15th May 2020

Featured / Food / Outdoors / Natasha Lloyd

Forage of the Month: Elderflower [Sambucus nigra]

7 3 mins 0

TThe elderflower is an ancient hedgerow plant native to Britain. A symbol of transformation, of longer and warmer days, the elderflower comes to bloom in mid-May until early June. It’s best harvested in the morning of a dry, sunny day when the buds are freshly opened. Natasha Lloyd, our medical herbalist, explains how to identify the plant and includes three recipes to try.

At the time of writing this, we’re in lockdown. We’ve slowed down and what is important has become more apparent. I think we’re noticing the details of our lives more and yes, there have been lots of changes. Within all this uncertainty, being in nature helps me to feel grounded. Birdsong sounds a bit louder now. And excitingly, now is the perfect time to forage elderflower. Here’s how:

The elder tree has been held in high regard in many cultures for a long time. It grows wildly along thickets, clearings, hedgerows and fields, gaining up to 30 metres in height. The leaves appear quite early in the year and consist of five to seven symmetrical leaves which, if you look closely, are serrated. The flowers usually appear after rowan flowers. They look similar, but smell very different. The number of leaves is the main distinguishing feature between the two: rowan has more leaves, around eight to ten.

As with most plants, some parts of elder are not edible. The leaves, bark and flower stems of elder are toxic, containing a resin that facilitates the accumulation of cyanide in the body. The resin levels increase as the tree grows throughout the year, so the late spring elderflower stems have less resin than the autumnal elderberry stem. You should only use the flowers and the berries and avoid the stems and never take or eat any plant if you are not 100% certain of its identification.

One important note: please don’t take more than a third of any part of a plant or tree that you’re foraging from. We never want to damage a tree or plant that we’re foraging from, and we want it to continue to thrive in the environment with us after we take from it. The recent upsurge in foraging has the potential to detrimental to nature, and we don’t want that.

Try my elderflower recipes: 
Elderflower Cordial 
Elder Gin
Elderflower Champagne 

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Natasha Lloyd is a Medical Herbalist and Forager, based in the heart of Cairngorm National Park in Scotland. Natasha has been teaching foraging and herbalism for over 15 years through guided walks, talks and workshops.

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