. Its intense and floral scent contains notes of citrus, vanilla, or passionfruit.