In the Czech kitchen: Cooking with elderberries from flower to fruit

We spoke to culinary experts from Prague's Eska restaurant about picking, preserving, and cooking this essential Czech summertime ingredient.

Klára Kvitová

Written by Klára Kvitová Published on 01.07.2023 12:13:00 (updated on 05.07.2023) Reading time: 5 minutes

With deep connections to Slavic culture, elderflowers (known as bezinka in Czech) have long been an important ingredient in the Czech recipes of yesteryear. In Central and Northern Europe, elderflower is used as a base for syrup and vinegar, while the blossoms have even been fried and eaten historically.

For those who are uncertain about how to incorporate this ingredient into seasonal dishes, we asked chefs from Ambiente restaurants to share their best tips with us. Read on to discover why picking both flowers and ripe blackberries (černý bez) is a must for home cooks in Czechia.

So many uses for elderflowers

The elder tree blooms in spring and ripens in late summer but if harvested properly, can be used in cooking all year round. Just before flowering, elderberries can be pickled like capers, but the flowering phase is a bit longer and more interesting for chefs. In May and June, the fragrant flowers are processed into syrups, (fermented) lemonades, and kombucha, as a refreshing drink ingredient or in sauces and salad dressings.

These tips for incorporating both berries and flowers into your cooking are based on Czech folk recipes.

Pickled elderberry flowers. Photo by Adam Mracek.
Pickled elderberry flowers. Photo by Adam Mracek.

DRESSINGS: Elderflower syrup can be whisked with olive oil, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper and then tossed with salad leaves, caramelized rhubarb, and goat cheese for a delicious summer salad. It also works well as an ingredient in a universal yogurt-based summer condiment (whisk the yogurt with lemon juice and a pinch of salt). Try it on grilled green asparagus or other garden greens, for example.

SAUCES: Add a tangy kick to hollandaise sauce with elderflower vinegar or pickled flowers. Flowers can be pickled in a classic vinegar brine and added to mayonnaise or butter sauce (beurre blanc), as they do at the Bufet in Karlín. The tart flowers, butter, and fish stock make for a sublime sauce.

GARNISH: Use the flowers in salads and to finish (cold) soups, sprinkle over fresh cheese or grilled meat, add to a hot sandwich, on pasta like linguine, or serve on bread with farmer's cheese. 

PRESERVES AND CHUTNEY: When fermented with vegetables and fruit, in kimchi, honey, or chutneys, the flowers enhance the aroma of certain jams (their taste works well with strawberry jam). In some recipes, they are macerated first in apple juice or stirred into the cooked fruit. 

MEAT DISHES: At Eska restaurant in Prague, they add fresh elderberry flowers to their baked lamb dish; they preserve the harvest traditionally but also sous vide or frozen, which extends its shelf life. In an older recipe from the Czech culinary tradition, a simple sauce made from the blossoms, sautéed in butter and stirred into a buttery roux sauce, with a little mace, salt, and sour cream, was often served over venison.

DESSERTS: Aromatic elderflower also suits desserts. The flowers can be incorporated into milk or cream bases used to make ice cream and other dairy desserts. The syrup can be used as a sweetener for strawberry dumplings, doughnuts, sweet buns, or cake batter.

OIL: Vintage cookbooks advise collecting undeveloped flowers without stems to make vinegar, while elderflower oil is prepared from dried flowers so that the moisture does not cause mold. Pour 250 ml of good-quality oil over 10 bunches of flowers and keep in a cool, dark place for about three weeks. The oil is then strained and used in dressings and sauces. Dried flowers can be mixed into flavored sugar or salt.

FRIED: Fried elderflowers are a Czech summer treat! The batter is made by mixing sifted flour, salt, beer, milk, and eggs. Flowers are coated in the batter and then fried with lard and dusted with sugar.

Tasty elderberry tips

  • Elderberries should never be eaten raw! The acidic berries, have a laxative effect and contain antinutritional lectins that are only inactivated by heating. The berries require cooking and are best made into jams, puddings, ketchup, or compote.
  • The ripe berries are a great addition to sweet or sour pickle relishes, often in combination with blueberries, blackberries, plums, or other fruits. The condiment can then be used as a topping for pancakes or dumplings.
  • At Eska, elderberries are preserved like cranberries, with cinnamon and star anise to make a zesty accompaniment to meat or game. They can also accompany pâtés, cheeses, and grilled meats.
  • Czechs have long used elderberry as a base for syrup or wine, but the juiced berries can be drunk fresh, sweetened with fruit juice, mixed with soda, or incorporated into cocktails. Juiced elderberries are also useful for flavoring sauces.
  • Dried berries are considered a superfood. After drying, you can enjoy them in tea, smoothies, desserts, or granola, and they can also be used as a spice or natural coloring. 

An old Slovak recipe simmers elderberries in milk with a little flour, while in Moravia locals used to make a porridge made of boiled elderberries, semolina, and sugar, served with butter and cottage cheese. In Germany, sweet elderberry soup with semolina dumplings is still cooked today. 

extra facts and tips

  • Pick when perfect: Elderflowers are picked around noon when they are not fully open or wet from the rain. Whole bunches are cut from the bush, including the stems, and spread on baking paper or a tablecloth. This gives the beetles hiding in the flowers a chance to escape. Do not rinse the flowers before processing, because they will lose their aroma and pollen.
  • Sacred species: The Slavs revered the black elder as a symbol of protection and health. They believed that deities dwelt beneath it, protecting the farm and the family, and when they moved, they took elderflower seedlings with them on their journey. The herb still grows in every garden today and does particularly well in partial shade and nutrient-rich soil.
  • Non-food uses: Every part of the plant can be used for medicinal purposes, from the root to the leaves. The list of all the beneficial substances and vitamins they contain is virtually endless; still, it's worth mentioning anthocyanins, which not only color the berries but also act as antioxidants and positively affect the intestinal microflora, among other things.

In the Czech Kitchen is a weekly column written in cooperation with the culinary experts from Ambiente. Established in 1995, the Prague-based collective of pubs, restaurants, and fine-dining outlets has transformed the Czech culinary landscape and lent to the widespread awareness of quality food service and production in Czechia. Follow their socials or book your table at

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