Fläderblommor (elderflowers) are much-loved in Sweden. Today Swedes regard their annual appearance as an indication that summer has arrived, but elderflowers were once thought to have magical powers.
Sacred myths about elderflowers
In the past elder trees were regarded as sacred and so it is said that Swedes would:
• use elderflowers as decorations at weddings because they were said to bring good luck,
• kiss an elder tree if they were pregnant because that would bring good fortune to an unborn child and ensure protection at birth,
• sleep under an elder tree if they were sick in order to be cured,
• plant elder trees near their houses to ward off witches and evil spirits.
Elderflowers were also said to have many health benefits, especially for children and so naturally Swedes would pick the blossoms to protect their children.
What is special about the flowers?
Elderflowers are rich in vitamin C, very aromatic and blend well with lemon, sugar and fruit, especially strawberries and gooseberries.
Where does elder grow?
The common elder (Sambucus nigra) grows wild, self-seeded all over Europe. They are particularly common in hedgerows near ditches.
When should the flowers be picked?
Elderflowers are typically in season from late May until the end of June.
How should the flowers be picked?
Ideally you should pick the flowers early on a dry day before the sun hits them and their aroma starts to fade. It's best to harvest the flowers when they are a rich, creamy colour before they turn white. Look for freshly opened flower heads with buds that are fully open, but not turning brown. Leave those whose petals start to drop when you pick them. Snip off the whole umbrellas and place them gently in a paper bag. The pollen contributes to the taste so transport them carefully.
How many flowers do you need?
Because elderflowers are so aromatic you don't need many, about a dozen for every litre (quart) of concentrated cordial (syrup).
How to prepare the flower heads?
For maximum effect the flowers should be used within a couple of hours of picking. They should NOT be washed as they would then lose their perfume. However, do inspect them closely and remove anything crawling or undesirable before using them.
What can you use when elderflowers are not in season?
When elderflowers are not in season you can sometimes use:
• bottled elderflower cordial (syrup),
• frozen elderflower cordial (syrup),
• elderflower essence.
Elderflower essence can be bought online and in some delicatessen stores. Bear in mind that the essence is alcohol based so it shouldn't be heated because the flavour will evaporate.
Elderflower cordial (syrup)
Marinated strawberries with elderflower parfait
Strawberry cake with elderflower cream
Elderflower ice creams
Gooseberry and elderflower compote
Amongst other things, elderflowers can also be used to make a delicious jelly to serve with strawberries or raspberries, flavour salt and as a filling for mackerel.
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