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An Ode to Elderflower: the Flower of Litha
The lead-up to Litha is synonymous with one forgeable and distinctly floral ingredient in my mind: elderflower.
According to ancient Scottish folklore, the Elder is a sacred tree and even contains a spirit called an “Elder Mother” who lives inside the tree and possesses magical powers – hence its long-regarded medicinal nature (mainly thanks to its magic-rich, a.k.a. Vitamin-C-filled berries).
Fairies were said to congregate by Elder trees during Litha, and as such it is commonly associated with protective qualities and rebirth; its branches were hung over front doors to ward away evil spirits during the Celtic festival of Samhain. With all that history, it’s clear to see why it is so special.
In June in the UK, elderflower is at its peak. You can find it in the city as well as the country - just make sure you ask permission to forage it, and stay away from busy roads. Take sparingly and leave plenty to turn into berries for the birds in the Autumn. Make sure you read up on the correct flowers, and only pick open blooms – never brown, which are past their best and often smell (and taste) unpleasant.
The best time to pick it is first thing in the morning, and try to pick elderflower on a sunny day. Although one year I did pick some during an absolute downpour (a proper soak-you-through Summer rainstorm) and it did turnout okay, the pollen will be more potent when warmed by the sun.
The flavour of homemade cordial is more complex and intense than the shop bought variety, so even if you’ve never foraged before I urge you to give it a go! Give your flowers a wee shake to get rid of any beasties, but make sure you don’t wash the elderflowers as this would dull the lovely flavour. I have tried many different recipes over the years but my favourite is by Mary Berry below. To make the cordial, you will need:
750g caster sugar
12 heads elderflower
(Optional: citric acid, 2 campden tablets – this will make the cordial keep for longer).
Put the sugar and 750ml of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
Slice the lemon thinly and place in a large bowl/ receptacle. Add the elderflower heads (and citric acid/ Campden tablets if you’re adding them – being careful to stand back from the mixture as they can produce an irritant gas, hence why I left them out, but Mary recommends them if you want to keep the cordial a long time. Mine isn’t lasting long anyway!)
Pour over the cooled sugar syrup. Cover and leave overnight or up to a couple of days.
Once infused, strain the mixture through a muslin into sterilised bottles. Store the cordial in the fridge and serve with sparkling water or lemonade.
Other Serving Suggestions:
A couple of slices of lime and a wee squeeze of the juice, a small handful of mint leaves and some soda water. Chuck it all in with a glug of cordial, mix and serve.
Mix with apple juice for a fruity refresher - apple and elderflower go beautifully together.
Freeze your cordial in an ice-cube tray and use it to cool down your go-to Summer cocktails and give them a floral twist.
I’ll be sharing some elderflower bakes soon too. Happy foraging!