We’ve all gone elderflower-crazy

This year, Britons are expected to drink over 46 million litres of elderflower cordial, fast making it one of our favourite soft tipples. Anna Price takes a look at this often overlooked flower
History of the elderflower cordial
Lord John Manners started the production of the cordial, with a recipe passed from Lady Astor to Lord John’s wife. His son, Peveral ‘Pev’ Manners now continues the production as managing director of Belvoir Fruit Farms. However, the elder was being used long before cordial productions for medicinal uses for the druids.

The elder was considered to be a sacred plant, protected by the Elder Mother who lived within the trunk.

Mythological uses
The elder plant was also associated with witchcraft and sorcery in the 17th century, provoking the use of the alternative names for the plant, such as ‘Devil’s plant’.

But in an era where it was believed that good and evil spirits composed the air, people used the elder plant, and the protection of the Elder Mother, to keep evil spirits at bay. Additionally, it was believed that if you stand underneath an elder plant in a thunderstorm, the lightening cannot hurt you. It was also believed that if you desire a sighting of fairies, placing yourself under the elder tree might be a way to approach the situation.

Medicinal uses
Hippocrates used elderflowers to encourage vomiting and purging, while medieval herbalists used the roots as a diuretic, the bark to accelerate labour and the berries to soothe piles. Additionally, brewed elder bark apparently helps mothers to replenish energy and to soothe pain after childbirth.

Today, an elderflower infusion is recommended to treat colds, sore throats as well as battling hay fever.

Food uses
The most common use of elderflowers in food today, is in elderflower cordial; either sparkling or still, a cool glass of elderflower cordial will undoubtedly quench any thirst in a sweet and tasty way. For a slightly stronger drink, elderflower wine, which is a type of liquor, is just as delicious.

Elderflower sprigs can also be used when cooking desserts, adding a slightly sharper, and berry-like taste.

Facts and figures
It is estimated that 10 million elderflowers need to be gathered in the fourweek harvesting period.

The elderflower plant is in bloom for a month from the end of May, but it can vary due to the weather in the previous month.

Elderflowers can be found not only in the countryside but also in parks and gardens.

The Latin name for elderflower is Sambucus nigra and it is a member of the honeysuckle family.

This year, Britons are suspected to drink over 46 million litres of elderflower cordial. This equates to annual sales of more than £25m.

It is occasionally referred to as the Judas Tree, as it is said to be the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself.

Elderflowers should be collected when the colour is creamy, just before they turn white, in order to have the best taste. 

The leaves are a natural insect repellent, hence the reasoning for planting elder shrubs around compost heaps and outhouses.

It is classified as a shrub, but an elder plant can grow up to 10 metres high, with a flowering diameter between 10cm and 20cm, appearing to be more of a tree.

Elderflowers contain vitamin C, flavonoids, rutin, and tannins – all important for immune health.