I am a frequent migraine sufferer – they appear suddenly sometimes lasting as long as two weeks. I have tried several different ‘cures’ and spent a great deal of time investigating various solutions. While medication is the only thing that allows me some respite, I was delighted to read in my book, The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants, that the Elderflower can help with migraine. It makes sense, often during a debilitating attack the nausea is so bad that I can only tolerate small sips of lemonade, so elderflower would be a welcome alternative.
As I was wondering along the lovely hedgerows in the last few weeks I spotted a huge number of these plants in flower – they are tall bushes, the tiny flowers are in flat topped clusters and the leaves are usually in fives. If you get closer to the plant, especially this month when they are at the height of flower, you will notice their distinctive delicate scent. (It is always good to be sure about any foraged plant so make sure you know what they smell like).
These are the tiny elderflowers, they have pretty small blooms, each flower has five petals with pale yellow five pointed stamens around a yellow centre. Pick them when they are fully open, not green (in bud) or brown (gone over), best around mid to late afternoon when the dew has gone and their scent is at its height. Pick from waist height and above, taking care not to strip one plant bare of blooms, there should be plenty of plants to choose from.
You should not wash the elderflowers it is good practice to gather them in a wicker basket, then lay the flowers out on a tray for a couple of hours in the sunshine if you can- it allows all the little creatures to escape and find alternative accommodation.
You don’t need expensive ingredients:
For every pint (600ml) water add
1 large unwaxed lemon washed (zest and then simply cut into slices)
1lb 10oz (750g) of granulated sugar
2 1/2 table spoons of citric acid.
Surprisingly citric acid is difficult to get hold of, Chemists will only sell small quantities if they sell any at all. It is used in winemaking so brewing shops might sell it. I bought mine at Lakeland – but I was emphatically informed by the staff, I could only have three small sachets due to government restrictions. Thankfully the vintage dress and straw hat I was wearing was enough to convince staff I was not a bomb maker nor a drug dealer, so they passed over the citric acid to me without complaint, although it did make me feel somewhat subversive! Mr D spent his time pretending not to know me in case I needed more than my allocated 3 and he could pose as another customer, luckily one sachet was enough for my recipe, so he did not need to jump into action!
The recipe called for 7 flower heads – however I wanted to make the most of the properties of this plant so used a basket full of elderflowers and used three times the quantities mentioned to make three pints of cordial.
The method is straightforward:
Put the sugar and water into a large preserving pan, heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved. You will notice that the liquid goes suddenly clear. Turn off the heat.
Add the lemon zest, sliced lemons, citric acid and finally the elderflowers, stir gently.
Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to stand for at least 24 hours. I started my cordial off about 9pm on a Friday evening and left it until Sunday. (giving it a little stir and poke now and then!)
I also put my glass bottles into a cold oven and then switched it on to about a gas mark 4 for around half an hour. It is essential that the glass goes into a cold oven and is brought slowly up to temperature otherwise you might end up with shattered glass. After the oven has reached its temperature, turn it off and leave the bottles in there to go cold, until you are ready to decant your cordial.
It is vital that you strain the liquid through a fine mesh muslin, or a jelly bag. It is not pleasant trying to drink liquid with little bits of flower (or the odd bug or two!).
I did my first strain through a colander lined with some fine net, but still had the odd debris, so ended up using a funnel and filter paper from my coffee machine. It ended up pretty clear.
It is a great idea to label your bottles as soon as you have bottled it up – it is surprising how one clear liquid can look exactly the same as another! I made these labels so feel free to right click and download if you want to use them. They are scaleable.
I serve mine with a good quantity of sparkling water as it is very sweet.
They make lovely gifts and will last up to 3 months in the fridge or in a cupboard stored away from sunlight. The citric acid works as a preservative as does the sugar quantity.
If you wish to keep the cordial longer – simply pop it into ice cube trays and transfer to a freezer bag once frozen. (Its a good idea to label it too, as one block of ice looks very much like another! as I have often discovered. It might look like a frozen egg white but doesn’t beat up the same when making meringue!)
It is a wonderful accompaniment poured over ice cream or you can poach peaches in the syrup for its delicate floral essence.
I’ll let you know how I get along with the migraine solution when I get my next bout!