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Elderflower Cocktails

Posted by laura on November 18 2013.

elderflower cocktailsElderflower cocktails – Sambucas Nigra

Heath often uses elderflower cocktails on his glamping trips, and for those of you all have already been along on one of these countryside weekends you will already know about the joys of this wild fruit. Here is a short history of the elderflower for all our readers who haven’t had the pleasure of attending a Glamping trip yet.

“Looking out of my bedroom window on to an Elder tree is a brilliant reminder of the seasons. Late spring always turns to early summer with the advent of the Elder flower, and as summer turn to Autumn the berries start to show.

I live in central London which is always a few degrees warmer than the rest of the country, and so the first signs of summer show in London a few weeks earlier than where I take my Glamping groups.

The elder has more superstitions associated with it than any other wild food that I collect. You will often find an elder planted outside the back door of a house, these are planted there to help ward off evil spirits and were considered especially good luck if self-seeded in the garden. It was also known as the witched tree as it was used for many medicinal purposes. Wands were also made from elder to harness the trees magic powers

Elder features in many Faery stories and my favourite of all of these is that if you wait under an elder at midnight on midsummer solstice you are likely to meet the King of the faeries. Either way with so many superstitions I always say thanks to the faeries as I pick any elder products and shall teach my baby daughter to do the same.

Elderflower cocktails Season

Flowers can be picked from June – July, If they are picked on a bright sunny warm day they will contain more of the flavour. Whilst the berries can be found in September

Elderflower Habitat

Elder is extremely common in open woodland hedgerows and waste ground, and in fact easily self-seeds in urban gardens, it can be found in wide areas of Europe.


Obvious dangers that apply to all wild food foraging include dangers from Herbicides, car fumes and dogs. Elder berries also contain small amounts of Cyanide, and so extra care should be taken with them for that reason. I will focus on uses of the flowers that are safe and easy to use.

The flowers also look, at first glance, a little like the flowers of many Umbilificae species most of which are poisonous, however Elder, if identified whilst on the tree, is very simple to identify and it’s unlikely that the two could be confused.


Elder can be found as a small bushy tree or a shrub, although can also grow into a tree 10 meters tall. The bark on older branches is light grey deeply grooved with fissures and appears corky. Younger branches have a smooth bark that is easily parted from the branch.  The leaves are compound, with between five and 11 leaflets along either side of a long, thin leaf stem. The stems are arranged opposite each other along the branches of the plant. The leaf holds five to 11 leaflets on either side of the stem with a terminal leaflet at the end.

By far the simplest way of confirming that you have correctly identified the flowering tree is the very distinctive smell of elderflower. Many guides I have read say that it smells like a Muscat grape, however I have no idea what a Muscat grape smells like, to me Muscat grapes smell of elderflower, and once you know the smell is so distinctive that you will never mistake it again.

Uses including elderflower cocktails

Elder has many uses both culinary and medicinal.

The berries can be used to make tinctures useful for coughs and colds and the leaves can be used to make tinctures to cure other illnesses, but I am not going to tell you how to make them because of the cyanide content of the berries, suffice to say that they should not be eaten raw.

Elderflower however can be used to make delicious culinary delights that can’t be found in supermarkets, my main reason for interest in this wild food.

This year is the first year that I have over collected elder in spring and dried it out, with much success I might add, making elderflower cordial in September really drags out the taste of summer right into autumn.

Elderflower can also be used to make an amazing recipe for Turkish delight, Traditionally made with rose petals as a flavouring, they can be collected in the same foraging trip to make two different flavours.

It’s also worth working out how to make elderflower champagne, which is a fun homebrew to make. However I prefer to drink a cocktail of pre-bought champagne and elderflower cocktails.

Elderflower cocktails Recipe

To make elderflower cocktails first you have to make elderflower cordial

1.5 Kg Caster sugar

1 litre water

2 Lemons

Citric acid.

Flowers from about 10 Elderflower heads fresh or dried,

1)      Heat the water and sugar together gently to dissolve the sugar

2)      Remove the zest of the lemon and cut into strips to release the flavour

3)      Slice the remaining lemon and add all parts of the lemon and the elderflower to the hot syrup and leave overnight to steep

4)      Strain the syrup though Muslin or a tea towel to remove all the flowers and lemon, and bottle in sterilised bottles, it should keep for a couple of weeks if refrigerated

5)      Mix with Cava or champagne for delicious elderflower cocktails.


Having made a cordial you don’t have to use it to make elderflower cocktails we have found a website with lots of recipes you can use for your forraged elderflower

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