Ten natural skincare treatments you can make with elderflower water (plus a couple of curiosities)
Elderflower water was the go-to complexion enhancer on every dressing table in the past. It is widely used in skincare for its conditioning and skin lightening, properties that can be handy for reducing freckles and sunburn and for treating greying hair.
It’s a great anti-wrinkle herb and combines well for this purpose withcomfrey, honeysuckle, lady’s mantle, lime flower and marshmallow.
Make your supplies of elderflower water in the few midsummer weeks that it’s in flower. Or preserve the elderflowers for later use by drying or salting them.
To dry your elderflowers, heap them onto a table and let the flowers fall off the stems as they warm up. Shake the flowers free and lay them flat to dry before packing into a dark jar to store.
To salt the elderflowers you gather, pack them into a jar layering salt inbetween each layer. This will preserve them. Shake and wash off the salt when you’re ready to use the flowers.
Preserved flowers for elderflower water
Preserved elderflowers are generally preferred for making elderflower water. Elderflowers are one of the few herbs whose scent improves as they dry. Another is sweet woodruff which has little fragrance until it dries.
Elderflower water – Aqua Sambuci or Eau de Sureau
Elderflower water (Aqua Sambuci or Eau de Sureau)is an infusion of elderflowers popularly used for softening cleansers, toners and conditioners for hands, face and body. It is mildly astringent and a gentle stimulant.
To make elderflower water you need:
- 100g elderflower, split into two batches
- 500ml water
Put half the petals into a pan and cover with the water. Bring to the boil, then simmer very gently for an hour. Strain and put the remaining petals into the pan, covering them with the strained flower water. Once again, bring to the boil, and then simmer gently for an hour. Leave to cool before straining first through muslin, then through a coffee filter to remove all the plant material.
Store in clean, labelled bottles. Elderflower water improves over time (to a point, make a fresh batch each elderflower season), the scent gets softer. You can also freeze your elderflower water to have supplies that will last all year round.
10 ways to use your elderflower water:
A Bath to banish headaches and head colds
Elderflower water makes a refreshing addition to a bath. Culpeper claims this is particularly good if you have a headache or fear a cold coming on. You can also hang a muslin bag of elderflowers under the tap as you draw the bath.
A post-sea skin refresher
Elderflower water is a great toner to use after you’ve been swimming in salt water. Splash it on all over to freshen, tone and remove saltiness.
Toner for oily skin
Elderflower water is a gentle toner for oily skin, recommended for use after evening cleansing.
Hair treatment for greying blonde hair
Use an elderflower infusion to rinse blonde hair that is greying. If your hair is dark and greying use an infusion of elderberries (you’ll need to wait until late summer or autumn to gather these).
Elderflower water is a great astringent to apply post shaving. Elderflowers are used in a cream for wounds and burns (see elderflower ointment below), yarrow is a good herb to combine for this use too.
Compress for inflamed eyes
Soothe inflamed eyes with a compress of the infusion. Simple steep cotton wool pads or a muslin cloth or flannel in elderflower water and apply to your eyes, sit back and relax.
In laboratory tests, elder was found to be a good treatment for dark circles and puffy eyes due to its rutin content (a flavonoid) and antioxidating and anti-inflammatory acids. An extract is now being created to bring these benefits to eye treatments.
Personal Care MagazineMay 2017, Emmanual Coste, Jean-Francois Nicolay – Exsymol, Monaco: Dark circle and puffy eyes treated with elderberry
Bath for sore feet
Elderflower water has a reputation for soothing sore feet. Splash your elderflower water into a foot bath, you could add a tablespoon (15ml) of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) too.
To keep hands soft and clear of blemishes, Nicholas Culpeper recommends washing hands with a distillation of elderflower morning and night.
Lotion for chapped hands
To 3 tablespoons (45ml) of your elderflower water add 1 tablespoon (15ml) glycerine. Combine well and bottle. Smooth into your hands to keep them soft and supple. Keep in the fridge and replenish with a fresh blend each week.
An infusion of elderflowers or elder leaves can be dabbed on to deter mosquitos, midges and flies. Alternatively, bruise an elderflower leaf and wear it in your sun hat.
(in the garden some people sprinkle the small elderflowers over delicate plants to keep off caterpillars and aphids)
Hydrosols are a luxurious form of flower water created during the distillation process used to make essential oils. During distillation, steam is forced at pressure over the plant material that draws the volatile oils from the plant. It is then condensed and as the resulting water is collected, oil will float on the top. The oil is collected and bottled as essential oil; the remaining water is our prized hydrosol – pure water totally impregnated with the plant.
Making elderflower hydrosol
You can make your own elderflower hydrosol by infusing elderflowers and condensing the steam. The equipment you’ll need to do this are: a large enamel kettle, a plastic tube, an ice bath (shallow bowl filled with icy water), and a second bowl. You’ll need to assemble these carefully in relation to each other.
The kettle needs to be over a heat source. Fill this three quarters full of elderflowers and then barely cover the flowers with water and put the lid on the kettle. Attach the plastic tube to the spout of the kettle and bend it so the central section sits in the ice bath. Position the second bowl to be slightly lower than the ice bath and about 30cm away from the kettle. Train the end of the tube over the lip of this bowl.
Now you’re ready to begin. Switch on your heat source and bring the contents of the kettle gradually to the boil before turning down the heat to a small simmer. Continue to simmer very slowly for between 30 minutes and an hour, do not let it boil dry. As the water bubbles, steam will rise out of the kettle spout and travel down the tube. When it reaches the icy bowl it will condense, then run down the tube and so you can collect the hydrosol in the final bowl.
Some traditional remedies made with elderflowers
Oil of Swallows
(also known as Oil of elder leaves or Green Oil) – A traditional treatment for piles (when sold commercially this is often coloured with Verdigris).
1 part bruised fresh elder leaves
3 parts linseed oil
Other recipes for this also include honeysuckle flowers and recommend applying the ointment hot. It is made by simply macerate the leaves in the oil.
(Unguentum Sambuci) – For swellings and wounds (this was especially used on wounded horses in wartime)
450g elder leaves and/or flowers
225g plantain leaves
50g ground ivy
Make: Cut the herbs very small and boil the lard, stirring continually until the leaves become crisp. Then press out the ointment for use.