Category Archives: Herbs

Elderflower Cordial

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Gathering elderflowers with my dear friend Rebecca

I fell head-over-heels for elderflower cordial many years ago when I lived in London. The delicate, muscat-flavored syrup may be used in cocktails and desserts, but the simplest, most sublime way to enjoy it is with sparkling water. I love elderflower soda, each sip blooming with the essence of spring and summer. Now that I make my own elderflower cordial, the associations are not just with my time in England, but also the lovely days and places where I foraged the blossoms here in Southern California.

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Many other creatures depend on elderflowers; forage responsibly!

Black elder trees (Sambucus nigra, also known as European elder) grow throughout Europe and North America, typically in sunny locations. Here in Southern California, we also have an abundance of blue elder (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea, also known as Sambucus mexicana or Mexican elder). When foraging, pick flower heads that are fully open with sweet smelling white or cream colored blossoms (brown ones can have the musky odor of cat urine!) and shake off any insects. Once you get home, do another insect inspection and separate the flowers from the stems using your fingers. If you’re like me, keep sniffing your fingers as you go along, marveling at how they’re covered in magically fragrant elderflower dust.

To make a cordial, steep the flowers plus lemons (some people also add oranges) and citric acid (used as a preservative) in a sweetened syrup. Traditionally one uses sugar, which has a more neutral sweetness, but this year I used honey and personally I liked it even better. Different recipes call for leaving the mixture to sit for one to five days before straining; I usually go for about two. To use the syrup, dilute it to taste in still or sparkling water, or try it in cocktails, drizzled over cake, ice cream, etc.

Elderflower Cordial – Sugar Version

Makes about about 10 cups

25 elderflower heads
2 unwaxed organic lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon citric acid
8 cups sugar
2 quarts water

Shake the elderflower heads to remove any dirt or insects. Separate the flowers from the stalks, trying to remove as much of the stems as you can (a few are fine, but too many can be toxic). Place the flowers in a large bowl with the lemon slices and citric acid.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let cool to lukewarm. Pour the syrup on top of the elderflowers and lemons and stir to combine.

Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand for 1-3 days, depending on taste. Strain and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Elderflower cordial also freezes well; to freeze, pour into freezer-safe containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace to allow for expansion.

elderflowers

Elderflower Cordial – Honey Version

Makes about about 10 cups

25 elderflower heads
2 unwaxed organic lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon citric acid
4 cups honey
6 cups water

Shake the elderflower heads to remove any dirt or insects. Separate the flowers from the stalks, trying to remove as much of the stems as you can (a few are fine, but too many can be toxic). Place the flowers in a large, heatproof bowl with the lemon slices, citric acid, and honey.

Bring the water to a boil. Pour the water into the elderflower bowl and stir to dissolve the honey.

Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let stand for 1-3 days, depending on taste. Strain and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Elderflower cordial also freezes well; to freeze, pour into freezer-safe containers leaving 1/2-inch headspace to allow for expansion.

elderflowers

Announcing: Wildcrafted Medicine Class in Los Angeles

I’m pleased to announce that my friend Rebecca and I are going to be teaching a series of wildcrafted medicine classes in Los Angeles. First up: elderflowers!

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The Wildcrafted Apothecary: A Herbal Medicine Class

Elderflower Essentials
Sunday, May 5, 1 ~ 4 pm

Los Angeles-area park (location provided to registered participants)

Elderflowers are blooming across Southern California! Learn how to gather them and make your own immune-boosting herbal elixir.

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This class is a hands-on experience and includes:

Wildcrafting: Learn how to confidently identify and ethically gather local elderflowers
Tasting: Sip elderflower cordial, tea, and tincture
Medicine making: Make your own elder elixir
Herbal wisdom: We will discuss immune system basics, how herbalists treat viruses, and the difference between stimulating and relaxing diaphoretics
Take-home goodies: You will receive an information packet with recipes and herbal guidance, a bag of elder tea, and the elixir you made!

No medicine cabinet should be without this.

$85 – includes organic/wildcrafted ingredients, supplies, and tastings

→ Register via PayPal: http://tinyurl.com/elderflowerclass

Class is limited to 15 participants.

Questions? Email classes@kingsroadapothecary.com

Rebecca & Emily

About the instructors:

Rebecca Altman is an herbalist, writer, and proprietor of King’s Road Apothecary, a modern twist on an old-fashioned apothecary shop. Rebecca also writes about food, herbs, travel, and magic at Cauldrons & Crockpots.

Emily Ho is a writer and educator. She writes about nature, culture, and food at Roots & Marvel and contributes to Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn. Emily is also a Master Food Preserver and founder of LA Food Swap and Food Swap Network.

Cancellation policy: Rebecca Altman and Emily Ho reserve the right to cancel a class if necessary due to circumstances beyond our control or when enrollment is deemed insufficient. In this case, all payments will be refunded. Participant cancellations made up to one week prior to an event are eligible for a full refund less PayPal transaction fees incurred from both purchase and refund. Cancellations outside of this time frame are non-refundable. Class registration is transferable to another person if you are unable to attend. You must contact us to transfer your registration.

Spring in Griffith Park

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I spend so much time hiking on the outskirts of town that I sometimes forget one of the nation’s largest city parks is practically in my backyard. Griffith Park is a sprawling urban wilderness — not quite as serene as our favorite “getaway” trails, but there’s still much to learn and appreciate. While Gregory goes trail running, I poke around in the woodlands and chaparral…

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(left) London rocket (Sisymbrium irio) – A member of the mustard family with spicy, pungent leaves. A bite of this will jolt your tastebuds if you’re feeling sluggish on the trail!

(right) Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) – I haven’t foraged for this yet, but I recently learned that the leaves and roots are eaten in Korean cuisine, where it’s known as naengi.

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California everlasting/cudweed (Gnaphalium californicum) – I am developing quite a love affair with the dreamy, maple syrupy fragrance of this plant. I’m just learning to use it in food and medicine, so more to come!

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(left) Lupine (Lupinus longifolius, maybe?) – Some varieties of lupin seeds are edible, but I haven’t delved into this world yet. Lupines always make me smile, though, as they remind me of my home state flower, the Texas bluebonnet.

(right) California bluebells/wild canterbury bells (Phacelia minor) – Can cause dermatitis similar to poison oak, but it sure is pretty springing forth from the rocky ledges.

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Griffith Park wildlife in action.

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(left) Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) – This nettle is starting to seed, which can be used for food and medicine. My friend Rebecca at Cauldrons & Crockpots has a nice monograph on nettle.

(right) Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea) – It’s disconcerting how early in the season the flowers are blooming (an effect of climate change?), but I am looking forward to making elderflower cordial and champagne soon.

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Finally, if you need a dose of human culture, you can always climb up to the Griffith Observatory, pay homage to the bust of James Dean, and imagine that you’re watching a teenage knife fight … or am I the only one under the age of 70 who does that? :)

{Note: This blog is meant to inspire, not serve as an identification or field guide. If you decide to forage yourself, make absolutely sure you know what you’re picking, and make your own decisions about where and how you gather.}