In midsummer, masses of tiny cream blossoms cover the black elder, or Sambucus nigra, shrub, creating an ethereal look. If left to nature, the fragrant blooms will produce blue/black elderberries in the fall. However, herbalists value elderflowers as much as they value elderberries, and when the shrub is in full bloom, they gather the delicate blossoms to make herbal remedies and culinary delights. Elderflower cordial is a sweetened extraction of elderflowers and available in health food stores and gourmet grocers. In addition to its distinct flavor, elderflower cordial is valued for its potential health benefits.
Upon opening, the tiny elderflowers produce a honey-sweet aroma that makes the most flavorful cordials. If the flowers are picked too late, they can become bitter. The cordial is made by simmering the fresh flowers in water sweetened with sugar or honey. Lemon juice helps preserve the flavor and keeps the cordial from turning brown. A traditional cordial contains a concentrated form of elderflower’s constituents, valued as a general tonic because of its high vitamin C content. Some commercial elderflower cordial products come ready-to-drink and might contain carbonation.
The “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine” suggests that triterpenes might be the active ingredients in elderflowers, although they also contain flavonoids and phenolic acids. Additional potentially beneficial components include small amounts of minerals, sterols, mucilage, pectin, protein, linoleic acid and volatile oils. While these constituents might possess healing properties, clinical studies confirming elderflower benefits are nonexistent.
In addition to its flavor and aroma, elderflower cordial might be potentially beneficial in reducing the duration of colds and flu, according to the “Gale Encyclopedia.” The presence of mucilage might act to soothe irritated sinuses and mucus membranes and elderberry cordial might be diaphoretic, meaning it can increase sweating, which might be beneficial in treating an accompanying fever. These benefits are anecdotal only. See your doctor if cold or flu symptoms persist or are severe.
You must cook elderflowers before consuming because they contain potentially toxic alkaloids that cooking destroys, according to the website SelfSufficientIsh.com.
Side effects from using elderflower products are rare, according to the “Gale Encyclopedia,” but pregnant women, nursing mothers and anyone with diagnosed liver or kidney disease should not use elderflower unless directed to do so by a physician.
- “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, Volume 2”; Jacqueline L. Longe; 2005
- Herbal Safety: Black Elder Flowers