Know Your Ingredients: Elderflower and Elderberry

The elder tree has long been considered sacred across Northern Europe; today we explore two of its ingredients’ flavor profiles, and how to incorporate them into your beverages at home or on bar.

BY EMILY MENESES
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Featured photo courtesy of Toby Schumacher via Unsplash

With hints of spring emerging here in the Northern Hemisphere, ingredients like rose, jasmine, and lavender are on everybody’s minds. While you can’t go wrong with these favored florals, there are many other ingredients to explore as well! In today’s installment of “Know Your Ingredients,“ we’re turning our attention to elderflower and elderberry, which both come from the elder tree (Sambucus nigra).

The elder tree typically grows as a shrub or small tree in woodland areas or along riverbanks—anywhere where water is abundant and the soil is wet and fertile. While elderberries ripen at the start of autumn, elderflowers bloom in the late spring. Both flowers and berries have wonderful flavor profiles and healing benefits to offer.

A wood table with a black plate. On the plate is a glass jar and elder flowers being placed into it, and two wooden spoons. Elderberry branches with flowers and leaves and lemons sliced in half adorn the table.
Elderflower has a soft and subtle flavor profile—fresh and fruity, with notes of pear and lychee. Photo courtesy of Svitlana via Unsplash.

Ancient Uses

Since ancient times, the elder tree and its flowers and fruit have been seen as magical and sacred—especially across Northern Europe. The Druids saw the elder tree as a gift from Mother Earth, believing nature spirits lived within it. Flowers and twigs were placed around households or worn as jewelry, believed to provide protection. Elder wine, concocted from elderberries, was believed to strengthen clairvoyant abilities and induce psychic visions when consumed. William Shakespeare is also known for mentioning the elder tree often in his work.

Flavor Profiles

Elderflower has a unique flavor profile. It’s soft and subtle, fresh and fruity, with notes reminiscent of pear and lychee. In beverages, you’ll typically find elderflower paired with light teas—such as white tea or certain types of oolong tea—and other fruits and herbs, such as pear, blackberry, rosemary, or basil.

A close up focus of elderberry on a branch, still growing on the tree. The berries are dark purple/black, while the stems around the berries are a deep red/magenta.
Elderflower has a woodsy and floral taste, and their sweetness comes out when elderflower is cooked. Photo courtesy of Shadi via Unsplash.

Compared to elderflower, elderberry has a more intense taste: woodsy and floral, with a dark flavor that can be bitter and earthy when the fruit is consumed raw. When elderberries are cooked, some sweetness comes out. The fruit makes a great syrup that pairs well with dark teas or other floral flavors like rose or lavender.

Medicinal Properties

Elderberries are famous for their healing properties, and are often used to help ease symptoms of the cold and flu. Both elderberries and elderflowers are laden with antioxidants and immunity-boosting vitamins. We love this immunity-boosting elderberry syrup recipe, which includes other ingredients that are great for treating cold and flu symptoms, such as ginger and honey.

A glass of elderflower lemonade witha lemon wheel on the rim, and sliced lemons and elderflower bunches around it.
Making elderflower lemonade is a great and unique way to welcome in spring. Photo and recipe courtesy of Occasionally Eggs.

Elderflower and Elderberry at Your Café

While elderflower is great in cocktails, there’s nothing stopping you from incorporating it into your café drinks, by infusing iced teas with elderflower or making elderflower lemonade (check out this recipe!). Elderberry is a great choice for anyone looking to infuse their recipes with some health benefits.

Adding elderflower or elderberry to your drink repertoire is a great way to celebrate the arrival of spring and add life to your menu through new and unique flavors.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Based in Los Angeles, Emily Meneses (she/her) is a writer and musician passionate about culture and collective care. You can regularly find her at Echo Park Lake, drinking a cortado and journaling about astrology, art, Animal Crossing, and her dreams.

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