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Identifying elderflower and how to use it

If you are a forager, the jewel in the crown is Elder Fower, Sambucus nigra. There are so many simple and delicious ways of drinking and eating the flowers and fruits.  There are many interesting and easy ways that you can use this fabulous elder flower and fruits including:

  • Cordials
  • Teas
  • Cakes
  • Muffins

Elderflowers have many different culinary uses, from drinks to desserts.  If you want to dip your toe into the world of foraging, they’re a great place to start. The sweetly scented, creamy-white flowers of the elder tree appear in abundance in hedgerows, scrub, woodlands and wasteland at the beginning of summer. The fresh flowers make a terrific aromatic and flavorful cordial. They are best gathered just as the many tiny white buds are beginning to open, you can also add some that are still closed. Gather on a warm, dry day, but never when wet.  Ensure that the perfume is fresh and pleasing. The trees do differ and you will soon get to know the good ones with practice. 

Tips on how to identify elder flowers

The Elderflowers come from the elder tree and it generally tends to grows as a shrub or small tree to a height of around five to ten metres.

Leaves; the leaf is compound and feather shaped (pinnate) with five or seven leaflets. These leaflets are arranged opposite to each other with a single leaflet at the tip. The edge of each leaflet is toothed (serrated) and there may be small hairs underneath.

General Foraging Guidelines – All

It is important that you forage sustainably and responsibly, making sure you stay safe and within the law.

  • Seek permission from the landowner
  • Ensure you know what you are picking and avoid poisonous species of berries and mushrooms
  • It is important that you know what you’re picking
  • Ensure that you only collect from plentiful populations
  • Ensure that you only take no more than those you plan to eat
  • Make sure that after picking, that you leave sufficient behind for others and for wildlife
  • Please make sure that minimise damage to the nearby habitat

Bark and stem

The young twigs are green, but as they mature they turn light grey-brownish in appearance. The stems are often dotted with small light brown bumps or warts called lenticels. The young branches are light and brittle and have a creamy-white pithy tissue inside.  As the bark begins to mature it becomes deeply furrowed and has a corky appearance.   The elder bark becomes deeply furrowed over a period of time.


The elder flowers are flat-topped clusters of tiny and are creamy-white to look at.  To many people the fragrance is sweet and summery and it attracts masses of insects.  The elder begins to flower late May to June.

How to use elderflowers

The flowers and berries are the only edible part of the plant. They are mildly toxic and have an unpleasant taste when raw. The cooking process destroys the toxic chemicals.  Elderflowers are ready around late May to mid-June. They are best picked when the buds are freshly open on a warm, dry, sunny day.  It is important to give them a shake to remove any insects, then rinse briefly in cold water before using.  The fragrant flowers are most famous for making elderflower champagne and cordial – perfect summer drinks.

Elderflower cordial

This cordial recipe will make approximately 2 litres of elderflower cordial


  • 25 – 30 Elderflower heads
  • Zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and the juice
  • Zest of 1 orange and the juice
  • 3/4kg of sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid


  • Firstly inspect the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects and debris.
  • Then place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest.
  • Bring to the boil 1.5 litres water and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest.
  • Cover and leave overnight to infuse.
  • Strain the liquid through a piece of muslin or scalded jelly bag and pour into a large saucepan.
  • Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid.
  • Heat gently to dissolve the sugar
  • Then bring to a simmer and cook for several of minutes.
  • Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles.
  • Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

The cordial can be chilled and then diluted with water.  It can also be added to dry white wine.  With summer fruits like raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries or peaches a  few drops of the elderflower cordial can really add a fragrant twist to the dessert

There are many recipes out there for elderflower wine and elderflower liqueur.  Add a couple of sprigs of elderflower when cooking fruit for tarts and crumbles, removing them at the end, for a delicate summery flavour. Alternatively, stir a few flowers into cake and muffin mixtures to give them a light, sweet scent.

Elderflower Summer Cooler Cocktail

Use elderflower to make a delicious summer cocktail; elderflower is abundantly available in the UK within hedgerows, roadsides, forests and woods. From mid to late May you will begin to see the small white flowers hanging in beautiful sprays that develop into spectacular elderberries during t summer.  We love making this during the hot summer and unwind after a hard day in the sun.



  • 1 measure of gin.
  • A glass half-filled with ice.
  • Good splash of elderflower cordial, home-made is even better
  • Mint leaves
  • Lime wedges
  • Prosecco
  • Soda water


  • Pour a generous measure of quality gin into a glass half-filled with ice.
  • Then add a good splash of elderflower cordial.
  • Tuck in several mint leaves, you can even twist to help release the natural oils into the drink
  • Squeeze over a lime wedge and drop it into the glass.
  • Top up with prosecco
  • Add a splash of soda water
  • Serve immediately

Elderflowers as capers

The green, unopened flower buds can be pickled and used in a similar way to capers.

Elderflower fritters recipe

Elderflowers can even be fried in a light batter until crisp. Elderflower fritters make a beautiful, crisp and delicious dessert. Serve them individually alone or with a drizzle of honey, a squeeze of lime, a scoop of ice cream or sprinkled with icing sugar.



  • 12 -15 elderflower heads, rinsed in cold water and shaken dry
  • Sunflower oil for frying
  • Caster sugar to serve

To make the batter:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 175ml sparkling mineral water
  • 1 egg white


  • Sift the flour into a basin then add 2 tablespoons of oil and the sparkling mineral water.
  • Beat to a thick paste, and then stir in a tablespoon of sugar.
  • Set aside for 30 minutes.
  • Just before frying the elderflowers, beat an egg white and fold it into the batter.
  • Get a deep pan of oil hot, test the heat by dropping in a teaspoon of batter, Iit should bubble and start to turn golden quickly.
  • Dip the elderflowers one at a time into the batter and lower them into the oil. Hold them under the oil by pushing down on the stem.
  • Fry until the batter is pale gold and crisp
  • Lift out and dip straight into a dish of caster sugar and give it a liberal coating.


Fresh elderflower infused tea

A great way to relax and unwind during the summer is with fresh elderflower tea.

Pick fresh elder flowers from an elder tree. Depending on where you live, elder flowers generally bloom during the late spring or early summer.

Boil water for tea. Place 2 to 4 fresh elder flowers in a tea pot.

Pour the hot water over the flowers.

Cover the teapot and allow the flowers to steep for about 10 minutes.

Strain the tea and serve hot.

Elderflower blossom muffins

This is a fabulous soft and summery muffin packed with a beautifully scented flavor of elderflower.


  • For the sponge
  • 160g Butter
  • 200g Caster sugar
  • 5 teaspoons Elderflower cordial
  • 1/2 Lemon zest
  • 3 Eggs large
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 175 g Self raising flour
  • 65 g Ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder

For the buttercream

  • 525g Icing sugar
  • 250 g Butter
  • 2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
  • For decoration
  • 100 g White fondant
  • Green food colouring
  • For decorating, your preference – white pearl sprinkle and edible glitter
  • You can also add a small measure of gin to give the buttercream that extra lift


  • Pre-heat your oven to 180C/160C Fan/350F/Gas Mark 4
  • Line a cupcake tin with paper cases
  • Mix together the butter and the caster sugar
  • Add the elderflower cordial, lemon zest, eggs and milk, and whisk in.
  • Then fold in the self raising flour, ground almonds and baking powder
  • Divide between the paper cases and bake for 20 minutes
  • To make the flower decorations, use a silicone rolling pin to roll out the white fondant, then use a cutter to cut out the flower shape
  • Then use the silicone mould to shape and vein the flower and leave it to dry
  • Once dry, dab some water in the centre of the flower using a clean paintbrush and add a white pearl decoration
  • Make the buttercream by mixing the icing sugar, butter, some green food colouring and the elderflower cordial (plus gin should you choose to use)
  • Pipe it onto the cupcakes and add the flowers

Elderflower Jelly


  • 300sg raspberies
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
  • 2 gelatine leaves
  • 50ml elderflower cordial
  • 250ml proseco
  • Several elderflowers, to decorate (optional)


  • Arrange half of the raspberrie, choose similar-sized ones, in 2 x 150ml darioles or moulds.
  • Cut the remaining raspberries into halves and place in a mixing bowl.
  • Cover and chill in the fridge.
  • Put the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water to soften.
  • Pour the cordial and 50ml of the Prosecco into a saucepan.
  • Heat until just simmering, take off the heat.
  • Take the softened gelatine leaves out of the bowl and squeeze out the excess water.
  • Put them in the saucepan and whisk together to combine.
  • Reduce the temperature until it’s cool enough to touch, try placing the pan in a shallow sink of cold water.
  • Once the liquid is cool, gently add the remaining Prosecco and stir.
  • The more gently you stir, the more fizz you will have in your jelly.
  • Carefully pour into the jelly moulds.
  • Put the moulds onto a metal tray and place in the fridge.
  • They will take 3-4 hours to set.
  • To serve, turn out the jelly onto a plate and spoon over the macerated raspberries.
  • Decorate the plate with a few elderflowers or try sprinkling a little cracked black pepper over the top, if you like.

A brief guide to legislation for trees

The following guidance applies to England only and is for guidance purposes only. Some trees are protected by legislation, and it is essential that you establish the legal status of trees prior to carrying out any work to them. Unauthorised work to protected trees could lead to prosecution, resulting in enforcement action such as fines and / a criminal record. Tree Preservation Orders, Conservation Areas, Planning Conditions, Felling Licences or Restrictive Covenants legally protect many trees in the UK.

  • Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs)
  • TPOs are administered by Local Planning Authorities (LPA)

For example Reading Borough Council or Reading Borough Council

A borough, district or unitary council or a national park authority and are made to protect trees that bring significant amenity benefit to the local area. This protection is particularly important where certain trees or tree species are under threat.

All types of tree, but not hedges, bushes or shrubs, can be protected.  A TPO can protect anything from a single tree to all trees within a defined area or woodland. Any species can be protected, but it is important to note that no species is automatically protected by a Tree Preservation Order.

A TPO is a written order which, in general, makes it a criminal offence to cut down, top, lop, uproot, willfully damage or willfully destroy a tree protected by that order, or to cause or permit such actions, without the authority’s permission. Any individual found guilty of such an offence is liable. In serious cases the case may be dealt with in the Crown Court where an unlimited fine can be imposed.

To make an application to carry out tree works you will need to complete an application form and submit it to the LPA. The form can either be submitted through the Planning Portal or directly to the

local planning authority. You can find out more about TPOs in the Department for Communities and Local Government guide titled Protected trees: A guide to tree preservation procedures and it’s replacement The National Planning Policy Framework and relevant planning practice guidance document with particular reference to Tree Preservation Orders and trees in conservation areas. You might also find it helpful to seek the advice of a tree surgeon prior to making an application.

Normal TPO procedures apply if a tree in a conservation area is already protected by a TPO. But if a tree in a conservation area is not covered by a TPO, you have to give written notice to the LPA (by letter, email or on the LPA’s form) of any proposed work, describing what you want to do, at least six weeks before the work starts. This is called a ‘section 211 notice’ and it gives the LPA an opportunity to consider protecting the tree with a TPO.

You do not need to give notice of work on a tree in a conservation area less than 7.5 centimetres in diameter, measured 1.5 metres above the ground (or 10 centimetres if thinning to help the growth of other trees).

You can find out more about trees in Conservation Areas in the Department for Communities and Local Government guide titled Protected trees: A guide to tree preservation procedures (withdrawn 7 March 2014) and it’s replacement The National Planning Policy Framework and relevant planning practice guidance document with particular reference to Tree Preservation Orders and trees in conservation areas.

Trees and the planning system

Under the UK planning system, LPAs have a statutory duty to consider the protection and planting of trees when granting planning permission for proposed development. The potential effect of development on trees, whether statutorily protected (e.g. by a tree preservation order or by their inclusion within a conservation area) or not, is a material consideration that is taken into account when dealing with planning applications. Where trees are statutorily protected, it is important to contact the LPA and follow the appropriate procedures before undertaking any works that might affect the protected trees.

Planning conditions are frequently used by LPAs as a means of securing the retention of trees, hedgerows and other soft landscaping on sites during development and for a period following completion of the development. If it is proposed to retain trees for the long term then a TPO is often used rather than a planning condition. If valid planning conditions are in place then anyone wishing to undertake work to trees shown as part of the planning condition must ensure they liaise with the LPA and obtain any necessary consent or variation.

The nature and level of detail of information required to enable an LPA to properly consider the implications and effects of development proposals varies between stages and in relation to what is proposed. Table B.1 of British Standard BS 5837:2012 Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – Recommendations provides advice to both developers and LPAs on an appropriate amount of information that will need to be provided either at the planning application stage or via conditions.


Tree care, pests and disease

Unfortunately, human activity is a key factor in the spread of tree pests and diseases.  By undertaking basic biosecurity day to day, and minimising the amount of soil, water and plant material we carry between sites, we can reduce the spread of pests and diseases and give control measures more of a chance to succeed. People working in arboriculture are a high risk group for the spread of pests and diseases. However, they can also spot outbreaks early. 


Taking action at the right time can be critical to managing an outbreak.  The following resource is a great read to help us all protect the trees and local environment. Don’t give pests and diseases an easy ride.


Tree Species Manual and Category Guide

Barcham Trees is a fabulous supplier of trees and supplies the crown by Royal Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Attached is a tree species guide and category that can help you with your tree choice. We can also help and support you with what may be the best species to plant for your situation whatever your sector.

Tree Species Guide

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