Elderflowers really tickle my fancy.
Our unseasonably warm and dry spring has brought on the elderflowers and the enormous, ancient tree in my yard is awash in white splashes like brilliant fireworks against the dark green foliage. The lacy flower umbels evoke a sense of the ethereal and their scent is divinely delicate, and perhaps a bit alluring. Some might say magical. But I am pretty pragmatic – so I will stick with alluring.
The trees and shrubs that provide us with both flowers and fruit always offer a dilemma for the herbalist and forager. Partake of too many flowers now and you may go without fruit in the fall. Elders demonstrate this dilemma so perfectly – such lovely, useful flowers now, but such amazing berries in the fall. I can literally say that I have been counting the blooms in hopes of “splitting the difference” so that I may harvest both crops of sheer loveliness. There is simply so much I want to do with my elder gifts. I should add that this elder is far too large for me to harvest completely. May Mother Nature do as she may with those gifts I cannot reach.
Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra, subspecies cerulea in my area) offer a host of medicinal benefits in addition to their enticing aroma and flavor. Elderflowers are anti inflammatory, analgesic, diuretic and diaphoretic – which is to say that they relieve inflammation, reduce pain, eliminate retained water and promote cooling via proper perspiration, respectively. Dried elderflowers are an excellent tool in an herbalist’s medicine chest come the cold and flu season and make wonderful teas and infusions with other herbs. So, first to dry a few flower umbels for future use…
Inspired by a picture of elderflower gelato on Instagram, I endeavored to make my own. After all, I have fresh milk and cream from my Jersey cow Kate, abundant chicken and duck eggs to bind the custard, and not one but two ice cream makers. And I happen to have this divine wild rose and elderflower infused raw wildflower honey. Not to mention the elder tree dripping in blooms. It was like the universe was telling me to make the ice cream (perhaps you might get the general gist of my sense of humor if you caught this little joke;). The result? Velvety, rich, elderflower-y. Really addictive and delicious.
The universe was also telling me to make more elderflower liqueur. Because I enjoyed the one I made last year all too quickly. Mixed with a bit of sparkling water and/or lemonade, this elderflower liqueur is a cooling, thirst quenching adult beverage for the most discerning of flower booze drinkers. A little lemon zest and cardamom add to the exotic, and dare I say “magical”, quality of this divine little elixir. A perfect cocktail for those summer evenings when nothing but a sundress and bare feet will do.
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup honey
- 4-5 elderflower umbels
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- Whisk egg yolks and set aside.
- In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine milk, cream, sour cream, salt and honey. Snip individual florets into mixture, discarding as much of the stem material as possible. Heat over medium high heat until hot stirring frequently. DO NOT BOIL.
- When milk/cream mixture is hot, vigorously whisk a ladle full into the egg yolks. Slowly pour egg mixture into milk/cream mixture, again whisking vigorously.
- Return saucepan to medium heat and continue to cook until thickened and coats that back of a spoon, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract.
- Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a container or bowl to chill. Discard elderflower remnants.
- After your cream mixture is completely chilled, follow the instructions of your ice cream maker for churning. Alternatively, if you do not have an ice cream maker, pour mixture into a rimmed baking dish and chill in freezer, scraping mixture with a fork every half hour onto solid but light in consistency.
- 80 proof vodka
- Lemon zest
- Cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- Place elderflower florets (snipping away and discarding as much stem material as possible) about 2/3 up the capacity space of a jar. Add lemon zest (approximately one lemon for each quart of alcohol used) and crushed cardamom pods (approximately one tablespoon per quart of alcohol used), then fill the far with vodka.
- Place in a cool dark place to steep for four to six weeks or until the liqueur is flavored to your liking. Strain through muslin and decant into pretty bottles for storage.
- Serve with lemonade and/or sparkling water.
Elderflower. (n.d.) from http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-elderflower.html
Mikulic-Petkovsek, M. et al (2015). Traditional elderflower beverages: A rich source of phenolic compounds with high antioxidant activity. J Agric Food Chem, 63(5), 1177-87. doi:10.1021/jf506005b
Petersen, D. (2014). Herb 101: Basics of Herbalism. Portland, OR: ACHS.