’E’ is for Elder by Nazia Hussain

***image1***Hi there, it’s Naz here again. I use a lot of herbs and spices in my cooking, most of them common and well known in the market. However, as time has passed, I have become much more adventurous with my cooking and started using more unusual herbs. One such example is the Elderberry/Elderflower. I do not use it very often but when I do, it adds an extra zing to my dishes and drinks.

’E’ is for Elder

The Elder plant, known in Latin as Sambucus Nigra, belongs to the honeysuckle ( caprifoliaceae ) family. It also has numerous other names as indicated below:

· Judas tree – it is believed that Judas Iscariot hung himself on an Elder tree

· Pipe tree – the stem once removed of it’s pith, resembles a pipe

· Black Elder

· Common Elder

· Bore Tree

· Hylder and Hylantree – Anglo Saxon

· Eldrum — Low Saxon

· Elhorn

· Hollunder — German

· Sureau – French

In terms of origin, Elder derives its name from the Anglo Saxon word Æld which means fire. This is because, during that period, the stems would be hollowed out and then used to start fires. In Low-Saxon, the tree was named Eldrum.

Elder trees grow in many parts of the world including Europe, West Asia and all across North America. They grow mostly in moist shady places, growing into a shrub or small tree from about 10 to 30 feet high. They can also be cultivated if required. Elders are classified as woodland trees; their bark varying in colour, the bottom of the stem being brown and then a greyish white near the top. The entire bark has bumps that resemble warts. The leaves however, are the opposite: off-pinnate; the leaflets ovate, finely serrate and dark green. In June and July the elder plant blossoms into white and yellow-white flowers. These in turn develop into berries that start off green and then turn into a reddish-brown colour to shiny black.

Elderflower Uses

The Elderflower is used both primarily as a flavour enhancer in food but also possesses medicinal properties. It is known for sprucing up summer drinks, and adding that special something to cakes, muffins, jams, pickles, soups and main dishes. The Elderflower also has certain skin caring qualities and has traditionally been used in complexion creams for the purpose of softening, cleansing and beautifying the skin. Its other uses are as a cooling agent and as an anti-inflammatory, hence prescribed for treating burns and scalds as well as rashes and chilblains. Many people drink the tea for colds, flu and hayfever as it also has immune stimulating properties. It is also known for its treatment of diabetes as the elderflower extract encourages insulin activity.

However, it is important to remember that only the flower part of the plant can be used; the bark, leaves and branches are poisonous. Equally important is the fact that the flowers should not be eaten raw as they contain an alkaloid which is mildly poisonous. The poisonous element is destroyed during the cooking process.

Some Interesting Facts

In the Isle of Man (UK) it is said that every cottage had an Elder growing outside it’s front door to ward off witches.

In Russia, an Elder tree was thought to ward off unwanted or evil spirits.

English folklore believed that the elder tree was one of the favourite forms for a witch to take. If the branches of the tree were cut off then the witch would bleed.

It has also been said that anybody burning an elder tree would experience death in their family, and the gypsies believed that the wood, if used as kindling, would bring bad luck!!


This month’s recipe is a summer one. Given that I am currently in Dubai where the weather is beautiful, it is a dessert that I very much look forward to having on a picnic on the beach!!

Recipe of the Month:

Gooseberry and Elderflower Fool

This recipe is best served cool.


450g/1lb green gooseberries topped and tailed 4 tbsp water 10 heads elderflower Brown Sugar or Honey to taste Grated rind of lemon/lime 1 large tub of low fat Greek Yoghurt Elderflower berries to decorate Muslin to make the elderflower infusion


1. Boil the gooseberries in a pan with water and cook until they are soft. 2. Seal the elderflower heads in muslin, tie and push into the gooseberries. Simmer gently for a further 15 minutes. 3. Mash the gooseberry mixture roughly and then put into a bowl and allow to cool 4. Squeeze all the juices from the muslin bag into the gooseberry mixture and take out about a quarter of the mixture and set aside. 5. Beat the Greek yoghurt until it is smooth and add the lemon/lime rind to the yoghurt. Add the yoghurt to the gooseberry mixture. Lightly fold it in. Check for sweetness and add brown sugar or honey if desired. 6. Divide the remaining gooseberry mixture between the serving glasses being used for the dessert. Layer the fool mixture on top of that and place the glasses in the fridge to chill. 7. When ready to serve, decorate each fool with elderflower berries.

Back next month with more from Naz! If you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me on noshbynaz@yahoo.co.uk . Feedback is always encouraged.

Bye for now.


For more information on herbs you can contact David Hamilton at dave@selfsufficientish.com

by Nazia Hussain
A business consultant by day and a passionate cook by night. Nazia is currently away from her home, London, seeking new international recipes for her column!