Elderflowers make Romania’s rural economy blossom
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18 June 2013
As elder trees add to the beauty of Romania’s landscapes, their white flowers help its rural economy grow when they are turned into cordials exported to Britain and Japan. Every year Romanians anxiously await the blossom season in May and June to pick the delicately scented flowers and concoct a traditional soft drink called “socata”.
The refreshing beverage has also inspired US giant Coca-Cola to launch an elderflower-based drink, Fanta Shokata.
In Transylvania, a picturesque region praised by Britain’s Prince Charles for its rich flora and traditional agriculture, hundreds of seasonal workers carrying wicker baskets set out early in the morning to pick elderflowers.
They deliver their daily harvest to a small firm producing cordials, jams and chutneys, Transylvania Food Company (TFC), based in the village of Saschiz.
As the flowers spoil rapidly, they are turned into juice which is exported to Great Britain.
A processing company, Bottlegreen, then turns the juice into cordials and sparkling drinks which it sells in Britain, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.
“We’ve got a five-year rolling contract which allows us to develop our business” in Saschiz, Turnbull said.
Set up in 2010, his company has five full-time employees and has become the second-largest private employer in this village of 2,000.
Romanian, American and Australian businessmen invested 350,000 euros ($467,700) in TFC. Their aim was to help the region develop by stimulating traditional agriculture through a “middle-sized project”.
Around 1,300 seasonal workers pick elderflowers every spring.
TFC pays two lei (45 euro cents, 60 US cents) for a kilo of flowers, which is more than what they used to get when they sold the harvest to medicinal herb traders, one of the villagers told AFP.
“This revenue helps us a lot,” said Alin Barabas, whose parents are among the pickers.
An experienced picker can collect up to 20 kilos per day, bringing in 40 lei (9 euros, $12) in a country where the minimum monthly wage is just under $200.
Turnbull said he believes TFC offers a fair price and notes some “get often what might be their only income in a period of a few weeks” from picking elderflowers as there are no other cash crops so early in the season.