The first time I noticed the elder tree was when I lived in the Netherlands. It was a neighbourhood of row houses with landscaped back gardens where the elder shrub was in abundance. I admired the beauty of its flowers and enjoyed their aroma but it wasn’t until our switch to a chemical free life that I started appreciating its medicinal value. Folk tradition calls it the “full pharmacy” of nature due to its numerous curative and preventive properties. In this post, though, we are going to talk only about its enjoyable properties and not its medicinal ones.
After moving back to a mountainous village in north-west Greece, in an old little house next to a brook, I saw with a pleasant surprise that the village was full of the native elder shrub (Sambucus Nigra), especially along the brook where it almost forms a little forest. You can imagine my excitement when such a treasure is generously offered by nature without you having to do anything. And when you live in a country with hot summers, what better could you think than preparing a refreshing elderflower lemonade! It’s foreseen by nature itself, since the elder-flowers start blooming end of spring beginning of summer and only for a period of a few weeks.
We’re almost in the middle of June and the elderberry flowers are quickly turning into berries. So, there’s not much time left to prepare a refreshing elderberry flower lemonade. Hurry up and pick up the few clusters left, but be careful, not the ones that are half-turned into berries. It’s better to leave those for future use of the mature berries and to avoid unpleasant surprises by the slightly toxic unripe berries! For this recipe we are also not going to use the leaves and stems.
What you will need:
- 30 to 50 elderberry flower clusters in full blossom
- 1.5 L water
- 300 g brown sugar
- 1 non waxed lemon
- muslin or cheesecloth
- jars or bottles
Collect the flowers on a sunny day and wait a few hours until the morning moisture has dried out. The nectar and pollen gathered is going to give a unique flavour (not to mention their nutrients) to the cordial. Treat the blossom clusters gently as they can very easily get scattered or spread their pollen into the air. Collect them in a spacious basket or pan or in a cloth bag (avoid plastic ones). It goes without saying that you don’t rinse them under water, just remove gently any bug or dirt.
It’s also better to remove the bigger stems. It looks like a tedious job, but I found an easy way of doing it. Turn the flowers upside down in the pan and without moving or shaking them cut the stems with a pair of scissors. You don’t have to cut all the stems, every cluster is made of other smaller ones and so forth, so it would be a never ending job.
In the meantime, you can start preparing the light-sugar syrup. In most recipes I found on the internet the proportion of water to sugar is about 1:1 (e.g. 1000 g sugar to 1000 ml water) or sometimes even more sugar. Since this is a little bit too sweet for my taste, I reduced the amount of sugar to 1:5 (e.g. 200 g sugar to 1000 ml water). Trust me, it still gets very sweet! Bring 1.5 L of water to a boil and remove from heat. Add 300 g of sugar and stir until fully dissolved.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not infuse the elderberry flowers into the hot syrup! It’s the perfect way to destroy its wonderful properties and it will also turn into a brownish, unappealing colour. Just wait until it gets to room temperature or until you can place your hands on the side of the saucepan without getting burned.
Once the temperature of the syrup is right, infuse the elderberry blossoms together with the peels and slices of 1 lemon. Check the lemon not to be waxed, in this case you cannot use its peels. The best choice would be an organic lemon, of course. If you want a stronger lemon flavour, you can add 2 or even 3 lemons.
Then place the syrup mixture into the fridge and let it steep for 48 hours, stirring occasionally. After two days, strain the syrup through a muslin or a cheesecloth into sterilized jars or bottles and place again into the fridge. You can preserve it for up to 6 weeks, after that fermentation starts.
And for the final step, to enjoy a refreshing elderflower lemonade, mix a small amount of the syrup with cool water (about 1/10 of the glass, although the ratio depends on how sweet and strong you want it), add a few ice cubes and get ready to feel its refreshing power. I’m sure you’ll love it, especially in the coming warm summer days!