One of my all time favorite drinks is called Hugo. I discovered it when I visited Austria for the first time, where the drink is extremely popular, especially in the summertime. In fact, according to Wikipedia, it was invented in 2005 in South Tyrol region of Austria. It is comprised of prosecco, soda water, elderflower syrup and some mint. The most essential ingredient of this cocktail is elderflower syrup. Austrians seem to be obsessed with elderflower, not only using it in the preparation of drinks but also in sweets, as well as medicine, constantly praising its health benefits. In order to prepare your own elderflower syrup, all you need is elderflower blossoms, sugar and citric acid, some lemons, a large pot (in which you bring the mixture to boil) and 4-5 days of patience and after that, you will be able to enjoy Hugos and delicious lemonades all year long.

Elderflower (also known as Elderberry and simply Elder) or Sambucus is a genus of flowering plants that has a large variety of species. Some of the species are poisonous, while Sambucus Nigra found in the warmer parts of Europe and Northern America is used to prepare the aforementioned elderflower syrup or cordial, as well as to prepare liquors (French "St. Germain" and Romanian "Socată", for example). Its berries are edible and are used to prepare relishes, jams and fruit pies in traditional Austrian, German and Italian cuisine. In these countries, there even exists a dish named "Hollerküchel", which is essentially the umbels of the elderberry, that are batter coated, fried and then served as a dessert or a sweet lunch with a sugar and cinnamon topping.

Benefits of Elder

Every part of the elder tree is thought to possess incredible medicinal properties, including its bark, leaves, flowers and berries, all of which have been used in traditional medicine since the times of Hippocrates. In medieval times, the roots of the plant were used as a powerful diuretic and laxative, the bark was used to help to move the labor along, as well as to sooth pain and provide energy to mothers after childbirth, while berries were used as a treatment for hemorrhoids.

Elderberry has been traditionally used for the treatment of common cold, cough, flu, and fever. Berries boost the immune system. Applying the elderflower concoction topically or adding it to the bath is good for treating skin inflammations, while a highly concentrated elderflower tincture possesses potent allergy-fighting properties. Elderflower is also a well-known detoxification aid; an elderflower tea (made of flowers, not berries) enhances liver function and causes the body to sweat out toxins and even heavy metals.

Crushed elderberry leaves release the unpleasant smell. In the past, people used these leaves (attached to the horse's mane) to repel flies during riding and used the berries as the natural hair and fabrics coloring agent. Nowadays, many people plant elder in their gardens to scare away mice and rats, as the roots of the tree release prussic acid, which is poisonous for rodents.

Elder in Folklore
In English and Scandinavian folklore, the elder tree was regarded as sacred as it was believed that the Elder Mother lived in its trunk, therefore it was not supposed to be cut down or burned in order not to upset her. In Slavic folklore, the elder tree should never be burned and/or brought into the house, as it absorbs negative energy. Many cultures believe the elder tree has the power to keep evil spirits away, therefore it was recommended to plant it outside the front door. Legend also has it that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was made out of elder, thus enriching the tree with powers to protect people from lightning. In Denmark, it is believed that if one were to stand under an elder on Midsummer's Eve, he or she would see the Elf-King and fairies./


*Albania eye-witnessed by a Russian researcher, living in Tirana since 2013. Liana Suleymanova studied history at the American University in Bulgaria where she got introduced to Albania, whose past particularly captured her. Her interest in the small country developed even more during her master studies in the Central European University in Budapest and Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, where she focused on Albanian history, especially on the transition from communism to democracy.