Friday, 29 April 2016


“Drink moderately, for drunkenness neither keeps a secret, nor observes a promise.” - Miguel de Cervantes

Sambucus nigra is a species complex of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae native to most of Europe. Common names include elder, elderberry, black elder, European elder, European elderberry and European black elderberry. It grows in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations.

It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 6 m tall and wide. The bark, light grey when young, changes to a coarse grey outer bark with lengthwise furrowing. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, 10–30 cm long, pinnate with five to seven (rarely nine) leaflets, the leaflets 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The hermaphrodite flowers are borne in large, flat corymbs 10–25 cm diameter in late spring to mid summer, the individual flowers ivory white, 5–6 mm diameter, with five petals; they are pollinated by flies. The fruit is a glossy dark purple to black berry 3–5 mm diameter, produced in drooping clusters in late autumn; they are an important food for many fruit-eating birds, notably blackcaps.

The dark blue/purple berries can be eaten when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state. All green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides. The berries are edible after cooking and can be used to make jam, jelly, chutney and Pontack sauce. The flowerheads are commonly used in infusions, giving a very common refreshing drink in Northern Europe and the Balkans. Commercially these are sold as Elderflower cordial. In Europe, the flowers are made into a syrup or cordial (in Romanian: Socată, in Swedish: fläder(blom)saft), which is diluted with water before drinking. The popularity of this traditional drink has recently encouraged some commercial soft drink producers to introduce elderflower-flavoured drinks (Fanta Shokata, Freaky Fläder).

The flowers can also be dipped into a light batter and then fried to make elderflower fritters. In Scandinavia and Germany, soup made from the elder berry (e.g. the German Fliederbeersuppe) is a traditional meal. Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine, and in Hungary an elderberry brandy is made that requires 50 kg of fruit to produce 1 litre of brandy. In south-western Sweden, it is traditional to make a schnapps liqueur flavoured with elderflower. Elderflowers are also used in liqueurs such as St. Germain, and in a mildly alcoholic sparkling elderflower ‘champagne’. In Beerse, Belgium, a variety of Jenever called Beers Vlierke is made from the berries.

Here is a recipe for homemade elderflower cordial:

Elderflower Cordial
2.5 kg white sugar
2 unwaxed lemons (preferably cut off the tree)
20 fresh elderflower heads, stalks trimmed
85g citric acid

Put the sugar and 1.5 litres water into a large saucepan. Gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Give it a stir every now and again.
Pare the zest from the lemons using a potato peeler, then slice the lemons into rounds.
Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat. Fill a washing up bowl with cold water. Give the flowers a gentle swish around to loosen any dirt or bugs. Lift flowers out, gently shake and transfer to the syrup along with the lemons, zest and citric acid, then stir well.
Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs. Line a colander with a clean tea towel, then sit it over a large bowl or pan. Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through. Discard the bits left in the towel. Use a funnel and a ladle to fill sterilised bottles (run glass bottles through the dishwasher, or wash well with soapy water. Rinse, then leave to dry in a low oven).
The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. Or freeze it in plastic containers or ice cube trays and defrost as needed.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a plant my father would have liked since he was a home wine brewer. Love your quote; I keep reminding myself to reread Don Quixote but never get around to it!