Elder flowers are not well liked for their fragrance as they have a musty odour which assails t hose and hits the back of the throat; this has been described as being slightly narcotic. However country people in Britain have collected the flower heads for thousands of years to make cordials, medicines and syrups. There is a particularly refreshing country recipe for elder flower “champagne” which sparkles, and has a low alcoholic content although this will increase if kept for some time, but you have to secure the bottles or else they will explode. It cools the body in hot weather and is tastier than the smell of the flowers might lead you to expect. The wine made from the flowers of the elder is white, in contrast to Elderberry wine which looks more like port.
   The flowers are a sign that summer has come in Britain, and the elderberries are a sign that it is over. The trees in full bloom are very attractive and can grow up to 50 feet, although they don’t usually get to be so big. There is a superstition that you should never sleep in the shade of the elder tree because your soul may be stolen by the malignant spirits that dwell in it. A similar belief is held in the Indian subcontinent about sleeping under the bohar or banyan tree.  This may have come about as no plants can thrive under an elder tree.
   The tree is one of those like the neem tree (Indian lilac) that was seen as a boon for people as it reputedly helped cure many illnesses. In Shakespeare’s play “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, Act II scene 3 there is the line,
       “What says my Aesculpius? My Galen? My heart of Elder?”
 (Aesculpius and Galen being the top physicians of the ancients.)
 Many of the old herbal remedies made from this tree are being investigated by modern clinical researchers and this is ongoing.
  The flower heads can be picked and the flowers dipped in batter and deep fried. The flowers can be made into conserves, and the buds may be pickled and used as a substitute for capers. The tisane from the flowers can be prepared with 1 tbsp of flowers stripped from the stalks and placed in a pot, then pour a cup of boiling water over them. Cover the pot for 5 minutes, strain and drink. This is good for hay fever and respiratory problems as it is an expectorant and gets rid of mucus. It is also good for colds and flu, and is especially useful against flu if mixed with an equal amount of yarrow flowers. This is a diaphoretic and promotes sweat, so is good for fevers too. The cold elder flower tisane can be used for inflamed eyes or as a douche for candida. A strong decoction can be made by boiling 50 gr flowers in 1 pint of water for 3 minutes, then allowing it to steep and using when cool for skin problems. If you drink the tisane it will help to purify the blood and get rid of toxins, thus helping arthritis sufferers, and those who suffer from other inflammatory ailments.
   The flowers contain Vitamin C and rutin, both of which have strong antioxidant properties, so the flowers can help prevent cancer and prevent atherogenesis. Rutin has anti-inflammatory properties and strengthens the capillaries, so helping those who bruise and bleed easily.
   The flowers have a regulating effect on the digestive system so will help if you have either constipation or diarrhoea. They can also help boost the immune system, and I the flowers are placed in bath water, they will whiten and soften the skin. The tisane may be used as a facial cleanser of skin tonic. A salad of the buds can be made by macerating the flowers in a little hot water for a few hours, then drying them thoroughly and dressing them in oil, wine vinegar and salt. This is supposed to be good for skin problems such as acne. Elder flower vinegar is good for sore throats; you need 2 lbs of dried flowers to 2 pints of vinegar and leave to steep for a few weeks before straining and bottling. If you take the green flowers and put them in a stone jar, or at least a heat proof non-corrosive one, and cover them with boiling vinegar, you will have made the caper substitute.

10-12 heads of elder flowers with stalks
oil for frying
fine sugar

For the batter
1 egg white whisked to stiff peaks
50 gr flour
30 gr cornflour
1 tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp ground cloves
pinch salt

Wash the flower heads and dry carefully.
Make the batter by mixing the dry ingredients together and then folding into the egg white with a metal spoon.
Dip the flower heads into the batter and then shallow fry for 1 min.
Dredge the flowers with sugar and serve with cream.
You can deep fry the flower heads too but if they are shallow fried you can hold the stems so that only the flower heads are fried, which is what you need. The flowers only are to be eaten.
These have Taste and are a Treat.


  1. Will the fragrance of the flowers make the whole yard smell bad? or just when you get close to smell them?

    1. They are OK outside unless you go right up to them. They don't smell so good when you pick the heads and take them indoors to make wine with them. However, they don't smell that bad,and you might find the smell is fine.

  2. we have picked bags and bags of elder flowers and we cant get enough of the smell, we drink them, eat them, bathe in them, they are wonderful..dont know why people are complaining about the smell..

    1. Absolutely agree.

      Here's what we do with these flowers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socată (disregard the picture on wikipedia, the drink has to look brownish if it's prepared correctly). Here's how to prepare it:

      Pick about 10-15 flowers in full bloom, ideally after a rain, so all dust gets off the flowers, put them in a 10 liters (that's slightly more than 2.5 gallons) jar (if you don't have one, use any glass vessel that you can cover properly, so that insects and dust can't go in, or reduce quantities proportionally), and add a coarsely crushed (not ground) piece of cinnamon bark and a few cloves. Cut three lemons in half, squeeze them, pour the juice over the flowers, after squeezing throw the zest into the jar too (some cut the zest into slices, to favor the release of flavor into the drink). Caramelize half a kilo (that's slightly more than a pound) sugar (I use brown sugar), poor some water over it so it gets dissolved while still hot. Pour the sugar syrup and whatever solid pieces of sugar remain over the flowers. (Alternatively, you can replace the sugar partially or totally with about the same quantity of honey, it's up to your taste.) Fill the jar with water. Put it in a sunny place, and stir occasionally for the next half a day or so - keep it covered, or else insects will invade it. Leave in the sun for a day or two (more, if it's cold or cloudy - fermentation will take off extremely slow if it isn't hot and sunny), until the whole thing starts to bubble. Let it ferment for as long as you like, depending on how bubbly you like it to be, but be advised that as it bubbles it becomes more alcoholic (you'd need to keep it fermenting for weeks to reach the alcohol content of beer, so don't fear it will become an alcoholic drink - it's safe for kids). Once fermentation has reached the level which you desire, strain it, filter it through a cloth, bottle it and put it in the fridge. Drink all of it over the next week or so - it won't last, even if properly refrigerated, fermentation will continue.

      Don't expect a violent fermentation, like that of beer or vine or cider. It's just a continuous flux of tiny bubbles that you'll notice - if it's anything bigger than that, you probably have already missed the optimal moment of straining and filtering it.

      After filtering and straining, it will be a bit cloudy for the next day or so. Some sediment will deposit at the bottom of the bottle. That's not yeast. It's a somewhat viscous substance which the flowers contain, mixed with pollen from the flowers (which is pure protein) and other tiny particles it was able to catch, so it doesn't taste anything funny, and is OK to drink. It just doesn't look very appetizing.

      You'll probably have to experiment a bit with quantities and durations until you get a feeling of how to do it - it's a matter of weather, and weather is different from place to place and from year to year.

      It's extremely tasty and refreshing - in fact, I can't drink it glass-wise, I have to drink it beer-mug-wise (just finished one).