Elderberry – Sureau noir – Sambucus nigra
When you are driving around in May and you see a small tree or large shrub, covered in blossom, it is most likely to be an Elderberry. It is native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia. It has been such a useful herb through the centuries, having a very long history from before the Egyptians and is very popular in Folk medicine to treat colds. The name ‘Sambucus’ comes from the Greek word ‘sambuke’, which means ‘a musical pipe’. The new shoots of the Elder were used for this.
It is a shrub or small tree up to 10m in height. The leaves are a dull green, subdivided into 5 elliptic, serrated leaflets, 3-9 cm long. The flowers are fragrant, white, 5 mm in diameter, grouped in flat topped cymes, followed after the flowering by numerous edible, purple fruits, 8 mm in diameter. It prefers moist conditions. The twigs and leaves when crushed give off an unpleasant odour.
Traditionally, all parts of the Elder were used but today it is mostly the flowers. They contain a plant acid, that is anti-inflammatory; flavonoids that encourage perspiration (good for fevers) and a fixed oil. The leaves contain toxic cyanogenic glucosides. Internally an infusion made from the dried or fresh flowers is useful in the treatment of colds, flu, nasal catarrh, sinisitis, mouth ulcers and any illness with fever. An old home remedy for flu is an infusion of elderberry flowers and peppermint to treat colds and as a gargle for sore throats. It can be used externally for minor burns, irritated or inflamed skin. It contain minerals: 8 – 9% Ca, Cu and K.
For culinary purposes: the flowers dipped in batter and fried make a delightful dessert; a lemonade made from the flowers is an old home favourite as are also, elderberry wine and elderberry syrup.
Ingredients: 14 elderflower heads; 4 l water; 2 lemons cut in slices; 2 soupspoons of white vinegar; 500 g of castor sugar.
Mix all the ingredients in a large container, leave it to rest for 24 hours (do not wash the flowers). Strain and bottle. It keeps for 2 weeks in the fridge or longer when frozen.
Ingredients: 12 elderflower heads; oil for deep frying; caster sugar for dredging. Batter: 100 g plain flour; pinch of sea salt; 2 tablespoons sunflower oil; 150 ml warm water; 1 egg white.
To make the batter, sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Stir in the oil and mix in enough lukewarm water to give the consistency of fairly thick cream. Leave to stand for 1 to 2 hours in a cool place. Just before using, beat the egg white in a bowl until stiff and fold it into the batter.
Rinse the elderflower heads and shake them dry in a cloth. Dip each one in the batter, shaking off any excess, and drop into a large pan of oil heated to 180C. Do not try to fry them all at once as they must not be crowded. When each batch is done, drain briefly on crumpled paper towels then lay them on a serving dish in a warm place until the others are done. Sprinkle with sugar and serve straight away.
Ingredients: 900 ml water; 150 g caster sugar; 16 elderflower heads; juice of 2 lemons; white of 1 large egg; red currant or sprigs of mint to decorate.
Put the water in a pan with the sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Wash the elderflowers and shake them dry. Put them in the pan, cover it and remove it from the heat. Leave for 30 minutes to infuse. Strain, and stir in the lemon juice. Turn into a rigid container and cool. Freeze for 1 hour, until semi-frozen. Beat the egg white in a bowl until it is firm though not stiff. Fold it into the sorbet and freeze it again until firm, about 1 hour. To serve, spoon into wine glasses. Each glass may be decorated with a few red currants, or a tiny sprig of mint. Serves 6
Bibliography : Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia; Malcolm Stuart – Herbs & Herbalism; RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses – Deni Bown