Our love for elder (Sambucus nigra) has been apparent in many of our blog posts. We simply love this fast growing hedgerow plant with its heavenly fragrant flowers and dark purple berries. We mostly love the fact that this plant is useful and not only pretty to look at.
We started out by making elderflower cordial. A lovely sweet cordial with a hint of vanilla that, when mixed with ice cold water will refresh you on even the hottest summer days.
Then I made the brave decision to make elderflower champagne. A recipe from famous River Cottage of course. Those guys really do like their home brews. With very little effort we soon had six bottles fizzing away …and that was the problem. I had bought cheap bottles with pop up lids and with all that alcohol bubbling happily in the bottle, one of them exploded.
I should have heeded the advice and relieve some of the pressure but I thought, how bad can it be! Well, there was glass everywhere and precious champagne streaming down the cupboard shelves. Of course after that we did relieve the pressure of the remaining bottles which is a bit of a shame because it alleviates that typical champagne fizz after keeping the bottles for a few months.
However, when Bridget and Michael came to visit in August we opened a bottle and my goodness it’s tasty stuff! I don’t know exactly how high the alcohol content was, but I felt tipsy after just one glass! I will definitely make another batch of elderflower champagne this year and I promise I will document everything, take photos and write a blogpost so you can also try this new adventure. Make sure you get good quality bottles!!
After the flowers wilted and the berries appeared I went for another foraging trip, this time to make elderberry liquor. After months of waiting for the brew to…well brew, we tried it out. I have to admit I didn’t like the taste very much but to be honest, I’m not a big fan of elderberry juice as either. Friends of ours drank it pure and they loved it, so it’s well worth a try. I have experimented mixing it with all kinds of juices and have concluded that a mix with apple juice is by far my favourite.
Creating a hedge
So earlier in the year when we were deciding which plants to grow in our hedgerow, elder was of course high on our list. We got 10 bare rooted plants which have all survived and are now bursting with green leaves and… flowers! A funny anecdote is that there was this weedy plant growing next to our temporary house. I wanted to cut it down but never got round to it. Then we moved into our new house just a few metres away and I forgot all about it.
Meanwhile, being ideally situated – out of the wind and in direct sunlight – the previously straggly plant grew bigger and bigger… Then one day Roger mentioned that there were flowers growing on the mystery tree that look remarkably like the elder flowers that had appeared on the small elder plants we’d bought for our new hedgerow… and on checking I can confirm that as well as new hedgerow elders we also have (and it turns out, have always had) a large elder bush growing wild but very welcome on our land! We now have sufficient Sambucus nigra to get brewing again this summer.
Conclusion: respect your elders and they will repay you generously!