Lucy Carr-Ellison & Jemima Jones, Wild by Tart
“Elderflowers are found dotted along hedgerows all across the UK and you’ll also find them in London’s parks. Avoid picking the flowers from a busy road as they’ll be polluted with fumes and make sure you don’t strip a tree bare – leave plenty to develop into berries and to be enjoyed by local wildlife. Take a pair of secateurs, we like using needle nose fruit pruners, which are small and sharp and fit nicely in your pocket, and snip just below the main stem belonging to the head of flowers. Take a basket or a bag with you to carry your find. Elderflowers, belonging to the elder tree flower through late May, June and into July/early August and they have a delicate, sweet scent. The flowers are small and creamy-coloured, almost lace like, and create dense umbrellas of blossoms (they look similar to cow parsley) and have five petals. You know it’s elderflower from its sweet and floral strong scent. The first go-to is to make a cordial which can be added to a refreshing glass of sparkling water and mint, added to champagne or a gin and tonic. We infuse vinegar to use in dressings and it works wonderfully in desserts like ice-cream, tarts, cakes and other pastries. You can also make crunchy little elderflower fritters which are great fun and work well as garnish.”
James Knappett, Kitchen Table
“Elderflowers have a light creamy/pale yellow colour. The pollen gives the flowers their smell and colour. Their pale green stalks break into delicate 'florets' with flowers growing at the end. There are some foraging apps available that show you where there could be potential trees around you. I would suggest looking up a couple of pictures online prior to foraging and reference those pictures when you think you have found an elderflower tree. Quite often you can smell the scent as you get closer towards the plants. Elderflower can be confused with Pyracantha – from a distance they may look like elderflower but close up there are some key differences. One of the most distinctive things about elderflowers is the smell: floral, creamy and 'summery'. You can look in hedgerows, fields with trees and small tree outcrops. Elderflowers grow on trees that are up to 5 metres high and not on the floor. Elderflower is a very versatile ingredient. At Kitchen Table we use it for cordials, fresh herbal tea, infused vinegars or oils, infused in honey, ice-cream, sorbets, granita, in salads and as garnishes for fish courses. It is also very common to use it for in wine and champagne production.”
Will Bowlby, Kricket
“My mum and I pick elderflowers every year together. We make a huge batch of cordial which is great for our elderflower kulfi at Kricket (see recipe below), but that’s not all it’s good for. Elderflower vinegar is also a staple of mine. To make it, fill a sterilised jam jar with five elderflower heads and top up with warmed white wine or distilled white vinegar. Leave it to steep for two weeks before straining and using in dressings. It’s great with fish and at the restaurant we use it for scallops and the likes of whole plaice. The individual flowers are a great garnish, or you can tempura and deep-fry the whole elderflower heads.”
Bettina Campolucci Bordi, Bettina’s Kitchen
“Elderflowers are the prettiest flowers and they smell divine. There are some tricks that foragers follow to ensure they get a good crop of elderflowers and also ensure that the plant is cared for, for its own welfare and sustainability. This way people, birds, animals and other plant life can all benefit from this magical plant.
Smell them: If they smell of cat pee (yes, really), walk away, as they are past their picking prime.
Look at the colour: The flowers of the tree are at their best when they are full of scented, pale yellow dust, which is the pollen. This is the only time to pick them.
Look for pods: If the flowers are only unopened then you're in luck. If they have not flowered yet, all you need to do is wait a few days until they do. This is much better than finding them when they are past their best.
It’s best not to eat elderflowers raw, as the plant has a mild toxicity, which is why it is best to cook them or make cordial from them. Some people get an upset stomach from eating elderflowers or elderberries (elderflowers and elderberries come from the same plant). When cooked, elderflowers have a great flavour. Not only can you make elderflower syrup or cordial, you can use it in jams, cakes, jellies, infused vodka and other liquors. If you're into a foodie project, you can make elderflower wine or fizz and for an alcohol-free option, try kombucha.”
Tom Booton, The Dorchester
“I like to make an elderflower cordial – perfect as squash or added to pastry recipes. Bring 3 litres of water and 1kg of sugar to a boil to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat. Add 20 heads of washed fresh elderflower, 4 lemon slices, 3 sticks of lemongrass – bashed and cut – and 10ml of lemon juice. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 24 hours to infuse. Pass through a clean cloth the next day and bottle up.”
Wil Hopson, Zested
“The first bit of advice is to pick them as soon as possible after blooming, as they can become cloyingly perfumed if you wait too long. Give them a good clean and then gently heat up around 500ml of cider vinegar to about 60°C for every 3 sprigs of elderflower (which you should check for cobwebs, spiders and other countryside bits). Cram the elderflower into a large, sterilised jar and pour over the vinegar. Leave to infuse for anything from two days to two weeks, depending on how elderflower-y you'd like it, then strain through a fine cloth or muslin. The resulting vinegar will give your salads an elderflower kick for the rest of the year, and works especially well alongside chicken and mint. It also adds a bit of something different to an early evening G&T.”