Herbal stories: elderflower

Have you also seen all the blooming elderflower along the roads and in the fields? These delicate flowers are one of my favourite herbs. Every spring again, it’s a feast for the senses once the elderflower is blossoming. Smelling at these blossoms is real treat with its fresh scent, a subtle mix of honey and vanilla. Most people think of the elderflower as weed but for me it’s the queen of herbs!

The common elderflower belongs to the oldest and most favourite medicinal herbs. Discovered elderflower seeds in historic excavations affirm that this tree has been used since ancient times. In the Antiquity it was used to color the hair black. In old writings the elderflower is often called an effective medicine.

In the Middle Ages the elderflower was found next to each farm as it was part of the home apothecary. Hollow elderflower branches were cut by the children to make whistles. The latin name for elderflower ‘Sambucus nigra’ is based on this: ‘sambuke’ is whistle in Greek.

Many parts of the elderberry are used and they all have specific healing benefits. The leaves are harvested in March/April. The flowers in May/June and the berries in August/September. As we’re in the blooming period right now, I will only write about the applications of the elderflower.

Every year in May-June when the elderberry is in full bloom, I harvest baskets full of elderflowers. Partly to use in the kitchen, but also a (big) part to dry. A stock of elderflower is very useful in winter and it can be so good to smell the sweet scent of a cup of elderflower tea, don’t you think?! The dried flowers will open so beautifully as if it was spring again! And elderflower is particularly beneficial for the typical winter cures. Isn’t that a miracle of nature?

Harvest the flowers when they are loaded with pollen. You’ll notice tiny insects but I never wash the flowers. They can’t dry properly and will get brown. If you wash them, you’ll wash away the pollen and they provide the delicious aroma. The best way to remove these tiny insects is to harvest the flowers on a sunny, dry day and leave them outside for 8 hours. The insects will go away and you don’t need to wash the flowers. Now you can start to use the flowers in the kitchen. I always make elderflower syrup and we are all a big fan of this delicious summer drink!

You can also use elderflower to turn your bathroom in a spring spa by adding some elderflower to the bath. You’ll bathe in an overwhelming scent and it helps to clean an irritated or impure skin. Hot compresses of elderflower tea are also used to soften the pain of hemorrhoids and swellings and to attenuate a headache.

A dry cough, a cold, sinusitis and allergies really benefit from elderflower because it’s expectorant and it prevents mucosal infections. Cooled elderflower tea can be used to rinse the nose if you suffer from these diseases. Elderflower is antiviral and antibiotic and helps to prevent the flu. Even if you have the flu, it will be less heavy and makes the period of illness shorter.

My harvest of elderflowers. I’ve picked them on a sunny, dry day around noon when their flavour is at its best. I lay them flat on paper on a tray and let them dry in a dark room for a week. Afterwards I put them in brown bags and store them in my “tea cupboard”.

If you want to make tea, just add 2-3 teaspoons of dried elderflower to a cup of hot water (not boiling!) and let it draw for 10 minutes. You can drink as many cups a day as you want to! Elderflower has a soft effect, but not less powerful, and is therefore very suitable for very young children.

Elderflower is one of most reliable remedy for fever. Heat that can’t leave the body, can be released by hot elderflower tea. Besides, the flowers are mildly sedative and that’s why elderflower tea makes a fever attack more bearable. It takes away a lot of the corresponding tensions.

I hope you’ll find the time these days to harvest some of these delicious elderflowers and enjoy their benefits in a cup of tea, or in your bath or when drinking a summery syrup!

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