The multiple uses of elderberry flowers, from herbal medicine to cooking

Elderflowers are the inflorescences of an evergreen tree up to 7 meters high. Small and yellowish-white, they bloom between May and July and emanate a strong fruity and spicy fragrance. In addition to being very aesthetically pleasing, they are rich in properties from a phytotherapeutic point of view. In addition, they are also great and versatile in the kitchen. Ideal for enriching recipes, making jams and various types of drinks.

Let’s find out their characteristics, the uses that can be made of them and how to best preserve them to keep all their benefits intact.

The elderberry plant and flowers

The elder (scientific name Sambucus nigra), belonging to the Adoxaceae family, is a shrub-like plant species native to Europe and the Caucasus. It has dark green leaves with serrated edges and blackish berries.

Its flowers, small and white, appear between the end of May and July, and emanate a very sweet perfume. Elderflowers, just like its fruits, are edible and rich in beneficial properties.

When are elderflowers harvested?

The elder flowers begin to bloom towards the end of May and must be harvested when the pistil is still fresh.

Where can elderflower be found?

Being a fairly common plant, elderberry flowers are readily available. Generally, the plant is found along rural hedges, in the woods, near country houses and also along the edges of the roads on the outskirts of the cities.

How to recognize the good elderberry from the poisonous one?

When harvesting the flowers and fruits of the elderberry plant, it is good to be very careful as, in nature, there are similar varieties that are poisonous to humans.

It is therefore essential to know how to distinguish Sambucus nigra, the “good” and edible variety, from Sambucus Ebulus which, on the other hand, is toxic.

The main differences between the two plants can be seen by observing:

  • plant structure
  • stem
  • flowers
  • fruits

Let’s analyze the various parts of both plants by comparing them.


The elder can reach several meters in height (even 7-8 meters), while the Ebbio is a shrub that, at most, reaches 150 cm, and in any case does not branch.
The Elder tends to develop many different inflorescences in several points of the plant, while the Ebbio has only one or more inflorescences (maximum three) and only in the upper part.


The stem of the Elder is woody, with gray-brown bark and many small dots; Ebbio instead has a simple central stem, green in color, rather thick and rigid.


Small, white and very fragrant, the flowers of the Elder are grouped in large umbrellas, usually beautiful large. The Ebbio also has an umbrella inflorescence, which however is usually oval rather than circular. Its flowers are slightly larger than those of the Elder but, above all, the big difference lies in the fact that the small flowers of the Ebbio have pink-violet details on the inside, shades instead absent in the Elder flowers.


In the Elder, the clusters of black-violet berries, present around the whole plant, fall downwards, while in the Ebbio they remain beautiful straight in the center of the plant, facing upwards.

Elderflower: properties

Elderflowers are edible and rich in beneficial properties. Among the main uses in the therapeutic field, the elderberry acts with the following function:

  • diuretic
  • emollient
  • antineuralgic
  • laxative
  • diaphoretic
  • purifying
  • antirheumatic
  • stimulant of bronchial secretion

The dried flowers are often used in the form of an infusion to promote sweating so as to eliminate toxins and lower fever. This hot drink can also be useful for calming coughs, asthma, bronchitis, colds, phlegm and sinusitis. It is also recognized as diuretic and laxative. Also having antirheumatic properties, the intake of elderflower herbal tea is useful in case of arthrosis and gout.

For external use, however, elder flowers are particularly suitable for skin care. In fact, they possess soothing properties and are therefore useful for relieving the stinging of sunburn and the discomfort of irritated eyes.

The lotions based on elderflower extract, thanks to their astringent properties, favor the normalization of impurities and sebaceous secretion of the skin.

What do you do with elderflower?

Elderflowers are very versatile. Based on the above properties, let’s see how to use them.

Internal use

To take advantage of most of the properties described above, infusionsherbal teas and decoctions can be prepared.

External use

To soothe irritated states of eyes and skin, as well as to use them as an astringent solution for impure skin, a tonic must be prepared. Just leave 50 grams of elderflower flowers to infuse in a liter of boiling water for 15 minutes. Wait for it to cool and then soak a cloth or cotton balls and apply locally.

In the kitchen

In addition to infusions and herbal teas, countless recipes can be prepared with elderflower.

First of all, syrups, jellies, jams and liqueurs. Protagonists of delicious and aromatic pancakes, as well as excellent useful for flavoring salads and sauces, elderflowers are often used for the preparation of traditional dishes and drinks.

From the syrup made with sambuca flowers, diluted with water, a thirst-quenching drink is obtained which is widely used in Tyrol, Carnia and in many Nordic and Eastern European countries.

In Sicily, fresh elder flowers are used to make both a typical bread, the “Pani cu Savucu” and a particular focaccia “Vastedda“, a great classic of Easter Monday picnics.

Elderflower bread “U pipi e maju” is also prepared in Calabria, to accompany soppressata and pecorino cheese.

Finally, an extract is also obtained from the flowers, used for the production of the famous Sambuca.

How to wash elderflower?

Being very delicate, it is better not to wash them under running water as they could get damaged. It may be sufficient to shake them slightly and remove any insects and various dirt with your fingers.

Elderflower: flavor

Elderflowers have a characteristic sour taste.

It is a flavor that goes well with that of lemon. The elderflower juice is in fact refreshing and delicate.

What is elderflower tea for?

Elderflower herbal tea strengthens the immune system and is useful against coughs, bronchitis, colds and fever as it stimulates sweating. It also helps in case of digestive problems and is an excellent aid in weight loss diets and in case of gout as it promotes diuresis.

How to make elderflower tea

Preparing elderflower risana is really very simple. You need 2 teaspoons of dried flowers for each cup of boiling water.

Leave the flowers to infuse for at least 5 minutes and then filter.

Fried elderflower

Soft and fluffy, fried elderflowers are a real treat. They can be made in both sweet and savory versions. Below we propose the basic recipe.

Ingredients for about 20 flowers

  • 20 elderberry flowers
  • 150 grams of flour 00
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 yolk
  • 200 gr of sparkling water
  • Salt and Pepper To Taste


Whip the 2 egg whites. Meanwhile, in another bowl, pour the water, flour and yolk. Mix well with a whisk until you get a smooth and velvety lump-free consistency. Gradually add the whipped egg whites and continue to mix until the batter is smooth and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper. Dip the elder flowers in the batter and fry them in plenty of hot peanut oil.

Drain on absorbent kitchen paper and serve hot with a pinch of salt.

Elderflower syrup

Given the numerous properties, elderflower syrup finds various applications and uses. Rich in many active ingredients, it contains trace elements, flavonoids, essential oils and acids.

With a pleasant taste, it is rich in active nutrients and vitamins.

It is ideal to be taken during slimming and low-calorie diets as it counteracts nervous hunger and gives a sense of satiety. It is enough to dilute a tablespoon of it in a glass of fresh water. Excellent results are obtained if it is taken on an empty stomach and between meals.

Below we will summarize all the properties of this juice:

  • it makes you sweat and therefore helps to dispose of excess waste
  • relieves fever
  • calms colds and colds
  • relieves neuralgia and problems caused by sinusitis
  • it is laxative
  • performs a purifying and draining function
  • favors the activation of the circulatory and lymphatic systems
  • improves fat metabolism

How it is prepared

After knowing its many beneficial effects, let’s see how to prepare it.


  • 500 grams of raw cane sugar
  • 500 ml of water
  • 20 gr of citric acid
  • 50 grams of elderberry flowers
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon


Boil the water with the sugar until it has completely dissolved. Meanwhile, wash the orange and lemon thoroughly and cut them into thin slices. Add the citrus slices and elderflower to the water and sugar solution. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 4 days.

After the indicated time, filter and boil the liquid again. Then add the citric acid.

Once it reaches room temperature, fill the bottles and store in the refrigerator.

Any side effects

There are no particular contraindications in the use of the syrup. However, it is advisable to avoid excessive daily use. Also having laxative properties, excessive use could cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Elderflower for Hugo

The Hugo drink is the South Tyrolean version of the spritz, scented and sweetened by elder flowers. Slightly alcoholic, fresh and fragrant, it is a quick and easy cocktail that is easily prepared at home. Let’s see how.

Ingredients for 1 drink

  • 60 ml of prosecco
  • 60 ml of seltzer (or sparkling water)
  • 30 ml of elderflower syrup
  • fresh mint leaves
  • ice

How to proceed

In a large glass, pour several ice cubes. Add the prosecco, seltz (or sparkling water) and elderflower syrup. Stir and garnish with some fresh mint leaves.

Elderflower: drinks

Flavored waters have been very popular in recent years, especially in the summer. It is simply unsweetened water, embellished with spicy herbs, aromatic flowers and / or fruit. Generally, it is served in large jugs or in delicious single-portion glass jars with straws.

Elderflower flavored water

Dip a handful of fresh elderberry flowers plus a few slices of lemon in the carafe or in the single-serving jar. Keep in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours before serving.

Elderflower: liqueur

Very aromatic, the elderflower liqueur is very simple to prepare at home. Let’s see how to proceed.


  • 400 gr of water
  • 300 grams of alcohol
  • 300 grams of sugar

100 grams of elderflower

Shake the elder flowers very well to remove any impurities. Gently remove all the flowers and place them in a large jar. Then cover them with alcohol.

Close the container, place it in a dry place and let it macerate for about 20 days, remembering to shake it at least once a day.

After the maceration time, prepare a syrup with water and sugar. Filter the alcohol and add the cold syrup.

Bottle the liqueur and store in a cool place. To be able to enjoy it at its best you will have to wait at least a month.

Elderflower: jam

Now let’s see how to prepare a delicious jam with elder flowers. Perfect to simply spread on toast or to fill delicious tarts.


  • 12 elderflower umbrellas approx
  • 1 liter of water
  • 100 grams of brown sugar
  • 50 ml of lemon juice
  • 4 lemons


Clean the flowers thoroughly by shaking them gently and sprinkling them with a little water. Then detach them from the stems.

Infuse them in water with the sliced ​​lemon in a glass jar sealed with a lid. Let it rest for at least 24 hours.

After this period of time, pour all the contents of the jar into a nice pot.

Put on the stove and cook over medium heat until the lemon peels start to break.

Then pass everything with a vegetable press or an immersion mixer. Put everything back on the heat and add the sugar. Cook for about a quarter of an hour and then do the classic saucer test: drop a teaspoon of jam on a saucer, wait a few moments and then tilt. If the jam does not run quickly, it means that it is ready.
Transfer into sterilized glass jars. Close them with the lids and turn them over. Let it cool and then place in the pantry.

Elderflower jam can be kept for a few weeks up to about a couple of months. Store in a dark and dry place and, once the jar is opened, place it in the refrigerator and consume it within a week.

How can elderflower be preserved?

They can basically be stored in 3 different ways:

  1. drying: let the flowers dry in a dry and well-ventilated place, preferably in dim light. Once dried, the individual flowers will easily detach from the stem. Store in airtight glass containers
  2. freezing: remove the individual flowers and place them in a container suitable for the freezer. Color and flavor will remain unchanged
  3. in oil: wash the inflorescences and let them dry. Wrap them in a cotton cloth and store them in the dark for a couple of days. Then shell the flowers and place them in a sterilized glass vase. Cover them completely with extra virgin olive oil. This type of conservation also lasts for many months.

However you choose to keep them, it is still preferable to consume the elder flowers within a month in order to benefit from all their properties.


First of all, as widely explained at the beginning of the article, if you collect the fruits and flowers, it is essential to know how to distinguish the black elderberry plant (Sambucus nigra) from the poisonous variant, the Sambucus ebulus. If you are not an expert, avoid the collection and do it yourself.

Like any natural remedy, elderberry can also have contraindications and side effects.

Excessive doses could cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
It is not recommended to take it, even through infusions or herbal teas, to those suffering from chronic intestinal inflammation or in case of diarrhea and kidney or liver diseases.
As for the possible interactions with drugs, the effects of elderberry can increase the effectiveness of diuretics.
It is also advisable to avoid taking it at the same time as iron supplements.
Before starting to take any type of natural remedy, it is always advisable to consult your doctor.

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