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Fragrant umbels – elders

During the summer months, it is idolised by bees, insects and foodies, gardeners and herb doctors alike. Black elder is not always an extraordinary beauty at first glance: Its branches are gnarled and covered with split bark. In the winter this shrub, which can grow up to six metres, looks like a wizened old man. In summer, however, when its ivory coloured flowers shine out from the rich green of the leaves, the black elder has a serene charm which would even bewitch Mother Hulda.

According to the legend, this small tree was the home of the ""pillow shaker"" from the Grimm's fairytale. And the snowflakes in 'Mother Hulda', which represent the Germanic goddess Holder or Holla, are thus the delicate flowers of this shrub of the gods.

Whether when in flower or as spherical fruits, black elder umbels are best harvested with a pair of scissors by cutting them off right at the bottom of the stalk. Before using them in the kitchen, remove the brown flowers and shake off any insects. Elderflower cordial, which is easy to make from elder flowers, concentrated lemon juice and sugar, is a particularly popular sweet drink. The fruit, on the other hand, should only be eaten if ripe and cooked. You can then turn it into lovely juices, jelly, jam, ice cream and sauces with a special sweet and herby aroma. Elder has also played an important role in medicine for centuries. In your garden, an elder, which is easy to look after, sits well among free-growing hedges. Here, it will provide valuable shade for compost - and it doesn't mind being given a good prune.