With the beginnings of June, we’re starting to see elderflowers grow in big white feathery bundles from trees along the roadway. They’re very pretty, especially when you see a whole tree veiled in a shimmering newtork of lace, but the elder has lots of other uses. Traditionally, it’s a plant which keeps away evil spirits, which is why you sometimes find it planted in cemeteries.
Elder was traditionally used to treat colds and flu, and anything to do with the sinuses, since it reduces swelling. And the berries have a laxative effect, although that was perhaps more valued in the past! In 1664 the diarist John Evelyn wrote of elder, “If the medicinal properties of its leaves, bark, and berries were fully known, I cannot tell what our country men would ail for which he might not fetch a remedy from every hedge either for sickness or wounds.
But I like elderflower cordial best. It has a light delicate flavour that sums up summer. You can buy ready-made elderflower cordial, either to dilute or to drink neat (although I find all the commercial ones too strong and always dilute them with sparkling water). I’ve always wanted to try making my own, but the recipes I’ve seen so far call for ‘citric acid’, which sounds like the kind of thing which would etch its way through any container. But I recently found one which calls for just sugar, boiling water and lemons along with the elderflower heads, so I’m determined to try it this year.
Making elderflower cordial is a good use of a plant which usually grows wild; but for centuries, people have cultivated gardens for produce and flowers. This month’s giveaway is a history of the gardens attached to castles and stately homes, including Queen Victoria’s home at Frogmore, near Windsor. Just one statistic from the book – 5 MILES of peas were grown there!
Leave a comment on my blog in June to be in for a change of winning. And, if you comment each week, you’ll improve your chances! So tell me, have you grown your own produce, or taken advantage of nature’s?