The Elder

My favourite Elder concoctions are elderflower vinegar, elderflower custard, and pickled green elderberries (not necessarily served together).


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Tips for picking Elderflowers:

From ‘The Hedgerow Handbook’ by Adele Nozedar:
Be sure to pick the flowers when the heat of the sun is on them. And make sure that there’s plenty of pollen on the blossoms.Don’t bother gathering flowers immediately after rain; it’s the pollen that gives the flavour, and the rain will wash it away.For the same reason, don’t wash the flowers. Any insects or debris will be strained away later in any case.

And from ‘The Forager Handbook’ by Miles Irving:
The best cordial is made by using flowers with lots of pollen (the cream-coloured dust that shakes off when you pick them) and by not heating them too much.
Elderflowers can be dried to allow for year-round use. Shake flower heads (still attached to tree) into a paper bag or a pillowcase – thus collecting only loose flowers and leaving the ovaries to mature into berries. Leave in a warm, dark place to dry.

Information on Elderberry Toxicity is conflicting & confusing…  However, the overall message seems to be to use cooked, ripe berries. Note that the stems and leaves are toxic (and taste bad too!). However, there are old recipes for ‘English Banboo’, ie pickled elder shoots. Don’t fancy trying them myself.

Source Berries
Wikipedia: Sambucus Ripe berries (pulp and skin) are safe to eat. The seeds contain a cyanide-inducing glycoside (a glycoside which gives rise to cyanide as the metabolism processes it). Ingesting in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body.
Wikipedia: Sambucus nigra The berries can be eaten when fully ripe but are mildly poisonous in their unripe state. The berries are edible after cooking
RHS Encyclopaedia of Herbs Raw berries are harmful if eaten
Jonathan Hilton: Wild Food for Free If there is any toxic substance present in the fruit, then it is at a very low concentration and it is completely destroyed by cooking
Ray Mears: Wild Food A lot of people are allergic or sensitive to the raw fuit, so we strongly advise that you always cook them. (website seems to have disappeared) Unripe berries toxic. Seeds are edible. Berries should be cooked. IMPORTANT: Raw elderberries contain TOXINS and MUST be cooked before eating!!
Robert K Henderson: The Neighborhood Forager Elderberries edible when ripe. Seeds should not be swallowed in quantity. Red elderberries (US) edible cooked but toxic when raw.
Miles Irving: The Forager Handbook No mention of toxicity
The National Trust: Wild Food No mention of toxicity
Alys Fowler: The Thrifty Forager No mention of toxicity
Euell Gibbons: Stalking the Wild Asparagus No mention of toxicity Elderberry Avoid unripe, green berries – they’ll get you sick. Even raw ripe elderberries make some people nauseous. Cooking or drying dispels the offending substance, and greatly improves the flavor.
Tree Council’s Hedgerow Harvest site Cooking elderberries destroys toxins present in the raw berries
Harold McGee on Food & Cooking (McGee is usually the best authority on all things culinary)Elderberries are usually cooked or made into wine because they contain antinutritional lectins that require heating to be inactivated.

Elderflower surprise: Scientists at Kew Gardens have discovered compounds new to science in ordinary elderflower drinks.


Ever-lovely Elders
We’re celebrating the elder this year, from elderblossom to elderberries, on Sat 21 Sep 2013 at 1pm at Grow Heathrow.

Sat 19 May 2012 at 1pm, at Brunel Walk Community Centre, 35 Brunel Walk, Tottenham, London N15 5HQ

Elderflower Day Sunday 30th May 2010

Join us at 2pm at Waterside Centre, Stonebridge Lock off Watermead Way, N17 0XD

We will be sharing some elderflower cordial and demonstrating how to make elderflower champagne. Lots of talk and stuff about the elder tree and then going to pick some so you can make your own.

Remember to take only what you need. Every elderflower picked is fruit that doesn’t form. I want some berries and the we have to share with the wildlife that depends on it as part of its diet.

Getting There
By bicycle. Riding up the River Lea towpath is an excellent way to us. By bus from Tottenham Hale192 towards Enfield. 2nd stop after Tottenham Hale. Continue walking in the same direction. You will see the crossing ahead of you and the entrance to Stonebridge Lock on your right.

If you prefer a 1 mile walk from Tottenham Hale, turn left onto Ferry Lane, walk on past the major construction, cross Millmead road and then turn left down the ramp to the Ferry Lane lock and walk up the towpath. We’re just past Stonebridge Lock on the left.

From Northumberland Park Station.
Turn right out of station. Walk down Marsh Lane keeping allotments to your left. Keep walking to the end toward the depot and sometime after you have started cursing me for directing you down a dead end, you will find a footpath to the left between the depot and a transport yard. Follow footpath to the end and you will come out onto Watermead Way at the pedestrian Crossing opposite the Stonebridge Lock entrance.

We celebrated the elderflower on 30 May 2010, at Stonebridge Lock, Tottenham Marshes… After harvesting the wonderful elderflowers, we made elderflower champaigne together; we then sampled elderflower cordial, elderflower panna cotta and elderflower mousse cake.