The elder (Sambucus nigra) is in bloom, a white umbrella of tiny flowers, hundreds on our tree. Last week in the countryside I saw many of them in bloom in the hedgerows. One of those trees not too sure whether it is a hedge or a tree. Ours is a tree but quite an untidy one with not much of a main stem, and about 15 feet high.
In the hedgerows, I think of three trees, all with prolific white blossom which follow on month by month. There’s the blackthorn which flowers in March/April. Its fruit is the sloe, which looks like a small black plum, but is bitter. Then we have the hawthorn, or May tree, flowering in April/May. Its fruit is the haw which looks like a rose hip, not surprisingly as they are in the same family. And following on, we have the elder which is flowering now.
From its flowers you can make elderflower champagne, a slightly alcoholic fizzy drink. One I really enjoy for its distinctive flavour. You soak the flowers in water to which sugar has been added. Wild yeast on the flowers ferments the sugar to give the fizz and a little alcohol. Take care not to add too much sugar or you’ll end up with a very alcoholic drink.
In autumn, you get the berries, small and so purple they are almost black. They can be used to make a tasty wine, but the crushed berries must be boiled first to destroy a poison they contain. The poison if swallowed in quantity is rarely fatal, but quite unpleasant. The berries are eaten by more bird species than any other berry. The birds excrete the seeds, which is why the tree is so common.
The young stems are almost hollow with a pith which is easily taken out. As a child I tried making a whistle by removing the pith but it didn’t work for me, but in olden days pipes and whistles were made from the young wood. Sambucus is derived from the Greek for pipe. From the more mature wood you can make spoons, tool handles and small items of furniture such as stools.
The dibond plaques for the herbs and spices project arrived on Friday. I put them in place on the door-stands. They explain the difference between herbs and spices and give some details on the ones we are growing. I am sure they will be popular, arriving just in time for the two Jubilee parties coming up. The first is our lunchtime picnic on Friday 3 June (midday to 2pm). We’ll provide free tea and coffee, and the musicians of course. The second event is a street party on Sunday 5th (midday-5pm) organised by Earlham Grove residents. It takes place just outside our main gates, on the strip of Earlham Grove between Sprowston and Woodgrange. We will open the garden and join in the festivities. Bring some food to share, if you can, and meet the neighbours.