Elder flowers - A VIRTUAL MEDICINE CHEST
The Elder tree has long been known as a virtual medicine chest. Elder also has a very long history of folk use, both medicinally and for a wide range of other uses.
All in all it is a very valuable plant to have in the garden.
Parts used are the fruit, leaves, flowers and bark.
Harvest the flowers in spring and summer, and the bark and berries in autumn and spring.
Young stems can be killed by late frosts but they are soon replaced from ground level.
Very tolerant of pruning, plants can be cut back to ground level and will re-grow from the base.
The flowers have a sweet, almost overpowering smell close up but from a distance their musky scent is appealing.
The flowers are very attractive to insects and are fertilised by flies.
Traditionally the elder was planted by outside toilets to deter flies and witches.
The fruit is very attractive to birds, which also helps to draw them away from other cultivated fruits.
The elder is an early colonizer of derelict land, the seed arriving in the defecations of birds and mammals.
It is a very good pioneer species for re-establishing woodlands.
Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus.
NB: The fruit should always be cooked.
It has never been used traditionally raw as this may cause nausea and vomiting if taken in large quantities.
The raw fruit is not acceptable to many tastes being too bitter, though when cooked it makes delicious jams, preserves and pies.
It can be used fresh or dried – the dried fruit being less bitter.
The fruit is used to add flavour and colour to preserves, jams, pies, sauces, chutneys etc, and is also often used to make wine.
The fruit is about 8mm in diameter and is borne in large clusters.
The flowers are crisp and somewhat juicy; they have an aromatic smell and flavour and are delicious made into a refreshing drink on a summer day.
The flowers are used to add a muscatel flavour to stewed fruits, jellies and jams, especially gooseberry jam.
A sweet tea is made from the dried flowers.
The leaves are used to impart a green colouring to oils and fats.
Flowers: Diaphoretic and Anti-catarrhal
Berries: Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Laxative
Leaves: Emollient, Vulnerary,
Internally: purgative, expectorant, diaphoretic, diuretic.
The leaves are used primarily for treating bruising, sprains, wounds and chilblains.
The flowers are used for treating colds, influenza and catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, hay fever and sinusitis.
Berries have similar properties to the flowers, with the addition to their usefulness in Rheumatism.
The respiratory tract is the main area to benefit – the herb has an ability to help dissolve mucus, reduce fever and inflammation.
Use for dry coughs, chronic nasal catarrh with deafness, lung congestion and feverish conditions.
In the gastrointestinal tract Elder is a mild laxative as well as diarrhoea regulating extremes of bowel function.
The fresh flowers are used in the distillation of ‘Elder Flower Water’.
The water is mildly astringent and a gentle stimulant.
It is mainly used as a vehicle for eye and skin lotions.
The flowers are used in skin lotions, oils and ointments.
The pith of the young shoots is also used for treating burns and scalds.
An infusion of the dried flowers is very effective in the treatment of chest complaints and is also used to bathe inflamed eyes.
The infusion is also a very good spring tonic and blood cleanser.
A tea made from the dried berries is said to be a good remedy for colic and diarrhoea.
The fruit is widely used for making wines, preserves etc., and these are said to retain the medicinal properties of the fruit.
Elder blossom tincture for fever in infants and young children – 2 drops per kilo of body weight under the tongue diluted with breast milk in a dropper.
Berries: add a little water simmer for 2 minutes, put through juicer and sweeten.
This makes a good general tonic, one glass diluted (includes 1-2tsp syrup) 2-3x daily.
Grind cooked berries with honey for coughs and sore throats.
IN THE GARDEN
A decoction of the leaves can be used as an insecticide
Cuttings can be taken off half-ripe wood, 7 – 10cm with a heel, and cuttings of mature wood of the current season’s growth, 15 – 20cm with a heel, in late autumn.
Plant in a frame or a sheltered outdoor bed.
I have planted such sticks directly into the ground and while they may take some time to establish they are hardy and eventually flourish.
The seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, and should germinate in early spring.
Stored seed can be sown in the spring in a cold frame but will probably germinate better if it is given 2 months warm followed by 2 months cold stratification first.
Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle.
If good growth is made, the young plants can be placed in their permanent positions during the early summer.
Otherwise either put them in a sheltered nursery bed or leave them in their pots in a sheltered position and plant them out in spring of the following year.
The plant is a valuable addition to the compost heap.
The roots of the plant improve fermentation of the compost heap when growing nearby.
The leaves are used as an insect repellent and very effective when rubbed on the skin though they do impart their own unique fragrance – I would rub on some lavender as well to improve the scent.
They can be dried and powdered and placed amongst plants to act as a deterrent to insects, or made into a spray where they act as an insecticide.
This is prepared by boiling 3 – 4 handfuls of fresh leaves in a litre of water, then straining and allowing it to cool before applying.
Dried leaves can also be used – just half 1-2 handfuls to a litre of water.
Effective against many insects, it also treats various fungal infections such as leaf rot and powdery mildew.
The dried flowering shoots are used to repel insects and rodents.
It is very tough and wind-resistant, grows quickly and provides shelter for longer-lived and taller woodland species to establish.
It will generally maintain itself in the developing woodland, though usually in the sunnier positions.
A dye is obtained from the fruit and the bark.
The bark of older branches and the root have been used as an ingredient in black dye.
A green dye is obtained from the leaves when alum is used as a mordant.
The berries yield various shades of blue and purple dyes.
They have also been used as a hair dye, turning the hair black.
The blue colouring matter from the fruit can be used as litmus to test if something is acid or alkaline.
It turns green in an alkaline solution and red in an acid solution.
The pith in the stems of young branches pushes out easily and the hollow stems thus made have been used as pipes for blowing air into a fire.
They can also be made into musical instruments.
The pith of the wood is used for making microscope slides.
The mature wood is white and fine-grained.
It is easily cut and polishes well.
Valued highly by carpenters, it has many uses, for making skewers, mathematical instruments, toys etc.
IN THE KITCHEN
ELDER FLOWER SYRUP
25 elder flowers (shake off insects as they are profuse on elder flowers; soak in warm salty water, just like many bugs and insects they do not like salty water)
1.25 kg sugar
2 lemons & 2 limes – or just 4 lemons
1.25 ltr boiling water
37.5g citric acid
I have tried many recipes and this is the best so far.
Roughly cut lemons and limes into small pieces and add elder flowers.
Pour over dissolved sugar and boiling water mix into a large sterilized jar and allow to cool to room temperature uncovered.
Place on lid when cool, but do not seal completely as this is just to keep insects out.
A gauze cloth can also be used.
Allow mixture to infuse for 3 days on a bench or window sill – light does not bother this mixture and allows you to monitor it.
Make sure the plant material is covered in liquid; the flowers will go brown but this is not a concern.
On the third day remove all plant material through a fine sieve and place the remaining liquid in a large pot, bring to the boil, then add the citric acid and simmer for 10 minutes.
Pour this mixture into hot sterilized bottles and cool.
Keep this syrup in the fridge and dilute 1 part syrup to 6 parts water for a delicious and refreshing summer drink that the family will love.
In winter this drink can be taken hot or cold and also makes a therapeutic drink for coughs and colds, especially with the addition of a slice of fresh ginger root about the size of a 50 cent piece to accelerate the therapeutic effect.
ELDER FLOWER WATER ICE
30 elder flowers
Rind and juice of 3 large lemons
1 cup of sugar
3 ¼ cups water
2 drops of green food colouring
1 egg white whisked until stiff
Mix the lemon rind in a large sauce pan with sugar and water.
Heat slowly to dissolve sugar stirring all the while.
Then boil rapidly for five minutes.
Snip the elder flowers from their stalks and add to mixture then take off the heat and stand until cold.
Strain into a bowl pressing the plant material to extract flavour.
Add in the strained lemon juice and stir in the food colouring.
Place bowl in freezer for 2-3 hours or until slushy.
Remove from freezer and scrape the edges; beat well with a wooden spoon and fold in stiffly whisked egg white.
This water ice really is outstandingly good and unusual in appearance being a pale green, frothy and granular drink with the most delightful fragrance of elder blossom.
On a hot summers day no other drink is so refreshing.
2 ½ cups of berry juice
strained juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
3-4 tblspn water
Blend all ingredients together and freeze.
When solid scoop out and serve with fresh fruit of your choice.
ELDERBERRY and BLACKBERRY JELLY
When elderberries are ripe the blackberry is close to ripening – a little tart and under ripe; this is the best time for making jelly that will set well and have a good sharp flavour.
1 kilo elderberries washed and stripped from their stalks
1 kilo blackberries
Wash berries and place in a large pan just covering with water.
Bring to the boil and cook until the fruit turns to pulp, about 15 minutes.
Allow mixture to drip through a doubled muslin cloth overnight.
This method works well with an upturned stool, a container to catch the liquid placed at the base and the doubled muslin suspended over the legs of your stool.
Measure 500mls of juice into a pot and add 300g of sugar.
Slowly bring to the boil stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar.
Boil vigorously for 10 minutes or until the juice gels when a sample is put in cold water.
When ready pour into hot sterilised jars.
ELDERBERRY and CRAB APPLE JELLY
1 cup elderberries
1 kilo crab apples or any cooking apple
Use the same method as above making sure the fruit is well mashed – you can use the entire apple skin and core.
SPICED ELDERBERRY SAUCE
1 ½ cups elder berries
1 cooking apple
1 cup vinegar of choice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger powder
150g brown sugar
Peel, core and finely chop up apple and peel and finely chop up onion.
Place all above ingredients except the sugar in a pot and cover with vinegar.
Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer gently for 1 hour.
Rub the mixture through a fine sieve or blend until smooth in blender.
Return to pot and add sugar, bring to boil to dissolve the sugar and cook uncovered for 15 minutes to help thicken.
Cool and place in sterilised bottles when cold.
ELDER HAND LOTION
3 cups of elder flowers washed and stripped from their stalks
1 pint boiling water
2-3 drops of your favourite essential oil
½ tsp borax
Glycerine (see recipe)
Place elder flowers in bowl and pour over boiling water, cover and leave overnight.
Next day strain elder flower liquid and measure 3 parts liquid to one part glycerine.
Add borax and essential oil and stir thoroughly.
Bottle and use as a great hand lotion to soften and whiten hands.
ELDER FLOWER FACE LOTION
5 tblspn elder flower water
1 tblspn orange flower water (can be purchased from most chemists)
5 tblspn glycerine
½ tblspn strained lemon juice
Mix all ingredients together in a jug and pour into a bottle and seal.
A moisturising and refreshing wash which can be used after removing make up.
Apply with a soft cloth.
ELDER FLOWER WATER for the EYES
Elder water is a mildly astringent and refreshing soothing lotion for tired and puffy eyes.
Soak two cotton balls in elder flower water and place on eye lids for 10 minutes.
Elder Tree – A VIRTUAL MEDICINE CHEST
ELDER FLOWER COLD CREAM
115mls almond oil
20g white wax or bees wax (white wax can be purchased from most chemists)
75ml elder flower water
½ tsp borax (borax can be purchased from most chemists)
Put the almond oil and wax in a small bowl and stand in a pot of hot water.
Allow the wax to melt slowly over a low heat.
In another small bowl add the elder flower water and the borax and dissolve over low heat.
Pour both the solutions together and beat vigorously until the mixture becomes thick and creamy.
Place in a jar and use as face and neck cream after your elder flower lotion.
This cream softens the skin and fades freckles.