Someone asked me how to make elder flower wine* and I figured I may as well put the method here. It’s enough to warrant a post on its own.

This assumes you have access to elder flowers of the right species. The one in my garden is the native Sambucus canadensis; in Europe it’s usually S. nigra. They may be variants of the same species; the taxonomy is still disputed, but for now they’re officially two different species. Around here the flowers usually start in late June.

On a dry, sunny day, pick about fifteen elder flower heads. This is a rough number, as the inflorescences will be of varying sizes. If in doubt, be generous. Inspect the heads and shake or brush off any debris or insects, then cut off all the stems as is practical. The stems and stalks of elder are toxic. I don’t wash the flowers, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

Bring one gallon of water to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add 700 g of sugar (about three cups), and the zest and juice of two lemons. I prefer to use sugar that’s at least somewhat refined, because elderflower wine has a delicate flavour and you don’t want to overpower it by using ‘strong’ dark sugars. There’s no reason you couldn’t use honey, but again, use a milder sort. As for the lemons, I find two are good for this amount of brew, but you can certainly use more (and you can just throw the whole things in after you’ve squeezed out the juice). You can also use oranges, or both. Stir well to dissolve the sugar, and allow to cool somewhat; it should feel uncomfortably but not unbearably hot if you stick your (clean!) finger in.

Now add the flowers. Elder flowers host a natural yeast that will provide fermentation, so you don’t need to add any yeast. This is why I prefer not to wash the flowers: most of the yeast would be washed away. Stir well. Ideally, all the flowers will sink and be covered by liquid, but this isn’t always the way it goes. Cover the container and leave in a warm spot for two days.

After two days, strain the liquid and decant into clean/sterilised bottles. Cap and leave in a warm spot for at least two weeks. Two weeks is the minimum: it will be perfectly drinkable but the longer you leave it the better it will be. I don’t know what the shelf life is, because it never stays around very long in this house. It will probably keep for longer in the fridge.

When opening the bottles, be careful. If everything has gone right, it will be very fizzy. I’ve heard it compared to a Frontignac, but I’ve never drunk any so I can’t say.

* I don’t know WHY because he never will.