I love foraging.
There’s just something I love about going for a walk with a bag in your pocket, hoping to gather something beautifully seasonal that you can take home and turn into a gorgeous pudding, preserve or drink.
For me, summer had truly started when I can smell the light Elderflower’s perfume and see their huge white dinner plate flowers all around on roadsides hedgerows.
It’s one of my favourite flavours. It’s so sweet, floral and refreshing!
They are also full of antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Quercetin which can help boost the body’s immune system.
For the past few years I have been foraging for Elderflowers and making Elderflower cordial, Elderflower tea, and recently even my own Elderflower Champagne!
So, when’s the best time to forage for these beauties?
The Elder tree comes into bloom in late May to early June. It maybe earlier depending on whether we are having a particularly warm spring.
What you want to look out for are those fluffy white dinner plate flower heads on leafy green shrubs.
If you’re unsure whether it is Elderflower you’re looking at it, smell the flowers and you’ll be able to tell straight away.
Where and how is best to forage for Elderflowers?
There are 6 rules I follow when foraging for Elderflowers:
1. Never pick more than you need.
I always try to only pick a few heads from each bus, leaving plenty for the bees and birds. Where there’s one elder tree, you’ll be sure to find others!
2. Pick the heads that are not yet completely open.
You’re looking for heads with around ¾ of the flowers in bloom, but some still in bud. This will mean you’re flowers are as fresh as can be.
3. Pick the flowers first thing in the morning.
The flowers will be more sweet and fragrant in the morning as they would have replenished their nectar and pollen overnight, ready for the next day.
4. Always take a bag or box with you. By placing your flower heads into a container, you’re reducing the likely hood of them wilting while you’re out on a walk. It also reduced the chances of you bashing them around and knocking off the flowers.
5. Try to avoid picking Elderflowers that are next to the road.
The flowers will be covered in pollutants from the vehicles driving past. It may be tempting to just pick the ones you see first, but it’s best to go away from road / railway lines to forage to make sure you’re getting beautifully clean flowers.
6. Always pick on common land or somewhere you have the landowner’s permission.
Elder trees are very common wild shrubs in the UK, but they are also grown in gardens. So, make sure you’re picking from a place that you are entitled to / have the land owners permission. I tend to pick in woodlands or along footpaths.
So, here’s what you need to make my foraged wild Elderflower Champagne.
– A spotlessly clean bucket (food safe plastic / glass / metal will be fine)
– A clean tea towel / muslin cloth
– A wooden spoon
As well as..
– About 10 foraged Elderflower heads
– 3 lemons
– 350g sugar
– 2 TBSP white wine vinegar
– 2 Litres of boiled water
– A pinch of dried yeast
Before you start the recipe
When you get your foraged Elderflowers home, trim off all leaves and the majority of the stalk.
Give them a swish in some cold water to dislodge any little critters that are hiding in the blooms.
Here’s the recipe!
It will take around 2 weeks after starting this recipe before you can drink your champagne – but that’s not bad for a few bottles of virtually free fizz!!
Part 1 – 3 days
1- Measure out the sugar into your container and top it up with 2 Litres of boiled water.
2- Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved.
3- Add 2 TBSP of White Wine Vinegar and top up with 1 litre of cold water, so you now have 3 litres in total.
4- Cut the lemons in half, squeeze the juice into the bucket and pop the lemon into the mixture too. You can slice the skin and juice the lemons separately, but I find the squeeze and chuck method quicker and easier with the same result.
5- Now add in your (pre rinsed) elderflowers, making sure they are all submerged.
6- Give everything a good stir.
7- Cover your container with a muslin cloth or an old tea towel. I tied mine secure just to make sure my inquisitive puppy didn’t decide to have a sniff in there!
8- Leave your container somewhere out of direct sunlight to ferment for a few days. This is when the magic (maybe) happens. There are natural yeasts in the air that could be on your flowers. By leaving the mixture to ferment for a few days you’re giving the natural yeasts a change to get going on their own.
Part 2 – 5 days
9- After 2 or 3 days check your mixture to see if it is looking slightly foamy / bubbly. Don’t be disheartened if it’s not. Not all elderflowers will have natural yeasts on them, they’ll just need a bit of a helping hand from now to start fermenting.
a. If your mixture has no bubbles at all, add in a good pinch of dried active yeast and give it another stir. You can then leave it again for another 4 or 5 days to get fermenting.
b. If you’re mixture is foamy, you’re on to a winner. Cover it back up and leave it for another 4 or 5 days.
10- After 4 or 5 days strain the liquid through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth or linen tea towel and decant into some sterilised bottles. These bottles will need to be a strong glass with a pop cap lid (see photo below) or you could also reuse some old pop bottles as they are designed to hold fizzy liquids.
Part 3 – 7 days
11- There will now be gas being created within these bottles, so you will need to release the gas every few days to reduce the chance of explosions. For real. My mum had an Elderflower Champagne related incident in her pantry resulting in shards of glass found embedded in the walls and door… so be careful folks. Make sure you release your gas 😉
12- Leave the bottles to further ferment for around 1 week before serving.
13- The bottles will keep for several months in the bottles if stored in a cool, dry place. Just remember to release the gas every now and then. The longer you keep the champagne in the bottles, the more dry and more alcoholic it will become. So, as with any homemade alcohol – proceed with caution!
I really love Elderflower Champagne. It’s one of my favourite seasonal drinks.
I find its best served chilled and preferably after a long day’s hard work in the sun!!
Have you tried making your own Elderflower Champagne? How did it go? Let me know in the comments below!