Elderflowers have a long tradition of use and colorful lore. They are most useful in herbal concoctions during flu and cold season. Picking elderflowers when in season and drying them is an excellent way to preserve these spring bloomers for fall and winter sick days. You need to know when to pick elderflowers or you may miss these beneficial blooms or accidentally harvest look-a-like plants that can be extremely dangerous.
When to Pick Elderflowers
Harvesting elderflowers is a late spring tradition in many parts of the world. They grow wild in temperate regions, especially the Northern Hemisphere. The flowers are useful as a syrup, nutritional supplement and in cosmetics. You can even make elderflower fritters or use them in a sorbet. The first step is learning how to harvest elderflowers. Then you can try some of the many recipes widely available online.
Depending upon where you live, elderflowers are at their peak in late spring to early summer. In most regions, mid-June seems to be the best time for picking. If left to their own devices, the flowers will turn into delicious dark purple berries around August, which must be cooked to remove cyanidin glycoside. This chemical has been known to make people sick.
The elderflower plant’s blooms closely resemble several dangerous plants including hogweed and hemlock. During elderflower harvest time, the umbels are covered in tiny creamy white flowers. Each ripens at a different time with the center opening first. To get the most out of the blooms, wait to pick them until much of the buds have opened.
How to Harvest Elderflowers
A mesh bag is best for harvesting elderflowers. The blooms are delicate and an airless container will make them turn brown and lose much of their beneficial components and flavor. Elders grow wild in ditches, roadsides and swampy areas.
Take blooms during a cool part of the day and keep harvested flowers out of the sun. Simply clasp your fingers at the base of the flower cluster and pull. This will avoid much of the stem. However, if picking elderflowers for fritters, snip the umbel off with enough stem to hang onto when dipping into batter. Just avoid eating that part when you enjoy these sweet treats.
You can use the blooms fresh or preserve them for later use. To save them, hang the umbels upside down or lay them on a screen for several days until they are dry. The flowers should retain much of their creamy color.
Once dried, you can rub off the little blooms with your hands. Store dried flowers in paper bags in a cool, dry location.
You may also choose to make an elderflower syrup to use in cooking or as part of a restorative tea. Elderflower harvest only happens once per year, so it is important to properly preserve these useful and delicious flowers right at the time of picking.