Elderberry and Elderflower

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

elderberry and elderflower borne by elderberry trees, of the genus Sambucus, are found almost everywhere in Europe, W. Asia, and N. America. The trees bear white flower clusters and abundant black berries, both of which are edible and widely eaten. Neither flowers nor berries are good when raw. In this state they contain small amounts of a poisonous alkaloid, and have a sickly, unpleasant smell and taste. Cooking alters the taste and destroys the alkaloid.

Elderflowers have been made into teas or tisanes in Europe and by N. American Indians, largely for medicinal use and especially as an antidote against colds. The flowers are also used to flavour cooked fruit and jam, which is achieved by stirring the panful with a spray of flowers until the flavour is judged strong enough. They provide, in a more substantial role, the basis of elderflower fritters, sometimes claimed to be an invention of N. American Indians but having a lineage in Europe which goes back to medieval times (cf. Hieatt and Hosington, 1998); these now enjoy a wide popularity. Elderflowers also go into muffins and pancakes to lighten and flavour them.