Elderflower Cordial Recipe

Elderflower cordial is a sugary syrup which is diluted to drink, or used in other recipes such as jams and jellies.

Elderflowers close up
Elderflowers close up

The spring blossom season comes and goes very quickly, and elderflowers are one of the last flowers to arrive. The flowers of apple and cherry may be more glamorous, but the blossom I am usually waiting for is the elderflower blossom.

Elderflowers usually begin to appear in May. With masses of large white flower heads bursting out of hedgerows, they are easy to spot once you know what to look for.

When we recently went for a walk to collect some elderflowers, I spotted a possible elderflower plant on the opposite side of the field. 10 minutes later I had collected a small bag of flowers – just enough to make a batch of elderflower cordial.

Collecting elderflowers

Pick flowers on a sunny, dry day (never pick on a damp day). The fragrance (much of which comes from the pollen) is best on warm, dry days.

Try to choose flowers where the individual flower buds are just beginning to open, and some are still closed.

When collecting elderflowers, only pick flowers from plants which are growing away from roads and traffic pollution.

Leave some flowers to produce berries later in the year. If there are usually lots of elder plants around, take a few flowers from each.

Making elderflower cordial

Ingredients

  • Elderflowers – around 20 flower heads (depending on the flower size)
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 2 unwaxed lemons (zest and juice)
  • 1 small orange or clementine
  • 1.5 litres of water

You will also need a large pan, some bottles, a sieve (conical), a funnel, muslin cloth or tea towel.

Elderflower cordial making - lemons, syrup and elderflowers
Elderflower cordial making – lemons, syrup and elderflowers

Instructions for making elderflower cordial

  1. Pick over the flowers removing damage or insects, and gently shake the flowers to remove insects. It is best to do this outside.
    You can can quickly wash the flowers in a bowl of cold water just before placing in the pan (see below). However a lot of the fragrance and flavour is in the pollen, and some of this will be removed when washing.
  2. Trim stems off with scissors.
  3. Heat 1.5 litres of water in a large saucepan, with the sugar.
    Remove from the heat when just boiling and sugar has dissolved.
  4. Finely grate the zest from the lemons and add this to the pan.
  5. Juice the lemons and add the juice to the pan.
    You can also cut slices of lemon to add to the pan.
    I cut the lemon in half, cut a thin slice from each half, then juiced the rest of the lemon.
  6. Juice a small orange or clementine and add it to the pan.
    (You can also grate the zest from the orange if it is unwaxed.)
  7. Add the flowers to the pan, place them flower-side down (stems upward). Push the flowers down with a spoon if necessary. Place lemon slices on top.
    Optional washing – If you wash the flowers, quickly and gently wash the flowers in a bowl of cold water. Lift the flowers and gently shake off the excess water, then place in the pan – as above.
Elderflower cordial making - elderflowers and lemons in the pan
Elderflower cordial making – elderflowers and lemons in the pan

Ensure that all the flowers are covered by the water.
Push them down, or a add a little more hot water if necessary.

Put the lid on the pan and stand overnight (for up to 24 hours).

  1. The next day, clean and sterilise some bottles and lids.
    Clean them with hot soapy water or in a dishwasher.
    Sterilise bottles and lids by placing in a warm oven at 160 – 180 ?C for around 20 minutes.
  2. Filter the liquid into a bowl or large jug, through a conical sieve lined with muslin cloth or a clean tea towel.
  3. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into sterilised bottles with tight fitting lids, and refrigerate.

The first time we did this, we didn’t have a muslin cloth or a tea towel for the filtering, so we used a coffee filter inside a conical sieve. It worked, but took most of the afternoon to filter – so we now have a set of muslin cloths to use.

I wash the muslin in hot water before use then place it inside the glass jug and microwave for 20 – 30 seconds to sterilise the muslin and the jug. It can be washed out in hot water and re-used.

Elderflower cordial making - sieving and bottling
Elderflower cordial making – sieving and bottling

Elderflower cordial recipe variations

You will find many variations for how the elderflower cordial is made.

One main difference is whether the sugar is added at the start of the process (before the water is heated) or the next day (after the the mix has been sieved).
I have tried both methods and both work well.

Many recipes use more sugar.
More sugar may have benefits, such as helping to preserve the cordial for longer, but I don’t like it too sweet, and it is usually all gone in a few days anyway!

Some recipes use an orange – some don’t. Either will be fine.

Some recipes suggest using citric acid, which acts as a preservative, so that the elderflower cordial will keep for longer.

Using your elderflower cordial

The easiest way to use elderflower cordial is to just dilute it with water and drink.
You can use fizzy water or Prosecco to dilute the elderflower syrup if you prefer.

It can also be used in recipes.

Notes

Elderflower flower size

Elderflowers do vary in size. A typical flower head is usually around 10 – 20 cm across, but they can vary from around 8 cm to 30 cm across. You may need more – or less – flowers depending on the flower sizes.

White elderflowers or pink elderflowers?

I think that creamy white flowers make the best cordial. The pink flowers can also be used to make elderflower cordial and give a slightly different taste, but it is not quite as smooth as a good white flower cordial.

You can mix the different flowers too – I struggled to find enough good flowers for my second batch of cordial, so I added 5 pink flowers to the white elderflowers – it looked a bit like a rose wine and it tasted very nice.

You can skip the flower washing if you wish, but shake the flowers and carefully check them for insects before using them. Much of the fragrance comes from the pollen, so too much shaking or washing can remove some of the fragrance – which you want for the best cordial.

Where can you find elderflowers?

Elder is a native plant in the UK, and is very widespread.

Elder is a small shrubby tree which typically grows in hedgerows, scrub, wasteland, and woodland – often among other larger trees. It is often found alongside footpaths and in roadside hedgerows in late May and June.

Elderflowers and leaves on Elder tree
Elderflowers and leaves on Elder tree

How do you identify elder and elderflowers?

Common name: elder
Scientific name: Sambucus nigra

Flowers

The flowers of elder are large, flat umbels of small creamy white flowers, which usually appear in late May and early June, or later in cooler areas. They are typically 10 – 20cm across, but can be smaller or larger.
The flowers have a strong fragrance which is musky and sweet, which is especially strong on hot sunny days.

Berries

In late summer/ early autumn bunches of small berries appear. Elderberries are a dark purple / black colour and have a sour taste. The berries are loved by birds. If you are are quick you can pick some to use in fruit puddings, jams, syrups, or to make elderberry wine.

Leaves

The leaves are dark green, with 5-7 oval and toothed leaflets. They smell unpleasant when touched or bruised.

Smell

The flowers have a strong, sweet, musky smell when they are young. The fragrance is not quite as nice on older flowers or on damp days.
The stem and leaves have an unpleasant smell which is a bit nutty.

Other elder varieties

There are many varieties of Elder in cultivation. In gardens you will sometimes find elder plants with purple leaves and pink flowers, or with golden coloured leaves. However so far I have found that the wild variety usually makes the best elderflower cordial.

The woodland Trust has a good article about elder trees.