Foraging and Canning: An Ode to the Elderflower Ringer, Queen Anne’s Lace, and a Giveaway

August 11, 2011 at 6:51 pm

I’ve had elderflower on the brain for a few weeks now.  I really can’t explain it, but it appears I’m not the only one with elderflower on the brain.  I re-read this thread on the Chicagoland Food Lover’s chat site LTH Forum.  But I also found out that even Martha Stewart has elderflower front and center.

There was only one thing left to do and that was to go gather elderflowers.  Fortunately, in the middle of farmland for some trout stalking in Wisconsin with my husband I saw it everywhere.  The flowers that you are supposed to pick, have a light perfume that reminds me of honeysuckle,without being cloying.

There was only one major problem; it was surrounded by a poisonous invasive species known as wild parsnip.  This made me leery of foraging because there was no question, wherever the prettiest blossoms of elderflower were, it would be almost impossible to pluck them without touching wild parsnip.

Unlike poison ivy or oak, wild parsnip dares you to look at it.  It’s pretty.  If you touch it and are subsequently exposed to sunlight, your skin won’t itch at all.  You will not get a rash.  Instead you get blisters as if your skin had been boiled.  I didn’t get any on me while I harvested, but my husband did while he was bushwhacking to get to streams for trout spotting.

Once we got home I shook each and every one of my blossoms to remove any bugs; both bees and ants are a good sign when harvesting,because you know you’ve got sweet blossoms.  Into a large bowl of water  went my blossoms for cold steeping, before being made into elderflower cordial.

Safely back home in Chicago, I noticed that elderflower grew like weeds all over the city.  Even the site where Cabrini-Green stood was littered with elderflower.  So I walked over and picked more elderflowers last weekend to make more elderflower cordial.


I made two batches of elderflower cordial, one filled with country harvested blossoms and the other filled with city harvested blossoms.  I used slightly different recipes in each batch.  I did can them because I wanted to share them with others and use them later.

So I’m going to GIVEAWAY two jars of elderflower cordial.  One jar made with country harvested elderflowers and another jar of cordial harvested from city flowers.  I’ll use a random number generator to announce the winners next week.  All you have to do is leave a comment with the words Giveaway Country or Giveaway City at the start and then explain why foraging isn’t a dying skill or why you think food preservation is experiencing a come back in our fast-paced world.

Country Foraged Elderflower Cordial with Citrus (2-3 days, but it requires very little active time)


Makes about 8 cups



25-30 elderflowers, blossoms removed from stems

2 lemons, unwaxed

1 orange, unwaxed

5 c. sugar*

1 t. of citric acid




Jars with lids and bands

Jar grabber



Day 1

Pick the whitest flowers on a dry warm day.  Check the flowers for fragrance.  If they don’t smell sweet, don’t bother harvesting them. Don’t be afraid to check the fragrance again before deciding if you are going to use them once you start removing the flowers from their flowering heads.

Check flowers for bugs.  I give them a vigorous shake, once they are harvested and again before they are placed in a large bowl.  Scrub all citrus fruit, then zest, and juice them.  Add the citrus juices, zest, and citric acid to the large bowl of blossoms.**  Add 6 ½ c of water.  Cover and cold steep in the refrigerator for at least one night, but two nights is better.

Day 2

Prepare Jars


Fill a water bath canner*** with enough water so that the top of your jars are covered with at least an inch of water.  Add a cup or two of vinegar to the canner.  This will prevent mineral deposits from forming on your jars.  Bring canner, with your jars inside, to a boil.

Meanwhile, place lids in a separate pot to simmer.  Also be certain you have counted out a matching number of clean bands.



Preparing Cordial


Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place over a large pot.  Stir your large bowl of elderflowers and pour into the sieve.  Remove sieve and take a lovely deep breath of your spent elderflowers before tossing them into the rubbish or go for one more use and add them to your bathwater after you’ve finished putting up the elderflower cordial.

Now add sugar to the pot and heat over medium high heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Processing Elderflower Cordial


Remove one hot jar from the canner and fill with hot elderflower cordial leaving a 1/2 inch of headspace (headspace is canner speak for the area between the lid on the jar and contents inside of the jar).  After filling a jar, wipe the rim of the jar, place a lid on top, and then secure with a band (but don’t screw it on tightly).  Place the jar gently back into your canner.  Once you have finished filling the last jar, place it back into the canner and put the lid on your canner.  Once the canner is boiling, process the jars for ten minutes.  At the end of the ten minutes remove the lid from the canner and let the jars cool, in the canner, for five minutes.  Then remove the jars, one at a time and place on a flat surface with towels separating the jars from the flat surface.  Let the jars rest, undisturbed, for twenty-four hours.  The next day check the seal.  You may have heard most of your jars heal once the canning was complete.  The jars often make a high-pitched pinging pop sound when they are sealing.  Still you can physically check the seal by placing your finger on the center of the lid and pressing down on it.  If the lid does not move then your jars are properly sealed.  If the lid has any flex in it, place the cordial in the fridge and use that one first.

City Foraged Elderflower Cordial ((2-3 days, but it requires very little active time)


Makes about 8 cups


25- 30 elderflowers, stems removed from blossoms

8 c. sugar

Day 1

After you’ve picked pretty and fragrant elderflowers, see instructions above.  Place the flowers in a large bowl.  Bring 8 cups of water to a boil and pour the water over the elderflowers.  Cover and leave at room temperature at least overnight, but I prefer two days of steeping.

Day 2

Prepare Jars

See previous instructions.

Prepare Elderflower Cordial

Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place over a large pot.  Stir your large bowl of elderflowers and pour into the sieve.  Remove sieve from pot.  Add sugar and heat over medium high heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Processing Elderflower Cordial

See instructions above.

These cordials can be used as a base for drinks by mixing 2 to 1 with still or sparkling water.  You can also add it to ice cream or yogurt, or use it wherever you would use syrup.

* The type of sugar you use will make a difference in the color of this product.  I use organic sugar.  It doesn’t go through a washing/lightning process like regular white sugar so my end results tend to be a bit darker than those that are made with regular white granulated sugar.

**I found separating the blossoms from the flower head was easiest with a small tined fork used a bit like a rake across the flower head.

*** If you don’t have a Boiling Water Bath Canner or a Pressure Canner you can use a large stock pot, but you must place something on the bottom like a metal trivet or folded tea towel so that the glass jars don’t come into direct contact with your pot.


UPDATE:  The pictures above are not Elderflower, but Queen Anne’s Lace, also known as wild carrot.  Yes Queen Anne’s Lace is a ringer for Elderflower and can be foraged for tea, jelly, cordials.  This includes the flower and the root.  There are other ringers, including Sweet Cicely, but it’s flavor is in it’s leaves and reminiscent of anise or licorice, and then there’s the dangerous one… hemlock, but it smells horrible and it’s stems tend to be red or purple (like a bruise) and that in and of itself should be enough to keep one away from it.



  1. Jen Berman says:

    Giveaway country! Canning is king! Combines art, craft, cooking, science and more. Can’t wait to spend my day on it on Saturday.

    Question for you–where do you find unwaxed citrus fruit?

  2. Jen- Sometimes you luck up with the organic stuff, but not always. If that doesn’t work you can give the fruits a substantial scrub or drop in boiling water like you would peaches or tomatoes for a moment, then remove and scrub.

  3. Giveaway City! I maintain that I do not need to explain either why foraging isn’t a dying skill or why food preservation is experiencing a come back in our fast-paced world, because your post already PROVES those very points. Come on–here we have a busy Chicago litigator (vous) who’s plugged into all the latest gadgets, software, and web applications, serves on at least two active committees within her state bar association (one of which you chair, if I’m not mistaken), does I don’t know how many other cool things in her professional and personal life, tweets, and blogs not only about matters related to her profession but also about food AND, to top it all off, FORAGES, CANS, and MAKES HER OWN ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL, for heaven’s sake! I pride myself on my own knowledge of plants, learned mostly from my mother when I was a child in a small town downstate, but I had no idea that wild parsnip would do those awful things (though I did know it’s a noxious weed) and am not at all confident of my ability to distinguish elderflower from noxious and/or poisonous weeds. Filled with admiration at your prowess, and hope I get to win some of your cordial!

  4. Natasha says:

    Giveaway City, for sure.

    I don’t so much think it’s a dying skill, but I do think it’s making a comeback. Though, I’m not nearly so aware of everything as Helen is!

    It just seems to me that there’s a few things going into all of this. A surge of creativity. An interest in getting our hands on our food. An interest in where our food is coming from & how it’s made. A desire to preserve the truly grand flavors that can happen when things don’t have to be shipped.

    Maybe that’s just my reasons, but I think I’m not alone.

  5. Maribeth says:

    Giveaway City! I think preserving, canning and foraging never went completely away, but more people than ever are doing it because they miss their connection to real rather than processed food. People want a connection to what they eat and to see that even a rubble filled city lot can provide something edible is a revelation.

  6. Bryn says:

    Giveaway Country!! I’m not too familiar with foraging, but in our home, canning and preserving is alive and well! I’ve done batches of peach, blueberry and strawberry jam, and tomato products are on the horizon this fall (tomato jam, tomato sauce, tomato salsa). Canning is part of the HUGE trend in crafting, DIY, local eating and generally using your hands to create something. Canning is for cool kids!

  7. Moira says:

    Giveaway City. obsessed with elderflower anything. great pc and great bit of inspiration.

  8. Jp says:

    Giveaway city please!

    • Jp-The Winners of the Giveaway were announced yesterday. Here’s a [url=]link[/url]. You just missed it, but please check back here on a regular basis for giveaways. I don’t have enough foraged to giveaway, although I did get my hands on a couple of foraged chanterelle mushrooms over the weekend, I am in full canning and jamming mode.

  9. Amanda says:

    Well, I realize I’ve completely missed the giveaway, but wanted to post anyway, now that I’ve given canning a try myself. What a glorious way to spend a summer afternoon: foraging beautiful fields for berries bursting with ripe sunshine, knowing that I’ll scamper home and attempt my own creation. I just returned to Connecticut after a long summer in northern California, and couldn’t wait to wander near the Atlantic, popping blackberries into a basket for my own jam. It turned out beautifully: pleasant tartness from the drops of a freshly-squeezed lemon, and a mouthful of August with each swallow. Thanks so much for the inspiration, Ava!

  10. Andie says:

    I don’t believe those photos are elder. Those look like either wild carrot or queen anne’s lace or hemlock. Elder grows as a medium bush/tree…

    • ValerieS says:

      I have to agree, our elderberries are at least 8-10ft tall bush/tree with some flower heads the size of dinner plates. The stalks are also ‘blushed’ purple. Those don’t look like any elderberry I’ve seen.

  11. Andie & ValerieS, you are correct, photos are indeed, wild carrot/Queen Anne’s Lace, but definitely NOT Hemlock!

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