Elder flowers - open at the top and still closed at the bottom.
Often, when new gardeners get through the first years of vegetable gardening, they think about adding fruit to their backyard crops. It's an excellent idea and fruit is quite easy to grow, as long as you're in an area with no animals or insects to spoil your efforts. If you are adding fruit, start off with some of the easy things, depending on your climate of course, like lemons, mandarins, oranges, passionfruit, strawberries, blueberries or elderberries. My selections for the two easiest fruits are strawberries and elderberries. Strawberries can be grown in pots or in the ground and a few weeks after planting your first strawberry runners, you'll have delicious berries. Elderberry is a tree but it grows fast and doesn't have too many problems. Using either the berries or the flowers you can make a fermented, champagne-style white wine, a red wine, non-alcholic elderberry cordial, elderberry jelly, puddings, cakes, immune booster against flu and elder tea. Woolworths sell elderflower cordial for eight dollars a bottle but you could make your own for about 50 cents.
Elderberries and flowers are highly nutritious and many people take elder drinks for their healing properties. However, elderberries should not be eaten raw and you should use only the flowers and the berries, no stems, leaves or bark. They can make some people sick.
Our elder tree is one of my favourite things in our back yard. I try to get others to grow it, and always have a couple of suckers here potted up and ready to give away. I think only my sister and one other person have taken up my offering, but I still try to spread the good news about that tree. It's spring here so our elder is starting to flower. If history is any guide, the flowers will develop small berries and then they'll drop off. That's the down side of a warmer climate with elderberries - they like the cold and I'm guessing anywhere north of Brisbane they'll develop the flowers but not the berries. We have had a few winter berries but not enough to do anything with. If you're in a colder climate though, you'll be able to use the flowers and the berries.
So far I've made elder flower cordial - and that was truly a delight in that it didn't taste of fruit and sugar, as most cordials do, it tasted more of flowery honey instead. Using that cordial, I made elder ice cream. That too was delicious.
Overall, an elder tree will stand you in good stead as a shade tree or as a productive part of your garden. Christmas champagne made using elder flowers is a seasonal delight. I've included the River Cottage video link below. But champagne is just the start. It's worth experimenting with jams and relishes too and if you produce a basket of berries, try making wine. It's an easy to grow tree and even if you only use it for shade, it's worth the effort.
Do you have elders growing in your garden?
Mother Earth News - elderberry
Mother Earth News - how to gather elderberries and recipes
Elderberry syrup for flu prevention