• Harvesting Elderflowers

May 30, 2015

Are You Interested in Harvesting Elderflowers?

It's the season for Harvesting Elderflowers in North Carolina.  Spring in the Carolinas is a steady progression of one heavenly flower after the other.  I've learned that when the Honeysuckle is in full flower and the air is filled with the heavenly scent of floral caramel that the elderflowers won't be far behind.  That's when I begin scanning the roadsides in my neck of the woods for patches of wild elderflower. It might even be a good idea to keep tools for Harvesting Elderflowers in your car.

Over the years I've identified quite a few reliable big patches, although each year I lose some to the roadside maintenance crews.  New patches pop up all the time.  The elderflowers are typically tight green buds when the honeysuckle is blooming, and in a week or two they will be perfect for harvest.

We know that the flowers on our farm in Missouri will be ready to pick about three weeks after flower season in North Carolina.  Older, established plants flower first.  The bright green new shoots, known as "primacanes" will be the last to flower, often sporting one huge flower head per cane, unlike their older relatives which tend to produce multiple clusters of smaller heads. This large patch is growing behind one of our barns on the farm.


Elderflowers have a long history of medicinal and culinary use; in fact I recently found a recipe for Elderflower Fritters from a cookbook entitled Opera dell’arte del cucinare written by chef Bartolomeo Scappi in 1570.   Elderflowers were used by many cultures throughout the world for thousands of years before that, too.  Elderflowers have long been prized for their heady aroma and unique flavor, best described as floral with notes of vanilla, butter and pepper.  Used in cordials and syrups, compotes, wine and beer, and even in fritters,  elderflower infuses the recipe with its scent, turning perfume into flavor. Medicinally, elderflowers have been used by traditional cultures to break fevers, loosen lung congestion, alleviate hay fever, and as antiseptic washes.

Harvesting Elderflowers

For Harvesting Elderflowers, all you need is a pair of good clippers, a bag, and a nice sunny day to harvest your own elderflowers.  Dress appropriately too, as you will find yourself in tall weeds on the roadside for this adventure. Elderflowers love to grow by stream banks, on the sides of lakes and ponds, in low spots along the road, and in fence rows.  Occasionally you will find an elderberry growing on a road side bank, but typically only in situations where the road maintenance crews can't mow them down.  Look for the patches covered with creamy white flower heads that are accessible and in a safe location away from traffic.  Select flower heads that have just opened and have few to no dark spots.  Snip off the flower head about 4 to 6 inches below the flower, shake it gently to remove any insects and place it gently in your bag.

Elderflowers are tender things and quickly perish, so plan to work your elderflowers into a recipe that afternoon.  One easy way to preserve your elderflowers for use in a wide variety of recipes is to make an elderflower syrup.  You can also try your hand at elderflower fritters, or a pectin-less strawberry-elderflower jam.


Alternatively, you can dry your elderflowers to preserve them.  I've had great success drying elderflowers in-doors on window screens supported by kitchen chairs.  Simply lay a screen horizontally, resting one end of the screen on the seat of a chair, and resting the other end of the screen on a second chair seat.  Lay the flowers flat on the screen ensuring that each flower has plenty of room to allow air to flow around it.  Allow the flowers to air dry for several days, turning them periodically (2 or 3 times) to ensure even drying.  Once the flowers are dried you can remove them from their stems simply by rubbing the dried flower heads between your fingers.  Be sure do so over a bowl to catch the petals.  Discard the stems, and store the dried flowers in sealed paper bag in a dark location.  Dried flowers can be used in teas, tinctures, syrups, Beignets, cakes, compotes...the opportunities are endless!

Norm's Farms hope you enjoyed this article on Harvesting Elderflowers


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