Historical lore abounds in regards to the lovely elder tree. Plentiful across Iowa both wild and cultivated it’s been featured in fairy tales, magic making, and herbal remedies going back to the stone age. Sweetly scented and pleasant with honey, it’s considered an herbal ally for children and adults alike. Elder flowers make a delicious country wine, champagne (yum!) or mead style brew, while I’ve usually made elder berries into a cordial (honey and brandy infusion). An elder flower simple syrup is a delicious addition to spritzers, cocktails, and teaspresso (or coffee espresso) drinks. And is our featured homestyle syrup this week.
Of no gardening prowess of my own, I have a lovely little grove of Elders growing in my backyard… aka the “Little Woods” and the space in my life to which our shop owes its name. They are perfectly in season this week and on the cusp of making that transition into elder berries.
Elder berries are something I’ve never been able to successfully harvest. Their ideal ripe time is fleeting and I always seem to catch them right before the lovely cluster droops, or shortly after the birds and raccoons strip them.
So this year, I decided not to try and capture the berries, but instead harvested about 50% of the elder flowers and assumed the rest will be for the wildlife and maybe just maybe me too.
An interesting thing about our lovely herbal ally the Elder, it’s considered toxic. All the roots, bark, twigs and even the uncooked berries, green berries will give you a nice dose of throwing up and then some. Don’t eat the twigs. That being the case, before drying, I removed the smaller flower clusters from the larger stems.
I used my dehydrator to dry them as it’s pretty humid in Iowa right now. It took about 8 hours at 90°F.
After then hand plucking the tiny dried flowers from the remaining twigs, I was left with yet another little pile of twigs.
I’ve already used the dried flowers quite often in teas for myself and Lucy and happily have a little jar tucked into the cupboard to pull out and use this winter. One of my favorite things about preserving my harvest is with each jar in my pantry there are memories of summer. I pull out those jars to make a tea and am immediately standing in the sun, dewy sweat across my brow and dirt under my nails from weeding.
Elder flowers are this week’s feature in the Little Woods shop. In addition to today’s post about harvesting and preserving them, I’ll be posting a recipe for making an elder flower simple syrup this weekend. If you’ve already missed the harvest where you are, or you don’t have a nice shrub growing near by, you can get them dried and ready to use for 10% off their usual price now thru Sunday in our online store or our apothecary on Main street in Ames, Iowa.