Elderflower oxymel and gooseberry-elderflower jam
Sugar-free, pectin-free recipes for your health and happiness.
By Lisa Brunette
If you’re not growing elderberries and gooseberries, you might want to consider it.
Elderberries are a powerhouse medicinal, as evidenced by the widespread use of elderberry syrup, especially during the winter season. The flower is edible as well, and together with its berry, elder is one of the oldest-known medicinals, with a number of historical uses both by Native Americans and Europeans. Many texts refer to it as a “medicine chest for country folk.”
Since it’s in full flower now, and it will be a while before we can harvest the berries, today I’m focusing on the flowers. They contain quercetin, which is often prescribed by herbalists for its antihistamine properties, and I’ve known farmers who keep a pot of elderflowers brewing to drink throughout allergy season.
Sambucus canadensis is the species that is native to North America. The flowers are a pollinator magnet, and the bush is easy to grow and maintain. We planted two bushes in 2018 and have harvested both flowers and berries for the past three years. It grows vigorously without fertilizer, but I’ve found that it benefits greatly from a good pruning in late winter, while still dormant.
To prune it, cut the bush back to only 12 stalks per bush, trimming each stalk to about shoulder height. This will seem like a major trim, but trust me, the elderberry will love you for it.
As I promised in Monday’s post, here’s my sugar-free recipe for elderflower oxymel, made with a blend of vinegar and honey.
4 cups elderflowers and hot water to make 5 1/2 c elderflower water (see below)
5 cups honey
5 cups apple cider vinegar
Remove full flower umbels from the bush. Separate the flowers from the green stems. Note the flowers are edible, but the leaves, stems, and bark are not. You can use a comb for this, but I use my fingers.
Sterilize 2 of the mason jars by cleaning them with 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 3 parts water and then heating them in your oven on the lowest setting. You can allow the jars to cool, or not.
Once you have 4 c elderflowers, spread them between two of the mason jars, 2 c each.
Bring water to boil and then pour over the petals in the jars, filling them. Leave to sit 1-3 days. Be careful handling the jars, as they are hot! I use silicon glove potholders.
Strain the flowers from the water. You should have 5 1/2 c water.
Now you can sterilize the other 2 jars and place them in the oven so they’re ready for you once the oxymel is done.
Pour the water into a large pot and add the honey and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat.
Pour the oxymel into the hot jars and seal. Again, be careful, as the jars are hot! If you’re using Ball-style jars, you’ll hear a loud “pop” once the oxymel cools and the button pushes down for an airtight seal.
Note I used to tip the jars upside-down to facilitate this, butover at mentioned in a paid subscriber chat that this isn’t necessary, so I tried it without, and she’s right. I do not water-bath can on top of these steps, but feel free if you’re more comfortable with that.
Now you have a golden-hued oxymel to use now or keep for later. If you want to make a syrup instead, swap out the vinegar for more honey.
Elderflowers time out perfectly to use with gooseberries, and that combination is classic in European cuisine. Gooseberries are also very easy to grow without much care. We planted our first bush four years ago, and it bore fruit the second year, though I do trim out the dead branches and then some to allow in more light and air. Do this when the bush is dormant in winter, and wear gloves! Gooseberries have thorns.
For paid subscribers, you’ll find my recipe for sugar-free, pectin-free elderflower-gooseberry jam below the paywall.
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