Folklore holds that sitting under an elder on Midsummer allows one to see the Fairy Queen on her progression through the wild places. While living in England, I learned that one never cuts any portion of the elder without asking permission of the plant first. Often you will read that growing elder on your property protects you from witchcraft. Then again, I’ve read that it protects the witch.
That’s some powerful stuff.
Elder (Sambucus Canadensis) is flowering beautifully now throughout Schoharie County. Bushes are often 10-15 feet high and are found along moist ditches or damp tree lines. Often, you can find stands of elder around abandoned farmsteads. To ensure I have plenty of elder flowers and elder berries, I’ve planted several at our farm.
Elder flowers are sweetly fragrant and make a lovely tea, fresh or dried. (1 tsp dried elder flower or 1 Tbsp fresh elder per cup of hot water. ) Elder flower tea is often used to break a fever, especially when combined with yarrow. Elder flower tea, which has been cooled, can be used as a face wash. It was a part of the “Queen of Hungary Water”, which was a famous beauty recipe.
Elder flower syrup is delicious and easily prepared. It can be drizzled on ice cream, oatmeal, yogurt or added to club soda for a refreshing drink.
To make elder flower syrup, gather a few umbels of elder blossoms. Strip the flowers from the green stems. The stems should never be eaten, as they cause nausea. Put the flowers into a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain. Measure the amount of liquid and put the liquid back into the saucepan. Add the same amount of sugar. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to boil again. Continue a light boil for 20 minutes. Pour the hot syrup into clean bottles and refrigerate.
Elder flowers can also be turned into wine, cordials and even fritters. But, leave some blossoms on the bushes, you will want to harvest elder berries later. Elder berries, which will ripen in August are filled with anti-viral and anti-inflammatory activity. We will discuss that when the time is right for harvest.
As always, never use a plant unless you are 100% sure of its identity. Many plants can look like another and some plants are toxic! Always use a few good field guides or get a local expert to help identify the plant. And please remember, to ask permission before you harvest and thank the Elder Mother for her bounty.
Betty Pillsbury and her husband, Dan, own Green Spiral Herbs, an educational herb farm in Schoharie County. Their gardens are a certified United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary. Betty is also an award-winning textile artist, specializing in Victorian crazy quilts. www.GreenSpiralHerbs.com
Saturday, July 17, 10-11:30 am, “Open House and Free Garden Tour” Join Dan and Betty in their gardens in Huntersland for a free tour of the gardens. This is also Huntersland annual Garage Sale Days.
Saturday, July 24, 10-3, “Learn to Make Herbal Goodness from the Garden” Do you sometimes wonder what to do with your garden bounty? Come to this workshop to learn to make pesto (we’ll use more than basil), herbal vinegar, an herbal syrup and other culinary delights. Cost is $75 and includes a light lunch. Email [email protected] to register or call 518-827-8730.