Effervescent Elderflowers

This month Foraging Adventures teamed up with Raw Food Rosie’s to create some delicious food and drink from wild-sourced ingredients. Between May and early July, hedgerows are full of elderflower blooms, appearing in creamy-white sprays with an unmistakable fragrance. These flowers have a variety of culinary uses, particularly in desserts and drinks, and many people have tried making elderflower cordial and its sparkling alcoholic derivative, elderflower champagne. However, recipes for both typically use refined white sugar, so we decided to see if a healthier alternative was possible.

Taking inspiration from a Simplify Your Health blog recipe for Raw Elderflower Cordial & Champagne, we set about making our own version. We collected our elderflowers during a beautiful summer walk in Shropshire, snipping off around twenty sprays of fresh-looking and smelling elderflowers with scissors. Elder trees (Sambucus nigra) are easy to identify, they are usually shrubs or small trees, with 5-7 pointed, toothed oval leaflets, growing on short stalks in opposite pairs, with a single leaflet at the end. The diminutive flowers comprise 5 creamy petals with yellow stamens growing in umbrella shaped sprays (umbels) that can reach 25cm across. It’s important to use the flowers as soon as possible as they quickly wilt once cut.

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After trimming off most of the green stalks, we placed 18 of the elderflower sprays into a clean 4.5 litre demijohn, along with 18 soft and sticky Medjool dates, 2 unwaxed lemons cut into slices, 4.5 teaspoons of coconut sugar and 2.25 litres of filtered water. We then covered the demijohn with a clean cloth secured with a rubber band.

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The plan had been to allow 3 days for the mixture to infuse, stirring every day to allow the raw cordial to develop. However, this may have been a little too long, as by day 3 a froth had appeared on the surface along with vigorous bubbling, signifying that the mixture had started to ferment due to the naturally occurring yeasts on the elderflowers. We decided to go straight for champagne and strain all the mixture through a clean nutmilk bag, before bottling in sterilised glass bottles with Grolsch-style stoppers and adding 3 teaspoons of coconut sugar for each litre. Though an attractive way to bottle the champagne, it does require daily ‘burping’ of the mixture, quickly lifting the lid to allow carbon dioxide gas to escape, or risk exploding the bottles. It may have been the summer heatwave, but our champagne was more than fizzy enough to drink within 5 days, though you can leave it for longer and it should become increasingly alcoholic and fizzy. You can then store it in the fridge. Our champagne was delicious, not particularly alcoholic, but fizzy, sharp-sweet and floral.

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Next time we will only leave the cordial to infuse for 24 hours before bottling; however, the champagne worked out perfectly – just wish we had made more.

Aside from taste, the health benefits of elderflowers include use in infusions to induce sweating to break a cold or fever. Whether this applies to the champagne as a fever remedy is unclear – try at your own risk- or just brew a tea by covering 1 heaped teaspoonful of dried elderflowers with boiling water and leave to infuse for 3-5 minutes before straining.

In addition to champage, culinary genius Rosie found another innovative use for our foraged elderflowers, creating some amazing elderflower and sweetcorn fritters. The recipe can be found at her site: http://www.rawfoodrosies.com/foraging-adventures-elderflower-sweetcorn-fritters-recipe/  Take a look and try them for yourself!

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