Imogen is from West Dorset, UK. Her favourite subjects are the environment, gardening, and vegetarian food.
How to Identify, Select and Pick Elderflowers
The elder (Latin name Sambucus nigra) is a common hedgerow tree, which produces an abundance of white sprays of elderflowers in early summer (from late May to early June in the UK), and dark purply black berries later on. It is a short shrubby tree usually about 8 to 12 feet in height. The leaves are pinnate with 7 leaflets: three opposite pairs and an odd one at the top. If you are at all unsure check the accompanying pictures for identification before picking.
The delicately scented flowers can be used to flavour all sorts of sweet treats and are great for making drinks such as this delicious and refreshing elderflower cordial.
If you are lucky enough to have some wild hedgerow blooms in your garden or neighbourhood, then why not give this a try. It is so simple, and you'll just need a couple of extra ingredients and some basic equipment.
To get the best flavour look for flowers that have only just opened up and are still pure white, with no browny discolouration. I like to pick them first thing in the morning. Snap off the whole head from the stem, they break away quite easily, so no need for any special tools. Make sure they are clean and free of insects—give them a little shake before putting them in your collection bag. You'll need about 10-15 flower heads to make a litre of cordial.
- 10-15 elderflower sprays
- 350 grams (12 oz) granulated sugar
- 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) water
- 2 lemons, unwaxed
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- Put the sugar and water in a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and leave to cool a little while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Prepare the flowers: Rinse the flower heads in some cold water, cut away most of the green stalks, and put the flowers into a large bowl. Grate some zest from the skin of one of the lemons, and add to the bowl, then chop up 1 1/2 lemons and add those, too. (The other half can be sliced and added to the drinks when serving.)
- Pour the sugar water over the flowers and lemons, give it a good mix around, then cover with a clean tea-towel. Leave it for 24 hours to infuse.
- The next day, strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a large jug, and then pour the liquid through a funnel into a storage bottle. The cordial will be a lovely fresh yellow colour with a beautiful flowery, citrusy aroma.
The cordial is now ready to enjoy. See below for serving suggestions.
How to Serve and Store the Cordial
- Dilute the cordial with at least 4 times as much water as cordial (so 1 litre of cordial will provide you with 5 litres of ready-to-drink cordial).
- Serve over ice and a slice of lemon for the most refreshing summer drink. It can also be used as a mixer for spirits, or to flavour tonic water.
- The cordial will store for several days in the fridge, but once it starts to go cloudy it should be used up or disposed of. It can also be frozen if stored in plastic containers, and saved for later in the summer when the flowers are no longer available.
- It won't keep as long as the shop-bought varieties because it doesn't have as much sugar or any preservatives, but it does taste a whole lot nicer!
© 2020 Imogen French