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How to Make Elderflower Cordial: A Refreshing Summer Drink

Imogen is from West Dorset, UK. Her favourite subjects are the environment, gardening, and vegetarian food.

Identifying elderflowers. Top left, the sprays of flowers; bottom left, the leaf; right, the shrubby tree in a hedgerow.

Identifying elderflowers. Top left, the sprays of flowers; bottom left, the leaf; right, the shrubby tree in a hedgerow.

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.

Elderflowers

Elderflowers

Ingredients

  • 10-15 elderflower sprays
  • 350 grams (12 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) water
  • 2 lemons, unwaxed
Flowers and lemons added to the bowl

Flowers and lemons added to the bowl

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Straining the liquid into a jug

Straining the liquid into a jug

How to Serve and Store the Cordial

Serving notes:

  • 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.

Storage:

  • 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!
Enjoying a refreshing glass of elderflower cordial in the garden

Enjoying a refreshing glass of elderflower cordial in the garden

© 2020 Imogen French

Comments

Liza from USA on May 30, 2020:

Although I have never heard of the flower, the drink looks refreshing. It's perfect for the summer weather. I have to try to find it and make it at home. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

Imogen French (author) from Southwest England on May 29, 2020:

Hi Bill. The latin name for the plant is Sambucas nigra if you want to check it out. It's very common in the UK, growing wild in the hedgerows, but I think is also found in other temperate zones including parts of the US and South America, Japan etc. There are also some cultivated varieties of Sambucas, including one with dark red leaves and pale pink flowers - I have a beautiful specimen in my garden, but don't pick the flowers from that one because it's too pretty!

Imogen French (author) from Southwest England on May 29, 2020:

Hi Treathyl. You may find ready-made elderflower presse in shops or cafes - that is very similar, through obviously doesn't quite have that lovely fresh home-made taste. Still, worth a try if you can't locate the plant itself. Thanks for reading :-)

Imogen French (author) from Southwest England on May 29, 2020:

Thanks for commenting Rajan, I'm not sure if you'd have this tree in India, but it's very common in the UK.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on May 28, 2020:

I have never seen an Elderflower plant but the flowers look very beautiful. This is a very easy recipe to prepare. I can almost taste the subtle flavour of this cordial. Thanks for sharing.

Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on May 28, 2020:

I have heard people mention this drink several times. I am so curious to know what it tastes like. But I'm not sure I've ever even seen this flower. One of these days perhaps I'll get a chance to try it.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 28, 2020:

Do we even have that plant in the States? I'm not aware of it if we do. Interesting! Now I have to do some research, but since I love looking up new things, it's all good. Thanks for the information.