Commonly known as ‘Elderberry or Elder’. From the family Adoxaceae. Sambucas Nigra is native to Europe and North America.
So what does Elder look like?
Elder trees are often bush shape and can grow to 15m tall. They are found on roadsides, in woodlands, and as shrubby hedges in fields. They can live for 60 years. Elder is fast growing yet its lifespan is shorter than that of other native- slower growing- species, you might be able to watch the entire Breaking Bad series in the time it takes your Elder to grow.
On the native Sumbucas Nigra, the branches and stems are a beautiful dark purple or black colour.
The flowers of the Elder are distinctive round clusters, the size ranging between a chocolate hobnob and a crepe (10-30cm) in diameter. The individual flowers are a pale creamy colour, they grow together on intricate little stems. They are highly scented and fill the air with a gorgeous sweet scent- although John Evelyn was famously averse to the smell.
After pollination by an insect, the flowers turn into dark purple juicy berries. These are poisonous until they are ripe.
The stems of the Elder are hollow and used to be used by Anglo-Saxons to blow oxygen into the fire. The word ‘Elder’ actually comes from the Anglo word ‘æld’ meaning fire.
The Elderflowers can be used to make the most fragrant cordials, the popularity of which is becoming widespread amongst drinks companies. And adds a delicious twist to gins and cocktails too!
Here is what you will need to make it:
- 10-15 large Elderflower heads
- 1 litre boiling water
- 50g of Citric Acid (or the juice of two lemons will do the trick)
- the zest of two lemons
- 1kg granulated sugar
Removes the bugs as best you can by giving the flower heads a shake, cut or tear off the large stalks.
“The deep purple stems of the Sambucas Nigra, give the cordial a beautiful delicate pink colour”
- In a large pan, boil the water and sugar until dissolved and remove from the heat.
- Add in the citric acid (or lemon juice) and the lemon zest.
- Plop in the Elderflower heads (hopefully without little friends but bugs are inevitable. These come out in the straining process).
- Stir occasionally over 1-2 days and let the beautiful scent smell your home.
- Once you have achieved the strength you desire, strain through a muslin cloth (if you have babies one of their muslin squares is fine- just make sure its washed!).
- Now pour into fancy little bottles and share with your friends and family (if you are feeling kind)
Top Tip: After zesting, slice the lemon and freeze them ready to pop in your G&T!