The elderberry bushes are now flowering outrageously.
What a month ago resembled small florets of broccoli have developed into 6” wide umbels of creamy white bloom. These blooms will roll out in waves over the next month or so, transforming our humble field of bushes into an ever changing floral ocean. At any single time, a bush will have many flowers in different stages of development, from the smallest buds to flowers that are past their prime, petals falling away in preparation for berry making.
Berries get all the attention, but elderflowers are the overlooked stars of Sambucus. The floral head, or cyme, is a dome consisting of up to 400 individual florets. Each floret produces an abundance of yellow pollen which is valued for it’s unique grassy/floral flavor and high phenolic content.
Perhaps surprisingly, elderflower is a relatively good source of protein, being 2.4% protein by weight and containing 9 amino acids that are necessary to the human diet. By comparison, the elderberry contains only 7 such amino acids. If you are interested in the benefits of phenolics generally to the human body, this 2019 article from Biotechnology Reports provides a good overview, and this 2015 article from the Journal of Functional Foods examines the variety of helpful chemicals contained in elderberry and elderflower specifically.
Science aside, it is probably the flower’s subtle and unique flavor that endears it to eaters and drinkers. Elderflower cordial is a long time favorite in various corners of Europe, from Sweden to England to Slovenia, and dried elderflower tea is popular as well. I make a simple drink by briefly soaking fresh elderflower in cold water before straining. The resulting drink is lightly flavored and pale yellow from the pollen. I particularly like it when rehydrating after a session of flower harvesting.
Blooms are also edible and used as flowers on salad and, in the hands of talented bakers, as an addition to cakes and pastries. If you are so inclined to try this delicious looking Lemon and Elderflower Celebration Cake, let me know by 6/20 and I will be happy to supply the fresh elderflower gratis. You can let me know what you think and maybe send us a few pics of the final product!
Although we sell some fresh flowers at markets, most flowers we harvest are dried for later use in salves and teas. We are also working on an elderflower cordial that we hope to roll out sometime in the next year. In the meantime if you find an elderberry bush in your neighborhood, pinch a few flowers for culinary exploration, or at least powder your nose yellow with a deep sniff.