Midsummer is when a great variety of flowers are at the height of bloom. It is traditionally thought that many medicinal herbs reach their peak during this time, infused by the powers of the sun. Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) is one such plant. Though the berries are arguably the more popular product, the flowers themselves have numerous health benefits. And we don't have to wait until fall to pick them! Below are three recipes that feature this beautiful and healthful blossom.
If you're looking to incorporate elderflowers into your diet for its health benefits, then this recipe is not for you. However, if you enjoy the occasional (or more than occasional) fatty treat, then read on! Battered and deep fried, these fritters look and taste quite a lot like funnel cakes, and would seemingly be at home at a carnival or state fair.
When harvesting elderflowers for fritters, be sure to leave a long stem. This will serve as a handle for dipping into batter. Give it a shake before putting it in your bag or basket to dislodge bugs.
Before making the fritters, grab each bunch by the stem and shake it out over a sink to remove any remaining bugs. Alternately, you can shake them into a bowl of water and place them on a towel to dry. I prefer the air method, as I'm not too squeamish about bugs, and I think it better preserves the shape. Also, excess water on the flowers can make the batter too runny.
- Several bunches of elderflowers (The exact number depends on their size. Try a gallon, loosely packed.)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbl sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup plus 2 tbl sparkling water
- Powdered sugar (to dust)
- Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and sparkling water.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Whisk in wet ingredients. Continue whisking until smooth. Don't over-whisk, or you will lose too much air. It's better for it to be a little clumpy than flat.
- Adjust consistency if necessary. It should be quite thin— thinner than pancake batter. Depending on the flour you used, it may need more sparkling water.
- Heat about 1" of vegetable oil in a pan to 375 degrees. Make sure it's an oil with a high smoke point!
- Grab an elderflower bunch by the stem and dip into batter, swirling around until the flowers are completely covered. Shake off excess batter and gently place into hot oil. Keep adding battered flowers until the pan is full.
- Fry until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
- Remove fritters from hot oil and place onto paper towels to drain.
- Repeat steps 6 - 8 until the batter or the flowers are used up— whichever comes first. Adjust heat as necessary to keep at 375 degrees.
- Snip the larger stems from the fitters. (Stems, leaves, roots, and unripe berries are toxic and should not be eaten. Eating the smallest stems is fine, as the quantities aren't large enough to hurt you.) Plate and dust with powdered sugar. They are best served warm, in batches as they come off the pan.
Elderflowers are prized for their gentle medicinal action. Infusing them into honey preserves that medicine and allows them to be easily added to hot tea for additional benefits. Elderflowers are most often indicated for upper respiratory problems— colds, coughs, sore throats, and flu. Taken hot, they induce sweating and help break fevers. They also act as a decongestant to remove phlegm from the lungs and throat. Elderflowers can also be used as a relaxant, soothing anxiety and promoting restful sleep.
Or you can just eat them because they're yummy!
Shake off flowers as described above to remove insects. In the case of honey infusions, it is imperative that the flowers are completely dry before using, as excess water can cause mold.
Using a scissors, trim the individual flowers into a bowl, removing as much of the stem as possible. As stated above, stems, leaves, roots, and unripe berries are toxic and should not be eaten. Eating the smallest stems is fine, as the quantities aren't large enough to hurt you.
The key to success here is making sure that the elderflowers are completely dry on the outside. If they are wet from dew, rain, or from being rinsed, it may cause the honey to mold. You want equal volumes of loosely packed, trimmed elderflowers to honey. Simply spoon the elderflowers into a sterilized glass jar, and pour in the honey. Stir with a non-metal spatula to dislodge any air bubbles. Make sure that the flowers are completely covered in honey. Screw on the sterilized lid and stick a label on the jar with the contents and date. Let sit for one to three weeks in a cool, dark place. Periodically taste the honey to see if the infused flavor is strong enough. When it's ready, strain the flowers out or use as is. Infused honey is excellent in or on top of baked goods; in drinks like smoothies, tea, and cocktails; or used as toppings for waffles, toast, yogurt, etc. It will hold its flavor nicely for several months (if you can keep it around for that long!)
Now this is kind of a weird one... Elderflowers are definitely more popular in sweet foods— cordials, liqueurs, infused sugars, etc.— but I wanted to try them in something different! If this sounds unappetizing to you, simply substitute white sugar for salt.
As explained above, shake off flowers to remove insects. In the case of infused salt, it is imperative that the flowers are completely dry before using, as excess water can cause mold.
Using a scissors, trim the individual flowers into a bowl, removing as much of the stem as possible. Stems, leaves, roots, and unripe berries are toxic and should not be eaten. Eating the smallest stems is fine, as the quantities aren't large enough to hurt you.
Again, you want to make sure that the elderflowers are completely dry on the outside. If they are wet from dew, rain, or from being rinsed, it may cause mold to form. Recipes typically call for 1 teaspoon loosely packed, trimmed elderflowers to 1/4 cup salt. (If subbing sugar for salt, use a 1:4 ratio by volume of elderflowers to sugar. I ignored the recipes and simply layered salt and elderflowers together in a jar. It's very strong, though— I definitely could have used less!) Mix the elderflowers and salt together in a bowl and spoon into a sterilized glass jar. Make sure that the flowers are completely covered by salt. Screw on the sterilized lid and stick a label on the jar with the contents and date. Let sit for at least one week in a cool, dark place. Periodically taste the salt to see if the infused flavor is strong enough. When it's ready, use as is in salads, dressings, cocktails, cookies, or anywhere else you think floral salt would be tasty! Just be aware that a little bit goes a long way. It will store nicely for several months.
Note: It is normal for the salt to get clumpy, due to the moisture from the elderflowers. I like using fresh elderflowers because the aroma is delicate and easily compromised by heating. However, you can avoid clumpy salt by drying the elderflowers beforehand, or by pouring the salt and flower mixture onto a baking tray instead of into a jar. Place the baking tray in an oven set at the lowest temperature with the door cracked open with a large utensil. Bake a couple hours, until completely dry, stirring frequently. Transfer infused salt to a sterilized glass jar and label with contents and date.
Now Go Try It!
Elderflowers aren't around forever, so take advantage of this opportunity while you can. Be sure to let me know what your favorite elderflower recipes are!