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The blossoms of the elderberry signal to the gardener that the weather conditions have already taken on early summer proportions. Because when spring goes and summer comes, the elderberry begins to flower. If you don't have your own elderberry in the garden, you can simply pick the flowers in the great outdoors. We have summarized for you here when the elderberry blooms and how to collect the elderflowers correctly.


The black elder does not make it difficult for its lovers to find it growing wild. Because it is one of the most widespread shrubs in our latitudes. Today, more than ever, it is considered a coveted wild fruit tree among enthusiasts. If you take a closer look around in its immediate vicinity, you can find it almost everywhere, including wild in many parks and grounds in urban areas.

Sambucus nigra is so common in our landscape that we hardly notice the large shrub - except when it is in bloom or when it bears its black berries. The elderflowers from bushes along busy roads are not suitable for consumption. It is better to keep an eye out for trees and shrubs on the edges of forests, as these are less affected by environmental toxins.

  • in forest clearings under tall deciduous trees
  • at the edge of the forest
  • along sunny to partially shaded roadsides or embankments
  • preferably near buildings
  • in the lee of houses
  • often also on abandoned farms, train stations or abandoned premises
  • on railway embankments
  • on nitrogenous loam together with stinging nettles
  • up to a height of about 1500 meters in the low mountain range

Best harvest time

If you look at a flowering time calendar, you will notice that the timing of the flowering of the black elder is subject to greater fluctuations. The large shrub does not flower at a fixed time, because the current weather conditions and the amount of sunlight as well as the location have a significant impact on the flowering time. The elder, also known as holler, is considered an indicator of summer, its flowering time includes both spring and summer months. The elder usually presents its magnificent umbel flowers from the end of May to the end of June.

In some years the harvest time for the elderflowers is limited to a very narrow window. This is because the buds are very sensitive to various weather conditions. The tiny flowers lose their flavor during prolonged heat. And as soon as it rains, they trickle down with the water.

  • green flower buds from mid-May
  • Harvest time about one to two weeks after bud formation
  • older, established shrubs flower first

The Sambucus nigra also forms flowers in very shady locations. In this case, they appear later and a little more sparsely, so the harvest time is canceled accordingly. Sometimes the elderflowers in the Rhineland have already faded, while in southern Germany or on Rügen they can still be admired in all their glory. In some regions, the elder can even bloom again in late summer, depending on the type of plant.

appearance of the flowers

As a rule, the flowers have five sepals and five fused petals. They are arranged in plate-shaped umbelliferous flowers up to 30 centimeters in diameter and colored greenish to creamy white. Their aromatic, unmistakable scent not only attracts bees and insects, but also many walkers. After the last night frosts in May (Ice Saints), the elder blossoms begin. Depending on the weather conditions and location, the flowering period can extend into June.

  • tiny white or creamy white flowers
  • Arranged in umbels or umbrellas
  • intense smell of vanilla, butter or pepper


Amazingly, all parts of the elder are considered to be more or less poisonous. The plant contains sambunigrin. Therefore, the flowers and berries should only be used when cooked. Raw consumption leads to stomach problems, vomiting and diarrhea in sensitive people and children.

In severe poisoning, breathing difficulties are added. However, if you heat the flowers, the content of toxic ingredients is greatly reduced. In medicine, the flowers are used to reduce fever, against hay fever and as an antiseptic.

risk of confusion

The genus Sambucus belongs to the musk herb family. Of the ten species occurring worldwide, three are native to Central Europe. The most widespread is the black elder (Sambucus nigra), also known as the lilac berry bush in northern Germany.

There is also the red elder (Sambucus racemosa), also called deer elder, and the dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus) with a similar flowering period. While the flowers and fruits of the black elder offer a healthy treat after heating to at least 80 degrees, the plant parts of the dwarf elder (attich) retain their toxicity.

  • Attich grows as a herbaceous plant up to a maximum of 150 cm high
  • Black elder forms heavily woody large shrubs (2-4 m, sometimes up to 7 m)
  • Dwarf elder has narrow lilac leaves up to 15 cm long
  • Common elder has oval leaves that are opposite

The same applies to the elderberry, whose flowers are not poisonous, but whose red berries still contain toxins in the seeds even after cooking.

To harvest

Instead of waiting a long time for elderberries to ripen, our ancestors knew how to process elderflowers and use them to prepare jelly, aromatic syrup or fragrant teas. Today the flowers are more popular than ever. It is best to wear long trousers when collecting, because nettles usually grow at the foot of an elderberry bush.

How to collect:

  • collect in dry, warm weather
  • in the morning
  • the morning dew has already evaporated
  • harvest complete umbels
  • harvest about two centimeters below the base of the cones
  • select only umbels with fully opened flowers
  • don't pick, but better cut
  • Use rose scissors

It is best to use a basket or a dark fabric bag as a collection container, so that the elderflowers are nice and airy and very loose. If you put the delicate umbel flowers in a plastic bag, they will spoil before you get home. Don't tie the bag shut, the elderflowers will turn brown and you can't use them afterwards.

elderberry mushroom

An ear-shaped brown fungus can often be found on elderberry bushes when the flowers are harvesting, the Judas ear or elderberry agaric. Since this mushroom is not poisonous, but is even considered a special delicacy in Asian cuisine, for example, you don't have to worry about collecting the blossoms of the lilac tree.


Before you use the elderflowers fresh or dry them, they should be freed from dirt and small insects. Since the flowers turn brown after a short time and are therefore unusable, they have to be processed relatively quickly. Shake each flower vigorously or tap the side of it against a wooden board or other object. If possible, do not wash the flower umbels with water, because then they will lose their characteristic, intense aroma.


If you don't want to use the flowers right away, you can dry them for later use. To do this, the flower umbels must dry completely in a dry, dark and warm place for several days. The umbel shape ensures that the flowers lie loosely and can therefore dry quickly and easily. Lay the flower umbels flat on the mat so that each flower has enough space to dry thoroughly.

  • warm and dry
  • as dark as possible
  • never in the sun

If you turn the flowers two or three times, they will be dry after just a few days. Strip the actual flowers from the umbel stalks and store in an opaque, sealable container. Protected from air and stored in the dark, the elderflowers can retain their aroma well into the winter months.

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