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It is said that summer begins when elderflowers bloom, and ends when the elderberries are ripe at the end of August. Unfortunately for an increasing number of people, lovely summer days can be blighted by hay fever, but fortunately Nature always provides a remedy. In this case, it comes in the form of the creamy lacy elderflowers which smother the trees in every hedgerow across England and Europe.

It is as simple as dropping the cluster of flowers into a cup of boiling water, inhaling the steam, and when cool enough – drinking the infusion. (Even better if you add a sprig of nettles and a few ribwort leaves (Plantago lanceolata) This herbal tea can stop hay-fever symptoms within minutes, and the effect lasts about 2 hours. For sore inflamed eyes, dip a cotton wool pad into a cup of elderflower infusion and if you have time, chill in the fridge before placing over the eyes for significant relief.

The elderflowers are effective because of their cooling anti-inflammatory effects on the mucous membranes. As such the infusion can be used to relieve sinusitis, sore throat, hoarse coughs and bronchitis. Paradoxically, it also dilates the blood vessels, promoting sweating. This is helpful for viral infections, because a virus cannot survive when the body temperature rises. Elderflower tea raises the body temperature temporarily to create perspiration, and then cools it as the moisture evaporates, and in doing so can hasten the passing of a cold. If someone were suffering from a nasty cold, I would combine the flowers with the berries because the berries are powerfully anti-viral, whilst the flowers are also anti-bacterial. A study in Northern Ireland found that Elder flowers were potently toxic against a wide variety of bacteria, most notably, the hospital bacteria MRSA.

Recently scientists have discovered that elderflowers can significantly help with diabetes by acting like insulin and enabling sugar in the blood to be taken up by the cells.

In all the great houses across Europe, there was a Still Room, used for the distilling of flowers and herbs into medicines, cosmetics, spirits and preserves. During the summer heaps of elderflowers were distilled into elderflower water, to be used be the ladies on their faces so that their skin remained clear and fine.

Elderflower facial lotion:

Gather some elderflowers and allow a little time for the insects to escape, then steep in warm Apple Cider Vinegar for a week.

Strain and keep in a pretty bottle.

Use the lotion after cleansing your face.

In a small finger bowl, dilute 10% of the elderflower vinegar into 90% water, dip a cotton wool pad into the lotion and wipe over your face for a refreshing final toner.