Hyllest elderflower farm

by admin on 22/06/2019

Drawing of an elderberry plant

Drawing by by Olga Lobareva, bought from Shutterstock

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Elder or elderberry is a bush  with a rich variety of folklore as is shown here, here, here and here. Elders were considered the habitat of Freyja  in Norse mythology and it was protected by the Elder Mother. Actually, this inspired the great writer H.C. Andersen to write a story called The elder-tree mother. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote a book about Germanic tribes  for whom the elderberry was holy. Moreover, the Greek physician Hippocrates  and the Roman historian Pliny the elder both wrote about elderberry as a herbal medicine.

Quotation from Edda: If you have elder, honey and cabbage, the doctor will be a poor man.

The Latin name Sambucus for elderberry is purportedly derived from a Greek string instrument, which was called sambuca and was made from elder wood.

My first encounter with elderberry was at a farmers’ market in Drammen where we could sample elderflower juice, making me buy a bottle. Ever since I have bought bottles of elderflower juice occasionally since they are quite dear, but the taste is delicious. Next, having found that someone needed money for planting elderberries on a field in Bø in Telemark on the crowdfunding site culturaflokk, I donated so much that I could have a guided visit with the owner Mie Dahlmann Jensen on her farm.

We met at the chuch in Bø from where it was a short drive to a field near Moland farm where 400 elderberry saplings had been planted in 2017. Before, the field had been used for organic growing of oats and grass for 20 years and it was ideal for growing elderberries. During my visit, I could see some of the saplings, some of which had the same height as the surrounding grass due to a drought which have lasted more or less continuously since May 2018. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to make the elderberries growing, but Mie remains optimistic.

She told me that roe deer were free to enter the field, but they didn’t like the elders. In addition, there were brown rats nearby, but by planting garlic around the saplings, they stayed away. Really brilliant to fight them with plants and not poison!

Next, we went to Akkerhaugen where Mie has planted 160 elders in cooperation with Rinde farm. Three rows of elders were located among rows of apple trees and all cultivation was organic. Sitting in the sun, drinking elderflower juice and eating strawberries with sour cream was a very nice experience, contributing to making slow pix worthwhile and enjoyable.

The owner of Rinde farm cuts grass around the elderberries and apply fertiliser to them since they require a large amount of nitrogen in order to thrive.

Mie has her first memories from her native Denmark where she hid behind elders when she was playing hide-and-seek with other children. As an adult, she had been to farms where elderflower juice was being produced and after having moved to Norway and working at the local agricultural office, she contacted Innovation Norway and local apple farmers regarding cultivation of elders. Since everyone was positive, she founded her company Hyllest in 2013 and this year is the fifth anniversary. Hyllest is a Norwegian pun on hyll, which means elder, while hyllest means homage. That is, Hyllest is a homage to hyll.

Harvest of elderflowers is done in June and July, always manually and always early in the morning until about 10 in the morning when all dew has evaporated. In addition to domestic elderflowers, Mie also picks elderflowers from wild elders, which have “escaped” from various nurseries and gardens. Having collected elderflowers for up to a month, Mie turns them into juice at Epleblomsten, a local apple press. She has developed her own way of doing it, but she is aided by the workers at Epleblomsten with the production. Fortunately, this occurs so early that no other activity takes place at the apple press such that all attention can be turned to the elder flowers.

After having bottled the elderflower juice, it is distributed to various well-assorted shops and it is sold at farmers’ markets. A nice addition to elderflower juice is beer with a taste of elderflower since a brewery called Eiker ølfabrikk started making beer with elderflower syrup this year.

Finally, it remains to wish Mie good luck with persuading more Norwegians to start drinking elderflower juice, which apparently is little known for now.

Since Mie invited everyone to join the harvest on a Saturday morning in June, I returned this year. Having arrived before 8, the air was filled with birdsong and the pleasant smell of the elderflowers. Rows of apple trees were standing next to the elderflower bushes, but the apples had to mature for a few months more before they could be harvested.

Some of the elderflower shoots had blossomed, while the other ones were perhaps waiting for warmer weather. The shoots looked like light green pinheads, while the flowers had white and light yellow petals.

Picking the elderflowers was done by cutting the stem below the flowers by the thumbnail, then putting them in an open plastic box. Some of the flowers were growing on branches high above us, but it was easy to bend them down such that we could reach the flowers.

While we were harvesting the elderflowers, Mie walked around with a spray, applying a mixture of soap and vegetable oil on insects which formed black clusters on the branches.

Having harvested the flowers for about 1 hour, we had harvested all the flowers, which had blossomed. Then, it was time to enjoy a delicious breakfast next to the elderflower trees and drinking elderflower juice. A really pleasant experience in beautiful surroundings.

Here is some information on how to grow and care for an elderberry bush.

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