Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Elderflower fritters

Elder Flower-Head Fritters are a classic wild food recipe for these edible wild flowers. The combination of batter and a hint of elderflower is utterly delicious.

What's more, you can turn them savoury or sweet and here's my winning versions with an extra light batter recipe, plus suggestions for turning them into a starter, main accompaniment or dessert.

Man holding an elderflower head

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Single elderflower on my kitchen table

For me, Summer is about outdoor adventures, picnics, barbecues, fayres, festivals and the beach. Elderflowers are the perfect accompaniment, unless it's a festival or fayre - then it's doughnuts!

Here I share my ultimate elderflower doughnut recipe - they're gorgeous!

Yes, doughnuts are fayre food for me, when I’m tired and hungry from dancing it’s the smell of doughnuts that I sniff the air for. Created following a mini disaster – my Cornish town’s annual fayre and no doughnut van in sight – they are a delightful summery twist on the hot sugary ones I yearned for. Complete with a gorgeous soft, jam centre and sweet elderflower coating, these are melt-in-the-mouth with a double dose of elderflower to keep spirits high. 

Plate of freshly made homemade elderflower jam doughnuts

For this recipe you'll need to first make elderflower cordial - here's my simple elderflower coridal recipe, plus lots of information about where to find elderflowers, when to pick them, what the benefits of elderflowers are. You can also find tips on when to avoid elderflowers.

Elderflower, lemon and orange cordial

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A handful of fresh magnolia petals

There's something about prehistoric plants that give me the shudders. I love the idea of these plants preceding humans on this plant. The presence of magnolias (Magnoliaceae family) recorded to be at least 20 million years old and plants in the same family being up to 95 million years old. Mind blowing!

In this blog I explore questions such as; are all magnolias edible, which ones taste the best and how to use magnolias in recipes and drinks. I share 4 magnolia recipes, lots of tips from my fellow professional foragers and a few small digressions on the way!

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Pink and white spring blossoms for making syurps

It is possible to taste, drink in and immerse yourself in Spring in so many ways. This morning I was standing under my friend's flowering cherry tree, enjoying the floppy bunches of blossoms and their subtle scent.

This afternoon I'm making a Cherry blossom syrup and I'm sharing the recipe with you. Cherry trees typically flower for no more than 2 weeks, making it a special window to enjoy in Spring.

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It is Spring and the gorgeous white blossoms of Blackthorn have appeared. These early Spring flowers are a welcomed sight and appear before the leaves.

As the saying goes; you can eat anything once! Here I explore the edibility of blackthorn flowers (Prunus spinosa), their flavour and potential benefits, plus a step-by-step recipe.


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Pretty aren't they!

And a lovely scent (as long as they haven't passed their prime, in which case they'll smell like cat pee).

Though this blog isn't about the pretty things, it is about how to know when to pick elder flowers, and when to leave them. These are some of the tricks that foragers follow to ensure they get a good crop of elder flowers and also ensure that the plant is cared for, for its own welfare and sustainability. This way people, birds, animals other plant-life can all benefit from the magical Elder tree.

Here are just 3 points to help you get the best Elder flowers, oh, and a 4th point for luck.

 

Elder tree in flower

When to Pick Elder Flowers

I'm sorry, I can't give you an exact date, though I can teach you what to look for and the skills that foragers use in harvesting. A general time is May and June.

1. Smell

If they smell of cat pee, be disciplined and walk away. Yes - it is essential to walk away! It's time to leave the flowers (they'll come again next year, and won't be of any use to you at this stage), not as flowers anyway. Instead, walk away and allow the Elder (Sambucus nigra) to go to seed and produce the elderberries. Ah, wonderful life-giving elderberries,, here's some notes on how to take care of Elders and my elderberry and apple jelly recipe, more to come under my autumnal blog section.

Bowl of elderflowers

2. Colour

Back to the flowers of the Elder Tree, these are at their best when they are full of scented, pale yellow dust. Elder flower pollen. This is the only time to pick them. You might brush against an Elder bush and unsettle the pollen (a small cloud of visible yellow pollen hits the air), or smell a flower head and end up with pollen on your nose. These are all tips on how to tell if they are ready, and if there's no pollen that brushes off, or hardly any, it is best to walk away empty handed. Discipline is a virtue.

3. Shape

If the flowers are only unopened buds - you're in luck! The elder hasn't flowered yet, and all you need to do is wait a little while, a few days, until they do. This is much better than finding them when they are passed their best. On that note, the flower heads will open at different times, so if you find heads that are mostly unopened, leave them, and if you find heads that are mostly shrivelled and dried, leave them too. This will leave you with just the best flowers to pick - perfect!

4. Sun

Of course you know this, you know to pick when the weather is dry, the sun is out and the scent of the elder flowers will be at their prime. Isn't common sense a wonderful thing, as is the bright, burning, life-giving sun.

Elderflower, lemon and orange cordial

The edibility of elderflowers

Now you know when and how to pick your perfect elder flower heads for making cordial it would be easy to assume that elderflowers are edible, right? Wrong. It is best not to eat elderflowers raw, as the plant has a mild toxicity, which is why it is best to cook them or make cordial from them. Some people get an upset stomach from eating elderflowers or elder berries (elder flowers and elder berries come from the same plant). 

Elderflower Cordial

Elder flower cordial recipes vary, a lot. Of course there are many ways to make something and it's great to have the choice of recipes, depending on how much time and elder flowers you have collected. I have two recipes here; a Classic Elder flower Cordial and Elderflower Sorbet recipe and here is an  Elder flower Cordial with an Orange Twist.

There will be other blogs on Elder flowers in the future, essentials to know about this plant so that you are using your time and the plant well. Happy foraging, and do look out for wild food foraging courses, if you'd like to know more.

Glass of elderflower cordial

Elderflower cordial is the ultimate summer drink, scent and medicine. As I sit here in my kitchen I'm enjoying their light, dreamy scent wafting across the room, of the ones I picked this morning.

Summer foraging for elderflowers is almost as popular as blackberries in autumn, or wild garlic in spring, and all for good reason. Elderflower cordial is the perfect way to capture and preserve the scent of summer. Foraging for edible wild plants is so rewarding too! Make your own homemade cordial to enjoy with friends and family.

Elder tree in flower

Where to find elderflowers

The elder tree is often considered a weed, it often grows on wasteland, in hedgerows and at the edge of woods. It loves the sun but can cope with shade, I often see them alongside roads and backing onto railway lines, which is often very frustrating because I'm rushing by!

When do elder flowers bloom?

Elderflowers start appearing in late spring and early summer. Here in the UK that means May to July, though this is dependant on how warm it is and whether spring started early or late. Sometimes July is still great for picking, and other years they have started to turn and are not worth picking.

Elderflowers can also be frozen. A few years ago my aunt froze a whole carrier bag of elderflowers for me. Once defrosted, they obviously don't look as good as when they are fresh, but you can still use them for making cordial or dry them for making elderflower herbal tea.

I also like to freeze some of my elderflower cordial in an ice cube tray, then I have ready to use portions!

How and why to dry elderflowers

Elderflowers can be used for herbal tea. You can dry them in the sun, in a dehydrator or at the lowest temperature in the oven and keep them for the winter months as medicine for colds, flu, coughs or bronchial issues.

How to make and use elderflower cordial

See below - a summary on this video and the full recipe at the end of the blog.

Use in cocktails, sorbet, ice cream, sweet bread, as a doughnut dip, elderflower champagne or dilute for hot and cold drinks. You can also freeze the cordial in an ice cube tray or bag and pop in soda water or defrost and dilute from frozen.

Why is elder flower cordial so good?

Many of us have a soft spot for sweet, and the combination of light and heady, citrus and sweet seems to be the ultimate combination!

Is elder flower cordial good for you?

Elderflowers have anti viral properties and can help treat colds and flu and quicken recovery. They can also be used to sooth sore throats, coughs and bronchial infections. Elder flowers are delicious and a medicinal plant.

Before I begin, a word of warning. Elder (Sambucus nigra) has umbel-like clusters of flowers, similar to that of the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) family. To avoid fatal mistakes with deadly plants within this family, you must be 100% sure that you are picking the correct plant. This blog is focusing on the recipe, not on the identification, always check with an expert, so you can continue to enjoy foraging for food!

Also, a word for the plant... If you pick all the flowers there will be no elderberries later in the year - which would be very sad, for us and the birds. Bare this in mind & never pick more than 25% of flowers of a single plant.

ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL RECIPE

This recipe needs some pre-planning - a bucket or heat-proof bowl, clean screw-top bottles, lemon squeezer, a funnel and a seive/muslin cloth is needed. You can alter the measurements depending on how many elderflower heads you pick

Ingredients
25 elder flower heads (flowers left on stalks)
3 unwaxed lemons (or 2 lemons and 1 orange)
400 g unrefined sugar
1.2 litres boiling water
2-3oz citric acid (if you’re going to store the cordial for a while)

Ideally pick the flowers in full sun. Fork the flowers off the stalks or snip off the main stalks, putting flowers aside and discarding the rest. Place sugar in a pan and pour boiling water over, stirring until dissolved. Place the elderflowers (check to remove bugs) in a clean bucket and pour hot sugar mixture over it. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the bucket, then grate the lemon zest and add this too. Stir, cover, and leave for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a sieve, or preferably a fine muslin cloth, and funnel into clean bottles, or dilute and serve immediately!

For Elder Flower Sorbet

Follow all the instructions above, omitting the citric acid and dilute with two-thirds water and beat in one whipped egg white. Use an ice cream maker or get ready for these next steps... Freeze the cordial in a sturdy tupperware (plastic container with a lid) for 2-4 hours. Remove & mash up with a fork or in a food blender. Repeat at least once more. Serve on its own or with a variety of other desserts, particularly good with sponge cakes.

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