Elderflower, Sambucus nigra
A staple of every forager's yearly harvest, these are the flowers of the Black Elder Tree, a deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 6 meters tall and wide. Elder trees are unfussy and grow in a variety of conditions as long as there is enough sun for them to thrive. They flower between late May and mid-June. The plant is a very common feature of hedgerows and scrubland in Britain and northern Europe, but also is widely grown as an ornamental shrub or small tree. The elder tree has many associations in folklore, including the Anglo-Saxons, who believed if you fell asleep under a tree in full bloom, you would be invited into the world of the fairies and be protected from evil spirits. Anglo-Saxons also believed that if an elder was removed it would be replaced by a witch.
Both the flowers and the berries have a long tradition of culinary use, with the flowers in particular being used in a plethora of recipes, including cordial, wine, gin, champagne, fritters, jams and preserves. This is one of Arthur’s favourite foraging items. He loves elderflower cordial, but especially loves elderflower fritters. He also tried Elderflower Delight for the first time last year, but wasn’t overly impressed, despite it being a sugary mass of sweetness! There’s no pleasing some kids! You can find some fabulous eldeflower recipes in the recipes section of the website.
Black Elder Tree Checklist
🌳 Deciduous Woodland.
🐑 Grassland, including paddocks, fields and meadows.
🚜 Hedgerows, including field edges.
🏡 Urban Green Spaces, including scrubland, parks and gardens.
🏢 Urban Environments, wasteland, Streets and pavements.
🌊 Waterways, including rivers, lakes and streams.
🌞 April - June
☘️ Green, Ovate and toothed.
🌷 Large umbels of frothy white / cream flowers. The flowers themsleves are very small, with five petals and golden yellow stamens.
🪓 The tree has a light greeny-brown bark and the branches are quite brittle.
Fruit / Seeds
🍏 After flowering small umbels of black berries form on the stems which resemble hanging blackcurrants.
Aroma / Taste
👃 The leaves of the Black Elder smell a little unpleasant, reminiscent of cat urine. The flowers smell lemony and sweet, with an undertone of the leave's aroma. Don't let that put you off though!
👅 Raw Elderflower tastes sweet. The flowers when infused, impart a wonderfully sweet, aromatic and zesty flavour.
😋 We consider Elderflower to be a Choice Edible.
🟩 ID Difficulty - Beginner
👀 Black Elder is relatively easy to identify, especially when in flower, or in fruit. The frothy white flowers and hanging umbels of black berries are the key identifiers.
👃 The unpleasant cat urine smell of the leaves, particularly when crushed, is a key identifier.
⛔️ With the exception of the flowers, all parts of the Elder Tree are mildly toxic, and shouldn't be eaten. The berries are edible, but should be cooked first, as the seeds contain glycocides that turn into cyanide in the body. The flowers can be eaten raw.
⛔️ The branches of the Elder Tree are renowed for being brittle and weak, so climbing them either for fun, or to reach the flowers whilst picking should be avoided.
🥗 Salad - The flowers (not the stalks) can be eaten raw and added to salads.
🌺 Garnish - Raw flowers (not the stalks) can be used as a garnish.
☕️ Beverage - Is used to make teas or other drinks, particularly cordial and wine.
🧉 Condiment - Flowers can be used to make infused sugar and vinegar.
🍨 Sweet - Can be used to make desserts, puddings and syrups.
🍓 Yummy - The raw flowers (not the stalks) are a tasty forage snack
💊 Herbal Remedy - Is often used medicinally.