It seems everyone and their mother has heard of elderberry – you can even find elderberry syrup at local shops and in the health food store aisle under “herbs.” But elderflower is not as well known and not as commonly used. I happen to really enjoy the fragrance and taste of elderflower and love to make a cup of tea, a liqueur as well as syrup to use in cocktails (that’s a different blog). You might be surprised to know that it is one of the herbs used in the traditional fever trio – elderflower, yarrow, and peppermint. This is certainly an herb you should spend a little time getting to know.
But this post I’m going to talk about how to harvest elderflowers. Remember, when it comes to wildcrafting, you should always know where you’re harvesting from. There is a bit of grace when it comes to trees (at least in my opinion) since the leaves, flowers, and berries aren’t getting the water and nutrients straight from the soil but rather through their intricate circulatory system. However, do understand that some places use herbicides on the sides of roads and they can be accidentally sprayed on the trees that are growing there. So be sure of your location and whether they are practicing spraying or not.
Next you want to be sure of identification. Elder is one that tends to stand out and as long as you have at least a little practice in recognizing it you’ll likely start seeing them all over (I know I see them everywhere as I’m driving along). Once you’ve identified one, examine its leaves to determine whether it is healthy or not. If you see curled, browned, or dead leaves, move to another bush, it has likely been sprayed or affected by spray.
So now, you’ve identified a safe and healthy plant, or if you’re harvesting your own cultivated patch, gather the flowers in the late spring or early summer when they are in full bloom. Keep in mind while harvesting, that if you take ALL the flowers and buds there will be no berries; Flowers = berries so don’t go crazy. Be sure to leave some so you can enjoy a harvest of berries in the fall and leave some for the birds and other wild creatures.
To gather flowers, simply clip the flower stem under the first branch of the inflorescence and gather them in a basket or gathering bag. I usually dry the flowers on the stem since it’s easier. If you are using a dehydrator, keep the temperature low, these are delicate flowers and will dry quickly. I usually hang them or lay them out on screens out of the sun with plenty of air. Once dried, you can easily garble (or remove) the individual flowers from the stem – an errant stem here and there will not be a problem.
If you are making an elderflower liqueur or cordial you’ll want to use fresh elderflowers. Simple pull the flowers off the stems and infuse in you alcohol of choice. YUM!
Unfortunately most of the elderflowers in my area are turning to berries now, but you may be lucky to live in a climate shortly behind ours and can find fully open and healthy flowers.
At our student Zoom meeting this Thursday, we will be discussing elderflower in all its glory. If you aren’t a student yet, what are you waiting for? Our flagship program was created when I got frustrated over having to work through multiple programs to get all the information I needed in order to move on to becoming a clinical herbalist, this was the program I wish I’d had! Materia medica of 50 herbs, holistic health, 30 herbal preparations with recipes, A&P, wildcrafting and plant ID, growing herbs using permaculture, and more.