Elderflowers a rare European treat in Canada

Yarrow Elderberry Farm providing popular flower and berry used for flavouring

When Henning Jensen was a boy growing up in Denmark, his mother would feed him all manner of elderflower and elderberry concoctions.

There was a soup for fighting off germs, hot drinks for soothing colds, and sugary drinks for warm summer days. The shrub’s flowers and berries have long been used in European households as a staple of comfort. But here in Canada, it’s a bit of a rarity.

So, when Henning and his wife, Jan purchased their Yarrow home back in 1992, the thought began simmering that he could bring elderflowers here. With just three acres to develop, a small orchard would be just big enough to be worth it, and small enough to handle with their full-time jobs. They planted their first trees in 1999, and within a few years were opening their doors to the public as the Yarrow Elderberry Farm.

Today, they see hundreds of visitors through each season. Right now it’s flower season and the plants are in full bloom. Their heavy scent drifts across the farm, which dips down into what was once the bed of Bertram Creek. Part of the acreage used to be under water, and other parts were once an island, Henning explains on a recent tour of the property. He points to where a former schoolhouse was, and where a shed still stands, and to the area where a landslide changed the land use permanently.

He’s used to touring folks around the farm, and he chats about the different varieties of elderberry bushes. Some of the bushes are filled with bright white flower heads, others have a creamy hue. Still more are starting to form the current-sized berries that will be harvested in late August.

The Jensens pick countless flowerheads for themselves, and will pick berries later this summer as well. Jan dries the flowers for tea, and she soaks them with lemons and sugar to make cordial. It’s that elderflower cordial that can be mixed with nearly anything to make it better — ice cream, sparkling water, jellies and jams, elixirs, even liquors.

Henning and a friend regularly bottle their own elderflower champagne, and several brewers and distillers make the trek annually to stock up on the rare harvest.

It’s probably no surprise that elderflowers are a common ingredient in the uber-popular kombucha drinks. And this week, Naomi Spendiff detoured to the farm while travelling from Vancouver back to her hometown of Kamloops. She was picking 150 flower heads to take home to make her own cordial to sweeten her next few kombacha batches.

While Henning and Jan don’t promise that elderflowers and berries are a cure-all, there is that belief out there and an ever-growing demand. It’s said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. As far as the Jensens know, they are only producer in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver area. They add no insecticide, and no sprays. Henning spends his spare time away from his full-time job as a carpenter as a caretaker to the orchard, pruning and weeding to make sure they grow healthy and full.

To learn more about the farm, pop by on a weekend at 44497 Vedder Mountain Rd. or call them at 604-823-6897.