roses and elderflowers

Elder Flower Power


It seems to be a bumper year for elderflowers this year. I don’t know if it’s because each shrub is particularly bountiful or if we have more bushes sprouting up around the farm but the creamy flowers are abundant.

Although best known for its flowers, all parts of the elder have a use. The bark, leaves and berries can be used for dyeing and apparently, if you rub the leaves onto your bare flesh then you’ll keep away the flies and midges. Certainly, the leaves don’t smell particularly nice so it could be true. In autumn, the berries can be used for syrups and wines, chutneys and pontack sauce.  So, don’t pick all the flowers or you won’t have any berries in the autumn.

If you have some elder growing near you, venture forth with a bowl and snip off a few of those saucer shaped blooms to turn into something delicious. Pick the flowers while they’re still creamy coloured and pollen laden and leave them if they’re turning brown. I snip off the heads with scissors and take them home to cut off the big stems, letting the small florets fall into a bowl.

making elderflower and rose cordial

The most obvious thing to do with elderflowers is to make Elderflower Cordial. As well as foraging for your elderflowers, you’ll have to go through the rigmarole of buying citric acid, which involves the pharmacist asking you exactly why you want to buy all those boxes of citric acid. I usually make Rose and Elderflower cordial as the roses are blooming at the same time as the elders and it makes a pretty pink drink. Not that I’m a pretty pink sort of person. But heigh ho, it’s summer so why not? You can find the recipe for Rose and Elderflower cordial here.

elderflower and rose cordial

The cordial can be diluted with still or sparkling water, added to fruit salad or pour it into a glass and top up with sparkling wine. Left forgotten in the bottle, the cordial will start to ferment and add its own sparkle. You can also use the cordial as a flavouring for jellies and sorbets and …

Elderflower and Rose Marshmallows

… marshmallows. I know marshmallows are achingly sweet and of little nutritional worth but home-made ones are a far cry from the plastic bag of marshmallows you buy in the supermarket. Just imagine a dish of these on the table at the end of a meal eaten outside in the sun.

If you want to give it a try, the recipe for these light, delicate puffs of sweetness is below.

You might also be interested in:

Elderflower Fizz

Elderflower Syrup

Elderflower Milk Jelly

Rose & Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Creams

Rose and Elderflower Marshmallows

Rose and Elderflower Marshmallows

400g granulated sugar

14g powdered gelatine

90ml Rose & Elderflower Cordial

2 tablespoons icing sugar

2 tablespoons cornflour

Smidgeon vegetable oil

Put the powdered gelatine into your food mixer bowl and pour over 100ml of cold water. Give it a quick stir to amalgamate and set to one side to soften (it should look like gloopy wallpaper paste after a few minutes).

Add the granulated sugar to 175ml of cold water in a heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then, stop stirring, heat to 113C and take it off the heat.

Moving swiftly to your food mixer, whisk your gelatine mixture on a slow speed and gradually pour the hot sugar syrup into the bowl in a steady stream. When it’s all incorporated, add the rose & elderflower cordial, turn up the speed and whisk for ten to twenty minutes until you have a thick and shiny voluminous mixture that’s beginning to set.

While your mixer is whisking the mixture, lightly grease a baking tin (approx 28cm x 20cm) with vegetable oil, line with parchment paper and lightly oil again. Mix the icing sugar and cornflour together and sieve a teaspoonful over the base and sides of your baking tin.

Quickly pour and scrape the marshmallow mixture into your baking tin, spreading it evenly (a palette knife dipped in boiling water helps) and dust with a little more of the icing sugar and cornflour. If your marshmallow mixture doesn’t reach the top of the baking tin, cover with cling film. Otherwise, lay a piece of baking parchment over the top and be prepared for a slight crust where it dries out. Leave to set in a cool, dry place (not in the fridge) for about two hours.

When set, lay a piece of baking parchment on your work surface and dust with the sugar and cornflour mixture. Turn your baking tin upside down to tip out the marshmallow onto the dusted surface and then peel away the baking parchment. If you remembered to oil the parchment it will come away easily, if not it may be more difficult. Sieve over more sugar and cornflour.

The easiest way I find to divide the marshmallow is to cut a strip and roll it away from the main slab, coating each side with sugar and cornflour and then cut the strip into squares. Toss the squares in the bowl of sugar and cornflour so all the sides are well covered, pop them in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dry place. They’re best eaten within three weeks.

Elderflower Power

Around here, the elder is in full flower and looking across the fields, it’s easy to spot the cream coloured blobs of saucer shaped flowers. The flowers need to be picked when they’re still creamy coloured; you should leave them once they’ve turned white or started to brown. I once read that they harbour fewer insects if picked early in the day, but I’m not sure if that’s true.

If you have an elder growing near you, arm yourself with a pair of scissors and cut some before it disappears. You need to deal with the flowers as soon as you get home as they don’t keep well and even left overnight will take on a decidedly unappealing smell.

Here’s some ideas for using your freshly cut elderflowers.

Elderflower Fizz

Drink this fresh as a cordial or leave it for two or three weeks for the wild yeasts to gently ferment in the bottle giving you a fizzy drink. The longer it’s kept, the drier and more alcoholic (though it never gets too strong) it becomes so that by October it’s usually too dry for me. That said, I once found a bottle in the spring time that we drank. Fearing it might be a bit lively, we took it outside to open and two thirds of the bottle sprayed across the grass.

Read the recipe for Elderflower Fizz >>

elderflower and rose

Elderflower & Rose Cordial

I’m not a great fan of the colour pink but in summer there’s something very seductive about a pale pink drink, particularly with bubbles gently rising to the top. An elder bush has insinuated itself amongst the roses, making a pretty combination of creamy white elder flowers, pink roses and green foliage and while I was picking elderflowers, it struck me that not only would a combination of elderflower and rose make a pretty pink drink, but it would taste good too.

Rose and Elderflower Cordial

rose and elderflower cordial

25 elder flower heads
4 rose heads – choose a fragrant deep coloured variety
2 lemons
750g granulated sugar
25g citric acid
1 litre cold water

When you’re picking elder flowers, choose the creamy pollen laden ones rather than any that are turning brown. Don’t wash them but shake off any insects and then cut off the big stems, letting the florets fall into a large bowl. Snip off the white part of the rose petals as it’s supposed to be bitter and add the shredded rose petals to the bowl. I find it easiest to hold the rose by the stem and just snip the petals into strips, working my way around the edge until I reach the middle. Much easier than trying to snip individual petals.

Remove the lemon peel with a potato peeler and add to the bowl, together with the juice of the lemons.

Now tip in the sugar, citric acid and cold water and give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar. You might need to come back after half an hour and give it another stir.

Cover and leave for 24 hours in the cool. You can leave it for another day, but don’t be tempted to leave it too long as mould will start to grow on the elderflowers. I speak from experience.

Strain and bottle. Dilute with still or sparkling water.

Elderflower Creams

A richer version of Elderflower Milk Jelly. Recently I made these in small metal pudding tins and unmoulded them to serve (as you would with panna cotta). Unfortunately, I hadn’t been very diligent removing all the tiny insects so it looked as though I’d flavoured the creams with a vanilla pod and scraped out the seeds. They tasted fine.

Elderflower Creams

300ml whole milk
300ml double cream
6 heads elderflowers snipped from the main stem
Leaf gelatine – enough to set 600ml
45g caster sugar

Pour about 6 tablespoons of milk into a bowl, snip the gelatine into pieces and add to the milk and leave to soak.

Put the remaining milk into a saucepan with the cream and elderflower heads and heat gently. When the cream and milk reach simmering point, remove the pan from the heat and place the bowl containing the gelatine on top of the saucepan for five minutes. The elderflowers will continue to infuse the creamy milk with their flavour and the heat will dissolve the gelatine in the bowl above.

After five minutes, strain the creamy milk into a jug, discard the elderflowers and stir in the sugar. Stir the gelatine and milk mixture into the elderflower infused cream and and pour into six small ramekins.

Leave to set in the fridge for at least three hours.


Gooseberry and elderflower fool

Simmer 500g gooseberries with 5 large heads of elder flowers 4 tablespoons of sugar and a spoonful of water for ten minutes until the gooseberries start to burst. Leave until cold and then pick out the elderflowers. Lightly mash the gooseberries with a fork, fold in 300ml of softly whipped cream and serve.

Elderflower Infused Water

Delightful as cordials are, I can’t drink them all day. In summer I like to keep a jug of water in the fridge because otherwise I waste too much water waiting for the tap to run cold and these Infused Waters are really just a step up from a slice of lemon floating in the jug. Certainly if you’re the driver for the evening, they beat the gloom of glass after glass of plain water or worse still, sweet gloopy UHT orange juice.

Just add a couple of elderflower heads with a slice or two of lemon to a jug of water and chill. Elderflower, Rose & Lime also works well. I keep the jug in the fridge and top up with water as I use it during the day.

Have a good weekend.