Preparing for the Harvest with Elderflower Wine

The Elder tree is often to be found growing right next to the house or an outbuilding, making a right nuisance of itself. They get there because birds love the berries, and then the bird sits on the top of a wall or the gutter and shits out the seeds, and voila, new elder tree you get to spend ages trying to hack down, only for a bazillion shoots to spring up. Apparently a clean cut encourages shoots,so if you do want to take one down then hacking away at the stump with an axe to open up loads of cuts is recommended. Elder is no use for firewood, indeed, presumably this line from the Wiccan Rede is there to prevent people making a right prat of themselves trying to use it to light a bonfire

“Elder be ye Lady’s tree, burn it not or cursed ye’ll be”

You have to have seen someone try it to know how little success is to be had 😉

In our long ancient hedgerows we’ve got lots of Elder trees and they aren’t doing anybody any harm. Indeed Elder has its uses, and one of them is making the most fearfully strong and sweet elderflower wine. You can also make elderberry wine but that needs to get aged for over a year. Since we want something for the Harvest party in the Autumn, we’ll go for the elder flowers.

Unlike the berries, the elder flowers have a short season. It’s best to harvest on a dry sunny day, but the best we can do is a wet Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend – another week and the elder flowers will have started to go over.

Everybody knows what an Elder tree looks like, OK 😉

The flowers come in umbels, which the decadent Germans have been known to deep-fry in a sweet batter. However, we prefer the alcoholic form, so we harvested a load of the flowers, which you have to avoid crushing which releases  the fragrance.

A fresh head of elderflowers

Prefer the fresh flowers rather than the older ones that are excessively open for a better flavour – that’s the trouble with these, the short ripe season means you get only a couple of weekends to hit the trees at their best.

Somewhat skanky overblown flower, we left this one for berries for the birds

The season is sensitive to the microclimate, in more sheltered areas the flowers were just buds

immature elder flowers

What makes this job easier on a sunny day is that you can take a sniff of the flowers, you want ones that smell good as there seems to be some genetic variation. even with a few hundred yards of hedgerow we don’t have so many to choose from, but we had decent results last year so we used trees from these areas again.

You need a pint of flowers per gallon. The next bit I’ve simply lifted from one of Mrs Ermine’s articles as I don’t understand all the technical stuff 😉

How to Make Elderflower Wine


  • 1 gallon of boiling water
  • 1 packet wine yeast
  • 3 lbs white sugar
  • A small cup of very strong black tea
  • Juice of two lemons or 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • 1 pint of Elder flowers cut from their stems and gently pressed down


  • Two one gallon demijohns
  • A large unchipped enamel container or stoneware crock.
  • Clean cloth for covering this container
  • Airlock and bung to fit demijohn
  • 2 meter length of clear food grade plastic tubing
  • Sodium Metabisulphite or Camden tablets for sterilising equipment
  • Large plastic spoon
  • Home brew thermometer
  • Extra boiling water for rinsing off sterilising solution
  • Sieve
  • Large Funnel


  1. Clean and sterilise the enamel pot or the crock, the thermometer and the spoon. Rinse off the sterilising solution with boiling water.
  2. Add all the ingredients except the yeast, yeast nutrient and two of the three pounds of sugar to the crock or enamel container and pour on the boiling water and stir well. Insert the thermometer, cover, and leave to cool.
  3. When lukewarm add the yeast and yeast nutrient, and stir in with the spoon (which must again be sterilised).
  4. Remove the thermometer, cover with the clean cloth to keep flies out, and leave to ferment in a warm place for three days.
  5. After these three days, sterilise one demijohn, the airlock and bung, the sieve and funnel, and rinse all this equipment with boiling water.
  6. Pour the remaining two pounds of sugar into the demijohn using the funnel and then strain the fermented flower mix into the demijohn, over the sugar. Fill so that the wine is around and inch (2.5 cm) below the fitted bung. Fit the bung and airlock (which should contain a little sterilising solution to prevent contamination by flies) and leave to ferment in a warm place for a couple of months.
  7. After these two months, sterilise the second demijohn and the plastic tubing, and rinse with boiling water. Remove the airlock and bung, and carefully siphon the wine off the yeast sediment into the fresh demijohn. If necessary make up the volume with a very little boiling water. After sterilising and rinsing the bung with boiling water, and refreshing the sterilising fluid in the airlock, refit the bung and airlock on the new demijohn.
  8. Leave to ferment until the airlock no longer bubbles, meaning that fermentation is complete. Your wine is ready to drink, or you may prefer to let it mature a little longer by siphoning into sterilised wine bottles

How much sugar goes into that again?

Each gallon uses 1.5 bags of sugar, so 5 gallons uses 7 bags!!!
One of the thing that struck me was the off-the scale amount of sugar that goes into it. Alcohol has a bad rap for all sorts of things, and not being part of a calorie controlled diet is probably one of the lesser of the charges, but you can see why it has a lot of calories because that is a lot of sugar. On the other hand elderflower wine is quite strong and 5 gallons is a fearsome amount that goes a long way. It took a lot of assembled party-goers two parties to get through the lot last year.
I took a look at the sugar label, and it looks like you could chug down half a bag of sugar and still remain within the nominal adult calorie allocation. It’s quite awesome that the small box above has enough power to run an adult human for a fortnight.
Sugar info

Elderflower wine has a very sweet taste with a hefty kick and seems to be targeted to the female palate in particular 😉 It seems to come out about the same strength as port subjectively, but apparently wine yeasts top out at 17%-ish as opposed to 20% for port.

I can take it or leave it but it does make parties more fun, and it’s nice to have the Harvest party with some of the produce from the field.