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Flowering time: when does elderflower bloom? Collect elderflower properly

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The flowers of the black elder signal to the gardener that the weather conditions have already taken on the dimensions of early summer. Because when spring comes and summer comes, the elderberry begins to bloom. If you don't have your own elderberry in the garden, you can simply pick the flowers in the wild. We have summarized for you when the real elder flowers and how to collect the elder flowers correctly.


The black elder does not make it difficult for its lovers to find it growing in the wild. Because it is one of the most widespread shrubs in our latitudes. Today it is more than ever a popular wild fruit tree among lovers. If you take a closer look around its immediate surroundings, it can be found almost everywhere, even overgrown in many parks and facilities in urban areas.

Sambucus nigra is so natural 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 unsuitable for consumption. It is better to look out for trees at the edge of the forest, as these are less polluted by environmental toxins.

  • in 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 in abandoned yards, train stations or abandoned areas
  • at railway embankments
  • on nitrogenous clay soil together with nettles
  • up to a height of about 1500 meters in the low mountain range

Best harvest time

If you look into a flowering calendar, you will notice that the timing of the flowering of the black elder can vary considerably. The large shrub does not bloom at a fixed time, because the current weather conditions and solar radiation as well as the location have a significant impact on the flowering time. The elder, also called elderberry, is considered an indicator of summer, its flowering period includes both spring and summer months. The elderberry usually presents its magnificent umbel blossoms from the end of May to the end of June.

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

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

The Sambucus nigra also produces flowers in very shady locations. In this case, these appear later and also a little sparse, so the harvest time is accordingly. Sometimes the elderflowers have already faded in the Rhineland, while they can still be admired in full glory in southern Germany or on RĂ¼gen. In some regions, the elder can even set flowers again in late summer, depending on the type of plant.

Appearance of the flowers

As a rule, the flowers have five sepals and five petals that are fused into one another. They are arranged in plate-shaped umbellate flowers with a diameter of up to 30 centimeters and are greenish to creamy white in color. Its aromatic, unmistakable scent not only attracts bees and insects, but also many a strolling enthusiast. After the last night frosts in May (ice saints), the elderberry also begins to bloom. Depending on the weather conditions and location, the flowering period can drag on into June.

  • tiny white or creamy white flowers
  • arranged umbel- or umbrella-shaped
  • intense smell of vanilla, butter or pepper


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

With more severe poisoning there are also breathing difficulties. However, if you heat the flowers, the content of toxic substances is greatly reduced. In medicine, the flowers are used to lower fever, hay fever and as an antiseptic.

Likelihood of confusion

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

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 healthy enjoyment after being heated 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 height of 150 cm
  • Black elder forms heavily lignified large shrubs (2-4 m, sometimes up to 7 m)
  • Dwarf elder has narrow lilac leaves up to 15 cm in length
  • Real Holler has oval, opposite leaves

The same applies to the deer elder, whose flowers are not poisonous, but whose red berries still contain toxins in the kernels after cooking.

To harvest

Instead of waiting a long time for elderberries to ripen, our ancestors knew how to process elderflower and use it to prepare jelly, aromatic syrup or even fragrant teas. Today the flowers are more popular than ever. It is best to wear long trousers when collecting, as stinging 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
  • only select umbels with fully opened flowers
  • do not pick, but cut better
  • Use rose scissors

It is best to use a basket or a dark cloth bag as a collecting vessel so that the elderflowers are nice and airy and very loose. Put the delicate umbellate flowers in a plastic bag, they will spoil there before you get home. Do not tie the bag, because then the elder flowers will turn brown and you will not be able to use them afterwards.

Elderberry mushroom

When the flowers are harvested, an ear-shaped brown mushroom can often be found on elderberry bushes, the Judasohr or elderberry mushroom. Since this mushroom is not poisonous, but is even considered a special delicacy, for example in Asian cuisine, you do not have to worry when collecting the flowers of the lilac tree.


Before you use the elder flowers fresh or dry them, they should be cleaned of 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 the individual flowers vigorously or tap the side of a wooden board or other object. If possible, do not wash the flower umbels with water, as this would cause them to 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 have to dry out completely for several days in a dry, dark and warm place. The umbel shape ensures that the flowers lie loosely and can therefore dry quickly and easily. Place the flower umbels flat on the surface so that each flower has enough space to dry out 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 in just a few days. Strip the actual flowers from the umbel stems and store them in an opaque, sealable container. Protected from the air and stored in the dark, the elderflowers can retain their aroma into the winter months.