I don’t know how else to put this, but I’m sitting at my kitchen table drinking some kind of crazy flower-concentrate that I made myself from flowers I picked off a bush. A bush that was outdoors. Like, I found the bush in nature, not the grocery store.
I’m pretty sure that I was taught not to eat things I picked outside when I was younger.
It was probably my mom who told me that. Or my kindergarten teacher. Or my babysitter, or the next door neighbors’ mom, or some other adult-ish authority figure.
I’m pretty sure that I was told I would get sick and die.
But here I am, though, ingesting large quantities of this delicious, fresh-tasting elderflower concentrate/cordial/syrup (translations vary… in Swedish it’s “saft”), and I don’t think I’m dying. At least not yet.
See this flower? I ATE this flower. Check it out, close up and IN THE WILD. Photo: Kate Wiseman.
I think I’ve said before that I didn’t know what to expect when I moved to Sweden almost a year ago, but I’m sure that I didn’t expect to get all touchy-feely with the great outdoors. I mean, I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor, for those Swedes who are following along). I was imagining some sort of futuristic, possibly dystopian society—probably monochromatic, but definitely cold, sterile, and unwelcoming.
Mmm, not so much.
This doesn’t go for everyone, obviously, but as a foreign observer, the average Swede seems so much more in touch with nature and so much more knowledgeable about plants and flowers than practically anyone I know in the United States.
Take that with a grain of salt, obviously. I wasn’t exactly the “let’s go hike the Appalachian Trail for the next five months of my life” type in the first place, and I grew up in the suburbs. But Lund could not be called “rural” by any standard, and people here who are my age actually know how to go out in the woods and find stuff that you eat.
Baby Adam is getting a head start on that whole "loving nature" thing. Photo: Kate Wiseman.
I didn’t even know that people still did that in this day and age. I thought it was just like reality tv-travel adventurer maniacs who did that. Apparently not.
And so, of course, I want to learn! Last fall, I got to go mushroom picking with some of my friends—definitely one of the highlights of my year. Holy cow, I ate the mushrooms we picked, and I didn’t die. Now that summer’s here, fläder (elderflower) was my next target.
Off we went to a public park, a motley crew: my sister, visiting from the United States, my boyfriend’s sister, her son, and my boyfriend’s mom, all armed with scissors and plastic bags with which to collect the flowers. Then it was back to the house, to clean and clip the flowers before mixing them with lemon slices, sugar, citric acid, and boiling water.
It's as easy as 1, 2, 3. Really. Photo: Kate Wiseman.
The mixture has to sit for 5-6 days in a cool, dark place, and then it’s time to drink up! Since it’s a concentrate, a little goes a long way… usually a 6:1 ratio of water to saft, depending on how strong you want it to taste.
Want to make your own? I KNEW IT. Here is Malena’s finest flädersaft recipe (if you’ve gotten this far in the post, you’re totally getting the Swedish treatment).
40-50 sprigs of elderberry flowers
1.5-2 kg sugar (1.5 kg if you’re planning on freezing it)
60 gram citric acid, often sold in the US as “sour salt”
1.5 liter boiling water
Wash the lemons and slice them as thinly as possible. Rinse the flowers and cut them off of their stems. Put them in a large jar or pot in alternating layers.
Boil water and mix the sugar in. Take the water off of the heat and add the citric acid. Then slowly pour it over the flower-lemon layers.
Store the mixture in a cool, dark place for 4-6 days, stirring it up a couple of times a day. Strain mixture through a cloth into a clean jar and keep in the refrigerator or freeze.
That’s it! This makes a lot, and like I said, you mix it with something else to drink it… it can be sparkling or still water, champagne, a delicious gin cocktail… the sky’s the limit! Go Swedish nature, yeah!