Drinker’s Guide To Elder – Flowers and Berries

IN

We were delighted to spot the first elder flowers of the season on Islay last week.

Its been a cool spring and they did kind of look like they were trying to fold themselves back into buds and wait for warmer times…but we cracked out a bottle of elderflower champagne (made with last year’s dried elderflowers) and toasted them anyway. Its a big point in the forager’s year, a measuring point in the moveable calendar of special moments.

Elderflowers are one of the #22 botanicals in The Botanist Gin, adding complex floral notes and some sweetness. Elder trees are intricately entwined with human history, and are never far from civiliation. We wrote about their folklore connections here.

Identification: Deciduous large shrub or small tree with grey/brown gnarled corky bark, often covered with green moss/algae. Leaves in groups of 5-7 pointed, toothed ovals. Small creamy white flowers arranged in flat umbels. Bunches of small berries start green, ripening to a deep purple.

Edibile Parts: Flowers buds, flowers, berries

UK Distribution: Everywhere

Season: Flowers May – August, Berries July – November

Habitat: Fertile ground on woods, wood edges, hedgerows, waste ground. Often close to human habitation.

Drinks Uses: Many. To name a few: Elderflower champagne/wine/syrup/beer/mead/vinegar. Elderberry shrub/wine/syrup/vodka/whisky

 

Foraged elderflower Gin cocktail

Elderflowers are one of the 22 botanicals in The Botanist Gin, adding complex floral notes and some sweetness.

Harvesting Notes: 

Elder foliage is not edible and can be quite toxic (hence the extensive folklore around it). Berries  should not be consumed raw. The twigs and umbels that hold flowers and berries are somewhat toxic, as are the seeds. Pick the umbels, but try to remove as much of them as possible when processing, though you’d need the patience of a saint to remove every single bit of twig. A small percentage isn’t a big deal. Use a fork to tease off  flowers or berries. Freezing the berry umbels beforehand helps. Pick flowers on sunny mornings for best flavour. Flowers retain their scent on drying – dry in paper bags to retain their pollen and natural yeasts

Tasting Notes:

Flowers carry a strong scent of muscat and bananas, which can turn unpleasant if picked when wet/late in the day. They pair well with sour fruits (with gooseberries is a classic combination)

Berries have a deep, complex profile, with a fine balance of sweetness and acidity. They are enhanced by acidifiers and pair well with whisky and mulling spices like nutmeg and clove (or try its wild equivalent – cloveroot).

 

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