Last night I completed my first batch of elderflower syrup, made from the flowers of my own elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) shrubs. In past years I’ve received a jar of this lovely stuff from a friend, but she decided to avoid the sugar this year, so I made a small batch myself. Putting aside all the medicinal properties people have traditionally believed that elderberry possesses, the flower syrup is delicious in seltzer, iced tea, or even plain water as a summer drink. In Europe, you can buy elderflower soft drinks and liqueurs.
Making the syrup takes several days but mostly involves waiting while the flowers steep in a bowl on the kitchen table. You start by clipping some just-opened elderberry flowers and gathering together the other ingredients: a lemon and a small amount of simple syrup. Most recipes I found were for very large amounts–a gallon or more. I cut it down to 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar for the syrup, 1 lemon, and 1 dozen large elderflower umbels (minus bugs).
Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. In the meantime, pick over the flowers to remove all bugs and debris, remove the stems, zest the lemon, and squeeze the juice of half the lemon.
Stir the zest and juice into the flowers in the bowl. When the sugar and water come to a boil, add the syrup to the flower mixture. Cover and set aside for 3 to 5 days.
The flowers will gradually turn brown in the syrup, and the mixture will develop a delightful but very subtle floral fragrance. Strain it through a sieve and several thicknesses of cheesecloth into jars or other containers.
The syrup will keep for a month or more in the refrigerator, longer if you sterilize the jars. I wound up with 3 cups of syrup, or two nice jam jars full, and plenty of flowers left on the bushes to turn into berries in the summer. Iced tea, anyone?