Picking elderflowers can be great fun and you can turn them into a myriad of things. One of the most common ones is elderflower cordial. You can use it in drinks and add it to baked goods but before you get to cook with them you need to find and pick them first.
How do elderflowers grow?
Elderflowers grow on bushes, the specific term for these is Sambucus. Depending on how old they are they can turn into a giant tree-like bush the size of a house. You can find them everywhere ranging from parks, fields and forests to alongside of big streets. They grow nearly everywhere and usually their sweet scent will lead you straight to them.
Can I pick the wrong flowers?
In theory yes. There are a few plants that give similar flowers. Two of them grow straight from the ground and you should not pick them. Look at the pictures below and remember that elderflowers grows on large bushes, not like flowers from the ground like these two.
So stay clear from flowers that grow from the ground. Pick those on large bushes and that have a delicate, sweet smell and make sure the leaves of the bush look like in the pictures below.
Where to pick?
When you pick them in public areas like parks or alongside roads make sure there is no intense road traffic next to them, you do not want to have exhaust fume infused flowers. Also make sure there local gardeners who take care of the parks and trees don’t have a habit of spraying them with pesticides on a frequent basis. If you are unsure then stick to forests.
Once you found a bush that is pesticide free you can get on and pick your first elderberry flowers. I tend to carry a scissor with me and only cut as much as needed. It helps to place the cut off flower heads in a open basket or cloth bag to allow bugs and beetles to evacuate the cut off flowers. If you place them in plastic bags there is little chance for the insects to escape and your flower heads will wilt very quickly since the air is trapped in plastic bags and heats up quickly. Make sure to pick only the freshest flower heads. When they have brown or wilted flowers, leave them. They’ve turned bitter already. Same with flower heads with too many buds. I have picked a few of those however to take pictures for you so you can see precisely what I mean.
If you see a bush with a vast amount of flower heads that only show buds then remember the spot and return a couple of days later. There will be fresh flower heads for you to pick if nobody else picked them ahead of you.
Depending on how old the bushes are you will have to reach up rather high to get to the best flowers. I usually let whoever is taller than me and willed to accompany me while foraging pick those further up. It also helps as reference for you to see how large those trees can get. The person on the picture is 1.80m / 5′ 11″ tall so you can see how big they really are. We’re really lucky to live close to a park that has a really large number of those bushes, albeit they are surrounded by pesky sting nettles. Hence the long jeans.
Be prepared. Wear sturdy shoes. Bring a basket or cloth bag, a scissor and an extra pair of long trousers just in case you encounter sting nettles or other prickly shrubbery on your foraging trip. And most of all have fun!