Best time to harvest: bright, sunny mornings in June, before the bees take the pollen
It’s approaching September and the Autumnal Equinox will be upon us soon. All the Elderflowers are gone and have been replaced by slowly darkening berries. In Scotland, Elderflowers begin to bloom in June and finish up in early July: plenty of time to make a batch or two of Elderflower champagne. June heralds the beginning of Summer so this slightly alcoholic beverage is perfect to toast the Summer Solstice. They grow in abundance in the wild, but remember to only take what you need and always leave something for the tree, for the bees and for other foragers!
- 8 – 10 elderflower heads
- 5 litres of water
- 500 grams raw sugar
- 3 tbs apple cider vinegar
- 1 lemon, juice and skin
(Requires a large saucepan) Heat the water and dissolve the sugar. Allow to cool.
Mix in remaining ingredients. Leave to soak overnight, covered with a cloth.
Strain and pour into bottles or jars, I used some glass spring water bottles I had.
Leave in a dark place at room temperature to ferment for 7 days.
At around the 7 day mark, this is barely alcoholic. The longer you leave it, the more alcoholic it becomes! To enjoy best, I recommend consuming within a few weeks, as after 3+ weeks the delicate flavour of this beautifully aromatic flower starts to weaken.
Whatever Elderflowers you have left can be dried and kept to be drank as a darkly fragrant, slightly animalesque tea or herbal infusion. It is the perfect companion during the colder months as it is used to alleviate the symptoms of colds, flu and sinusitis.
The magickal properties of the Elder vary depending on continent – the American traditions being quite different to the British. She is one of the 22 trees of the Ogham, the Celtic Alphabet. According to the British Druid Order Ogham guidebook, some people believed the Elder to be a witch in tree form that should never be cut without asking permission. When Elderwood is burnt it spits and crackles and will exact revenge on those who burnt it.
“Owd Girl, give me thy wood/ An I will give thee some of mine/ when I become a tree.” – traditional wood gatherer’s petition
The lessons we can learn from the Elder tree are those associated with the passage of time, of living and dying, of youth and old age. It calls for accepting the transient and bittersweet nature of all life. Plant elder outside your house for protection, but do not use it to make furniture or burn it in your hearth as you will anger it if you do so. It is also inadvisable to fall asleep under an Elder tree as they are said to connect to the fairy realm and can cause madness, and by the same token, the wood can be carved into flutes to assist in fairy contact. The flowers and berries can be safely enjoyed. It is associated with water, receptive energy and the planet Venus.
Illustration: “Elder Mother Tree” by Arthur Rackham, 1932.