Our journey to organic elderflowers by Gabriel David
From late May to mid-June it’s the short British elderflower season and, as I write, we are out checking on the crop in the South Devon area, to bring us our annual haul of these fragrant wild blooms. The Wild Elderflower Bubbly that we’ve been making for years is one of our best-selling drinks - a fact which has never surprised me in the least because the creamy white blooms of this wonderful hedgerow species have a unique flavour that absolutely lends itself to a refreshing, zingy, lemony drink.
But this elderflower season has been extra-special to Luscombe for one essential reason… Three years ago, we planted our orchard in what I believe is the largest Agroforestry method of growing Elderflowers. The 2000 trees sit on a 50-acre field run by our friends at the Agroforestry Research Trust, based on the Dartington Estate just a few miles from Luscombe HQ.
This is the first true season the trees have come of age and are offering up a proper crop of flowers. You might ask why we needed to plant a special orchard when Devon’s hedgerows are alive with the creamy white elder blooms most years. There are several reasons.
The first is that in a poorer year you’d see our pickers walking hundreds of metres from one side of a field to another just to pick a handful of blooms. We need an awful lot of these petals to satisfy demand for Luscombe’s Wild Elderflower Bubbly. Obviously, that was wasteful in time and energy.
The second reason we planted was all about quality. Attention to detail is one of the main things we bring to the market place - that detail sets Luscombe apart from other drinks manufacturers. We get these petals within an hour or so of being picked and they go straight to Luscombe to lock in that heady aroma you get from a lung full of elderflowers - our customers recognise and expect that flavour.
When we started picking elderflowers for our special bubbly, we were going from hedgerow to hedgerow. But after a while we realised the blooms come in different shapes and sizes - with a variety of aromas and flavours. You want to choose the most fragrant if your aim is to create the world’s Rolls Royce of elderflower drinks. In fact, with elderflowers consistency is more important than with any other core ingredient because the aromas are so delicate.
I had already been taking an interest in the work being done by our near neighbours, the Agroforestry Research Trust, based on the Dartington Estate. They define agroforestry as the practice of growing agricultural and horticultural crops on the same piece of land. This principle gives a higher variety of flora and fauna in an otherwise Monoculture expanse of a large field. This helps diversity, itself helping provide corridors for butterflies, bees and other insects essential everywhere in our ecosystem.
I’m fascinated by the way agroforestry differs from traditional agriculture - in that it focuses on the interaction among a group of components rather than on the separate individual elements. That makes a lot of sense and I believe this approach will become more and more mainstream. This ethos is, of course, right up Luscombe’s street - or country lane, would perhaps be a better way of putting it.
For Dartington its important, they state “Agroforestry increases the overall resilience of our estate. It can provide us with fruit, nuts, timber, biomass and animal fodder in the same space as other crops, increasing the overall yield from the land, and it fosters biodiversity through the creation of habitats and food sources. It also builds the economic resilience of farms, as they’re able to farm their land vertically as well as horizontally.”
What’s not to like? More trees on the landscape, help improve soil health - which is something that is increasingly on everyone’s lips. Agroforestry can reduce erosion, build up soil organic matter and sequester carbon, as well as help manage water more effectively as it moves through a landscape.
So, you can see why planting up our one orchard was a key part of Luscombe. Our Wild Elderflower Bubbly now has another story to tell - and we know our customers appreciate details behind the products they buy. I guess we might have to tweak the name just a bit now that our pickers have been out there harvesting a good crop from the orchard. These are no longer wild!
A key tip if picking your own - they must be picked in full sunlight after the dew has evaporated – and they must only be from the creamy white fully opened flowers. The scent around the orchard is magical! Now all we need do is bottle that and serve this unique drink on ice and of course take the time to enjoy it.