by Feebee Foran
Every year there is a special date circled in my diary. It’s not an anniversary, or a day to dwell on. but in my foragers world, it’s a day to celebrate.
For me, mid June, the 14th of June to be precise, always marks the peak of Elderflower season. The beautiful heavy florets open their tiny star-like petals and their undeniable, floral aroma fills the air.
Once you identify Elderflower, you will see it everywhere. In fact, it’s in abundance throughout Dublin’s leafy suburbs, it lines the M50 and can be found overhanging walls and walkways on most streets in our fair city.
Elderflower is a plant that keeps on giving…provided you forage it at precisely the right time. Its uses are wide and varied, not just used as a delicious ingredient for a fresh Summer G&T, the Elderflower is used for homemade cordials, a flavouring for cakes and treats (in fact, it was the predominant flavour in Harry & Megan’s royal wedding cake), however it has so many medicinal and therapeutic uses that could really make a difference to your life.
A lovely way to add the delicious flavour and health benefits of Elderflower into your daily life is to add some to a jar of honey, leaving it to infuse for about 6 weeks before enjoying. It will be love at first taste!
Every single part of the Elderflower plant has superpowers. Root to tip, each element has its own job and benefits you in a very different way. A powerful diaphoretic, Elderflower promotes sweating and can help break a fever (hence the famous tonic brand name Fever Tree).
Its flowers can help support the upper respiratory system, while the berries boost your immune system and help with issues of the lower respiratory system. Get a burn? No problem, mash the leaves up with some butter for a soothing skin treatment. Even the bark and root have their own special jobs – as an emetic and cramp reliever.
As a homebrewer, my favourite way to use this fantastic flower is to turn it into Champagne. Each year, I watch the Elderflower bushes around Firhouse and Bohernabreena to find the perfect flowers, unpolluted by passing traffic and at waist-up level (too high for dogs, cats or foxes to pee on). As soon as the flowers are in full bloom, I strike! With my trusty snips and basket in hand, I gently remove a few florets from the bush, leaving ones that are not fully open and only selecting a small percentage of the plant.
The trick for foraging Elderflower is to only do it on a sunny day, typically when the sun isn’t at its hottest, so early afternoon until about 4pm is ideal. By picking your flowers at this time, there is less chance of dew in the air, so the flowers are dry, fully open and packed with their dusty yellow pollen that not only gives that beautiful scent, but also aids the fermentation process.
When picking your flowers, place them floret side down into your basket, thus protecting the little petals and keeping the pollen secured to the flowers. Its important not to shake or wash the pollen off, having it intact will help make your brew even more delicious.
Like all foraging excursions, your senses are your best tool. In the case of Elderflower, your sense of smell is key. Smell each flower before you pick it, if it has a beautiful aroma, it’s good to use. If it smells dank or damp – leave it on the bush. Remember, it will taste like what it smells like, so let’s work towards a delicious, fragrant champagne that will be a beautiful addition to Summer BBQ’s, beach picnics or brunches al fresco.
This recipe is so easy and a great one for first time brewers. Make it once and I promise, you too will soon be circling the 14th June in next years diary too.
- 8 Florets of Elderflower
- 800g Sugar
- 4 lemons, pared zest and juice
- ½ teaspoon of Bread Yeast
- 2 Litres of hot water
- 3 Litres of cold
Tools – you will need a sealable bucket to allow your champagne to ferment. Gather up some clean flip top bottles, muslin and a large spoon to stir.
In your fermentation bucket, add the sugar and 2 litres of hot water, stirring well to dissolve. Add in the zest and juice of the lemons before topping up with 3 litres of cold water. Stir well. Add in the Elderflower florets and the bread yeast. Stir well and seal the bucket.
Leave in a safe space at room temperature, don’t let it get too cold. Ideally indoors will mean your champagne will ferment at a nice temperature (sheds can get a little chilly, which can halt the fermentation process).
On day 6, strain the Elderflower mixture through some muslin to remove the flowers and lemon zest. Bottle your Champagne in clean, sterilised flip top bottles. Your Elderflower will be ready to drink 7 days after bottling.
Tip: Beer bottle or prosecco bottles with flip tops are best as the glass is reinforced for high pressure liquids. To prevent your bottles building up excess pressure, or exploding, you can “burp” your filled bottles by gently easing the flip top to allow some of the air to release. By placing your bottles in the fridge, you will stop the fermentation process, so only refrigerate before drinking.
Feebee Foran is a nature enthusiast, allotmenter, milliner and homebrewer. Owner of Forager.ie, Feebee creates skincare and healing products using all natural, locally foraged herbs and plants.