Since the season depends on the plant and the plant on the weather, the flowering time of the elder is a little different every year. From May onwards, elderflower collectors should be prepared; However, you should read beforehand how elder flowers are correctly harvested from real elderberries.

The heyday of the elderberry

The black elder is the most common. It grows as a tree or large shrub, heavily branched and with a maximum height of around 10 meters. It is known in Bavaria and Austria as Holler, in southwest Germany and Switzerland as Holder (-busch) and in Northern Germany as lilac berry – a practical indication that it is one of the most common woody plants in Central Europe.

Here are the facts about the heyday of the black elder:

  • The flowering time of the black elder is stated in the botanical textbook as “May to July”.
  • A long time to explain that the elderberry with leaf shoots and flowering depends on the weather / climate in the area
  • He performs an “official function”:
  • The beginning of its heyday determines the beginning of early summer in the phenological calendar
  • In regions with favorable climates (Ruhr area, Lower Rhine), elderberry bloom often begins as early as May
  • The frostier the climatic zone (Germany stretches over several hardiness zones), the later the elder will bloom
  • In addition to the weather, the location and daily sunlight influence the flowering time
  • When the green flower buds swell, flowering will start in the next few days

The flowers of the black elder appear on the outside of the arched branches. The simply built, filigree cream-white flowers are in broad, plate-shaped umbels with innumerable individual flowers; with the solitary elder it is a real spectacle and always very decorative. This is another reason why more and more elderberries are being planted in gardens:

Elderberry flowers in the garden

Elder blossoms and berries are delicious and healthy and therefore more popular than ever. In your own garden, the harvest only takes a few minutes. And yet the elder is still a rather rare guest in the garden – the reason is probably to be found in the fact that there are many prejudices about the elder, especially with regard to the flowering.

Disadvantages such as main flowering during the summer holidays, heavy growth with sparse flowering, overly aromatic or hardly fragrant flowers can be avoided if you plant the right cultivar of the elder, which is of course also available with your desired flowering (time):

  • Sambucus nigra ‘Alba’: 4 – 6 m, white flowers follow white fruits, flowering from May and into July
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Albovariegata’: 2 – 5 m, variegated leaves in sunny locations (if pruned regularly), flowers white with little fragrance, mostly throughout June
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Atropurpurea’: 4 – 6 m, red-leaved elderberry with pink-red delicately scented flowers from May to July
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’: 3 – 5 m, golden yellow leaves, slightly weaker growth than the species, yellowish-white flowers with a slight fragrance in June
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’: 3 – 5 m, black-red foliage and compact growth, abundant pink flowers with a lemon-like scent from June
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ (‘Eva’): up to 2 m, grows very compact, based on appearance and not on yield: often only isolated pink flowers with a slight scent from June
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Guincho Purple’, 2 – 4 m, blood elder with purple-red foliage, pink buds that turn white and slightly scented in the main bloom, often blooms from May
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Korsor’: 3 – 4 m, crop variety with an upright habit, white flowers with impressive size, mostly quite late in June
  • Sambucus nigra ‚Laciniata“: 3 – 5 m, slit-leaved elder with bushy growth and flowers like the natural species
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Madonna’: 3 – 4 m, yellow variegated foliage, yellowish-white flowers with a slight fragrance from May, June
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Purpurea’: 2 – 4 m, red-leaved elder, many small umbels with fragrant pink-white flowers from June
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Giant from Vossloch’: 3 – 5 m, fruit variety with vigorous growth, numerous large white flower umbels June to July
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Pygmaea’: Dwarf elder with 50 cm final height, grows hemispherical, yellowish-white flowers with a delicate fragrance from the end of May
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Thundercloud’: 3 – 5 m, the greenish leaf shoots later turn brown-red to dark red, fragrant pink flowers from the end of May / June

In addition to all of these cultivars, the original Sambucus nigra is also sold (in forest nurseries). If you are looking for a bird nest and nutritious wood and a butterfly food plant that will make as many birds and butterflies as possible happy, you should stick to the real, original species. Even if you are interested in the healthy ingredients yourself, it is advisable to go for the original – the intense scent of the flowers already indicates how much aroma is to be expected in the berries later.

In contrast to Black Beauty ‘and Co., which “go into the eternal elderberry reasons” after just a few decades, a real elderberry is 100 years old and grows a good deal higher and stronger. But that’s not necessarily a reason to knit a horror scenario of garden-devouring elderberries from it: If a fruit tree gets really old, there is nothing negative; if a hobby gardener has time to pick up a saw once a year, real elderberry will not grow over his head (real elderberry can be radically shortened).

Regular pruning is only important if you want to harvest lots of flowers and berries. But neither with cultivars nor with real elderberry is complicated: You just have to make sure that you leave as many young branches as possible (recognizable by the smooth, light gray bark) because the flowers will develop on them.

Harvest elderflower properly

The flowers are just as sensitive as they look when you look at them, and each contact costs a little aroma (which contains the healthy and flavor-defining ingredients). The goal is therefore to get the flowers into the batter or the tea drying container as they bloomed on the elderberry:

  • When the weather is nice and sunny, the flowers develop most of the aroma
  • A sunny morning with harvest in the late morning would be perfect
  • For any culinary use, the elder should be in bloom for a few days
  • Rule of thumb for a lot of flower aroma: harvest can begin two weeks after the buds have formed
  • Then cut off panicles with fully opened flowers
  • Caution is advised here: sharp scissors, targeted, vibration-free cut
  • Collect umbels in a basket or box, the flowers are very sensitive to pressure
  • Store cones loosely layered and airy until they are used
  • Never wash the flowers before preparing them
  • This would mean that the healthy (and flavorful) pollen would be lost
  • The flowers have just opened “very cleanly”
  • The air only adds pollutants that we breathe in anyway
  • A large yellow paper provides protection against the consumption of insects
  • On which the flowers are allowed to rest upside down for a while
  • Because the color yellow magically attracts exactly those bugs that like elderberries
  • When the flowers are “populated”, the insects can be waved off the paper and into the bed

Elder flowers and berries: use

Elderberry not only grows steadfastly and sprouts again after every radical pruning, but is also one of the all-round talents of the local flora, which was lost in a blind belief in progress between the world war and the turn of the millennium and is now being rediscovered.

Both the flowers and the ripe fruits can be used as food; First of all, the elderflower, which used to be used to make delicacies that used to be widespread: Baked elderflower (elderberry fritters, elderberry pancakes, elderberry fritters, Hollerschöberl), which you don’t need to attend a cooking seminar to prepare. The elder cakes are easy to make:

  • Prepare the batter
  • Pancake batter, wine batter, beer batter, depending on taste
  • Adjust the dough to be thin
  • Dip the elderflower umbels in the batter
  • Bake or deep-fry in the pan
  • The flowers also give elderflower syrup and elderberry champagne its typical taste
  • Elder flowers that are not freshly eaten can be dried
  • Place the elderflower umbels in a clean, open-topped container
  • Dry in a well-ventilated place until the leaves peel off the umbel
  • If necessary, help a little: Carefully “rustle” the remaining leaves from the umbels with your hands
  • Collect the umbel skeleton from the drying container
  • Pour leaves and pollen straight from the container into the storage jar
  • If elderberries are to ripen, some flowers must remain on the tree

Elderberry berries or lilac berries (actually stone fruits like cherries), which are deep black when ripe, are rich in vitamins, minerals and healthy herbal ingredients, but are only easily digestible when cooked. That is why they are first thoroughly heated before they are processed into jelly, juice, fruit wine or North German lilacberry soup. Elderberries, as well as tea made from bark and inflorescences, continue to be used as remedies with a wide range of uses; In addition, the healthy purple elderberry coloring agent sambicyanine is just being rediscovered because artificial coloring agents are no longer tolerated by all consumers.

Beware, there are poisonous elderberries

The genus elder includes 10 species worldwide, of which two other elderberries are native to Central Europe in addition to the black elder. Before you go out to pick elderberry flowers in the wild for the first time, you should understand these species. Because where the black elder is slightly poisonous to indigestible, the other native species are so poisonous that they are only of interest to herbalists.

The red elder (deer, grape, mountain elder, Sambucus racemosa) is more common. It grows like a bush and, like the black elder, likes to grow on the edge of the forest, in bushes and in clearings in nitrogen-rich soils, but mainly in higher altitudes. On average, it only reaches a height of 2 to 3 m, but can be up to 8 meters high in free locations. The rather rare dwarf elder (Attich, Sambucus ebulus) is a herbaceous elderberry that sometimes grows to 1.5 m high bushes.

Red elder and attich contain toxins that harm people much faster than a few raw black elder berries (both develop significantly more sambunigrin and other vegetable alkaloids than black elder). Flower collectors should therefore leave both of them standing in the forest – which raises the question of how the three elderberries can be reliably differentiated. You should pay attention to the following features, shown here over the course of the year:

  • The flower umbels of the black elder have the flat shape of an umbrella
  • Red elder forms a rather spherical flower bulb
  • The flower umbels of the dwarf elder are very similar to those of the black elder
  • However, they usually appear quite close to the ground
  • If the dwarf elder grows all by itself, it can be different
  • The foliage of the red elder is often reddish to bronze in color
  • But only the older leaves if they get enough sun
  • The leaves of the black elder look round like apple leaves
  • The dwarf elder has narrow leaflets like a fern
  • Unlike real elderberries, dwarf elder does not lignify
  • The berries of the red elder are bright red
  • The berries of the black elder hang ripe on the umbel
  • They smell spicy to aromatic
  • Little elder berries grow upright on the not very symmetrical umbel
  • Also that is usually one floor lower than with the black elder
  • Attich berries give off a rather unpleasant odor
  • The leaves of the black elder turn purple-black in autumn
  • Dwarf elder becomes only a little darker in autumn, red elder rather lighter

The elder blooms when early summer begins (and early summer begins with the elder blossom). If you just want to admire the flowers, you don’t care about the elderberry species; if you want to collect and eat elderflower and berries, stick with the real black elder. Which also likes to bloom in your garden, as a natural species or in one of the small cultivated varieties (which, however, no longer necessarily contain all the healthy ingredients).

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