It seems that no matter what ails you, there’s a recipe using Sambucus nigra that can help. More commonly known as elder, this flowering tree has been used for centuries in folk remedies, beauty treatments, and to make delicious foods and drinks. The leaves, flowers, and berries of the elder can do everything from getting you tipsy to preventing colds, even reportedly fade freckles. Just be sure to follow the age-old tradition of asking the tree for permission to harvest before making a cut in order to ward off bad luck.
Elderflower tea has been used as an expectorant for a congested chest, as a laxative, to break a fever, and to soothe colds and sore throats. Put two handfuls of the flowers in a container and add 3½ cups of boiling water. Allow to steep for 30 minutes, then sweeten to taste. Drink hot, right before bed. To fight off the early stages of flu, use the same method but use equal parts elderflower and peppermint. When cool, elderflower tea can be used as a compress for irritated eyes. As with any herbal remedy, consult with your doctor before using.
Adding elderflowers to your bath is said to soften and lighten skin, and elderflower water has been used to lessen the appearance of eczema, psoriasis, and freckles. To make elderflower water, harvest 5 cups of fully open elderflowers, remove stalks, and pour 1 ¼ cups boiling water over top. Cover and let steep for a few hours, then strain.
To make a face cleanser, combine 5 tablespoons of elderflowers heads, washed and dried, and 16 tablespoons natural yogurt in a pot. Simmer for a half hour over very low heat, then remove and let sit for 5 hours. Reheat, strain, and add 1 ½ tablespoons melted clear honey, whipping for a few minutes until combined. Apply to face and remove with cotton balls or a soft cloth, then store remainder in the refrigerator.
Fans of port will enjoy elderberry wine. Put 3 pounds of berries in a plastic container, pour in 1 ½ gallons boiling water and let stand for 24 hours. Strain through sieve or muslin, then measure the liquid by gallons into a large pot. For each gallon, add 1 pound raisins, ½ ounce ground ginger, and 6 cloves, then bring to a gentle boil. Leave for an hour, skimming periodically. Transfer to a bucket and add ½ teaspoon yeast for each gallon, stir, and cover. Let rest for two weeks, strain, and add ¼ pint brandy for every gallon of liquid. Pour into containers and seal tightly, then store in a cool, dry location for six months. Bottle, leaving sediment behind, and enjoy or allow the wine to continue aging.
A lighter, easier alternative is elderflower champagne. Dissolve 5 cups of sugar in 2 gallons of boiling water, then cool and add 5 large elderflowers, the juice of two lemons, two more lemons, sliced, and 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Cover and leave for 24 hours, then strain and pour into screw-top bottles. Let rest for 10 days, then enjoy within the next month!
Many parts of Sambucus nigra can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, such as jams, soups, salads, and sauces. One delicious way to enjoy the flowers is to deep fry them. To make the batter, mix ½ cup all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup corn flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground cloves, and a pinch of salt, then fold in an egg white whisked to stiff peaks. Dredge 10 elder flowers, stems removed, in the batter then fry in oil for 60 seconds. Drain and dust with superfine sugar.