Foraging Fairytales: Elderflower- Friend of Foe?

By Alicia Upton on 09/06/2021

Elderflower season has arrived! As with many things in this peculiar year it's a little later than usual, but we don't mind. It's a delight to have the queen of British summertime gracing our fields and hedgerows once again.

To celebrate the return of Elder's beautiful blooms, and the release of our bestselling first book (Foraging Fairytales: The Elderflower Festival) we thought we'd share a little of our favourite English folklore.

Elderflower bursts into blossom as the seasons change, the explosion of bubbling white blooms punctuating the hedgerows emerging to celebrate the arrival of summer. Anyone with an eye on the hedgerows is sure to have seen or smelt the beautiful blooms, which means one thing.

Their distinctive sweet, heady scent is enough to make passers by swoon- I know I just can't get enough! My boyfriend has complained that walking with me is like 'dating a bee'- I can't help but bury my nose in the white, pollen covered flowers wherever I see them.

Elderflower
A spray of elderflower bursting into bloom.

My question to you, is: what fills your mind when you think of elderflowers? To me, the bubbling sprays of white blooms conjure up images of flower crowned fairies lazing in the heat of the summer sun. Folklore, however, tells a different story. 

Old English tales paint the elder as a wizened and wise hedgerow witch. Eager to gift the blessings of her wisdom to those who request it, but quick to thwack your legs out from under you with her twisted walking stick should you test her good humour.

This, often vengeful, yet ever generous crone has been known throughout history to bring down her wrath on those who cross her, namely those who dare burn or build with her wood. Those foolish enough to commit such sins have found their homes cursed- the devil lurking behind their chimney stacks and their poor, tortured children unable to sleep. Whether or not you believe these old wives tales, we recommend you leave the wood well alone! 

The blooms and berries however, are yours for the taking. Country folk have long stocked their cupboards with elderflower cordials, cakes and tonics. An elderberry tonic has been used for centuries by civilizations across the globe to aid those with colds and flus. Knowing this (and having enjoyed many a glass of my grandma’s elderflower cordial) it’s impossible to see the elder spirit as an entirely wicked witch. 

To ensure that you pass beneath her boughs unscathed, I would recommend that any eager forager who does not wish to bring a curse upon their household might offer up a gift in return for a basket of Elder’s blooms or fruits. I was always taught to placate the elder with a song as I filled my bucket, but I should think a story or poem would also suffice. Why not take along a copy of our new book, The Elderflower Festival to read as you work your way around the hedgerows? 

One thing’s for certain- regardless of whether the elder stands as a friend or foe, the firework display of bursting white blooms is something you won’t want to miss. 

If you’re eager to get foraging, and are as excited as we are to celebrate the return of summer with a glass of elderflower fizz, take a look at the first of our pocket book series: Foraging Fairytales, The Elderflower Festival. It’s filled with folklore, bursting with foraging facts and crammed with delicious recipes. It’s the perfect companion for a summer filled with magic, adventure and mouth watering food! 

You can pick up a copy here, or drop us a message on Facebook or Instagram if you know anyone who might want to pop a few copies in their bookshop, boutique or café. Be sure to leave us a review, we’d love to know what you think!

Article written by Alicia Upton

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