After I mentioned that I made homemade syrup from foraged urban elderflowers, reader Georgia asked for the recipe. So I’m adding a new category to the blog called “Plant recipes.” Seeing that most of our current readers find our blog while googling “edible plants Berlin” and that we’ve already served “urb tea” and “neighborhood mint mojitos” made with foraged herbs from around the block during our residency at Open Source two years ago, I think there is enough interest and material for edible and drinkable urban plants to make this a regular topic!
Before continuing with the recipe, I’d like to call attention to Georgia’s own great blog, local ecologist, and her review of Darrin Nordahl’s “Public Produce”, a book dedicated to urban foraging and how city planners and other organizations can support the growth and harvest of edible plants in cities.
As I mentioned last time, I have some qualms about collecting plants from public spaces in any significant quantities. Unless they are clearly unwanted weeds, I wonder whether I’m detracting from the common good. Morals aside, I worry about poisonous pesticides and icky pet pee. However, if it’s just a stray apple, a few leaves of sorrel, or a handful of cherries, I love munching on free fruits and vegetables that other people just pass by as if they were invisible.
Once I figured out what elderflowers look like, they were anything but invisible to me. I saw them everywhere! How could I have missed the huge sprays of fragrant, tiny, creamy white flowers until now? No matter, the important thing was to make some syrup. I used to buy it at the organic grocery store, where it costs over 4 Euros for an 12 oz bottle. But no more! Now that I’ve tasted elderflower syrup foraged from the nearby park, it will be hard to turn back to store-bought. The only problem is waiting until next spring, when the flowers are blooming again, around the second half of May.
Foraged Elderflower Syrup
10-12 fresh sprays of elderberry flowers
1 organic lemon
2 cups* 4 cups sugar
4 cups water
1 tablespoon powdered citric acid
Adapted from “Das Goldene Kochbuch” from Germany’s G|U Verlag.
Pick over elderflowers for any dead flowers, stray bugs, etc. Place in a large, heatproof bowl with one organic lemon, which has been sliced into 1cm thick slices.
In a pot on the stove, boil the water and sugar together, stirring, to make simple syrup. As soon as the sugar dissolves and the syrup is boiling, pour the hot sugar over the flowers and lemon.
Cover the bowl, preferably with a light cloth or cheesecloth, and place on a warm sunny countertop for 3-4 days, stirring occasionally.
Then stir in one packet (a tablespoon or so) of citric acid powder. Strain into a clean bottle or two and refrigerate.
If you don’t want to use powdered citric acid, I’m guessing you could also juice an extra couple of lemons and add them. I think the point is both to give the syrup a sour tang and also to preserve it. Our bottle kept for about a month before starting to ferment a bit.
Ways to enjoy the syrup
- Elderflower water/soda: place a spoonful or two in a tall glass. Add some ice cubes and fill with water or seltzer. Serve with a straw.
- Elderflower wine: a spoonful of elderflower syrup with white wine or sparkling wine, or sparkling water and white wine.
- Hugo: a cocktail with champagne/prosecco, crushed mint and elderflower syrup. I have not tried this myself yet, but the trend seems to be working its way up from Austria northwards towards Berlin. I first heard about it from a Munich-based colleague, and now it’s been spotted in Kassel by the Wednesday Chef.
I’ve also heard of elderflower pancakes: inverting the sprays into pancakes as they are frying, then removing the stems to leave little circles of blossoms in your pancakes. I missed trying it this year, but that’s a reason to look forward to next spring!
Edit: Just noticed that Sylee has also been foraging – cherries at the contemporary art museum Haus am Waldsee, which I still need to visit. Too bad the cherries are probably no longer in season, otherwise I’d be even more motivated to head out there!
*Edit: I’m changing the amount of sugar back to something closer to the original recipe. After making this for the past few summers, I’ve found that it keeps better with a strong syrup rather than a watery one.
What are your favorite ways to eat or drink foraged plants?