Hungary is in elderflower season right now and it’s the perfect time to make a refreshing drink from the heavily scented blossoms of Sambucus nigra. Don’t buy expensive elderflower drink, it’s quick and easy to make your own at home, just get outdoors and pick some heads before the season is over.
Black elder (sambucus nigra) beside camomile is the most popular herb in Hungary. Black elderflower and elderberry have been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years, their presence can be traced back to Roman times. There are several varieties of elder, but sambucus nigra is the one most often used for health benefits as it is the only variety considered to be non-toxic even when not cooked, but it is still recommended to cook the berries at least a little to enhance their taste and digestibility. Black elder has an effect in treating the flu, alleviating allergies, and boosting the immune system. Furthermore its tea relieves caugh, has a diuretic and diaphoretic effect.
The elderflower season is short, it lasts from mid-May to mid-June in Hungary. This undemanding plant is not fussy about soil type and it grows anywhere where it gets enough light. Try to choose those trees that are far from busy roads and not polluted with car exhaust fumes. Pick the flower heads, preferably early in the morning before the insects occupy the blossoms and rob all the pollen.
Even if this elderflower drink is too sweet to drink without dilution, it’s rather a soft drink than a cordial because it’s not as thick and concentrated as a syrup. Making a cordial needs at least 20-30 flower heads and almost 1 kg of sugar, which are dissolved in 1,5 liter of water, whereas this 2,5 liter soft drink contains only 400 g of sugar and the essence of 4 elderflowers. As it isn’t preserved, you have to store in the fridge after straining, where it can keep for a few days, or you can freeze it in plastic bottles, so you may enjoy this luscious refreshing drink several weeks or months later.
Note: quantities in parentheses are approximate since in Hungary metric units are used.
- 4 elderflower heads
- 400 g (~2 cups) sugar
- 1 unwaxed lemon
- 10 g (~2 1/2 tsp) citric acid
Wash and shake the elderflowers to remove any insects. Thoroughly wash the lemon, then slice it into thick slices.
Place sugar, elderflowers and lemon slices into a 2,5 liter jar. Scatter citric acid over them.
Pour water to fill the jar. Stir to dissolve sugar and citric acid. Cover the jar with a plate and leave to steep for 48-72 hours.
Strain through a fine muslin cloth or a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl.
Using a funnel, fill plastic bottles. The soft drink can keep for a few days in the fridge, but you can freeze the filled bottles to keep for longer.
Serve chilled, diluted with soda, still or sparkling water, or Prosecco for a perfect summer spritzer.