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Elderflower Cordial

 Elderflower cordialElderflower cordialAn easily recognisable shrub with great, frothy bundles of flowers shining from amidst a hedgerow - I say it’s easy, there are quite a few lookalikes to the untrained eye but (as with anything) once you know it, you know it!


The Elder is a tree laden with folklore (Trees for Life have some good info on the history of it’s folklore if you’re into that sort of thing...), a strong but lightweight tree due to it’s somewhat hollow stems (a handy way to tell it apart from any lookalikes) therefore perfect for other crafts such as flutes and whistles. Make a flute from a hollowed stem and Fairies may come to your music… ;)

On a more useful topic, much like the berries the bush produces later in the year, Elderflower is jam-packed with some powerful medicinal qualities. A good one for those suffering from hay-fever it helps to reduce inflammation and clear the sinuses. It also boasts a good level of antibacterial and antiviral qualities so perfect if your summer troubles are anything more than allergies. To access those qualities you need only make a tea instead of going to all the trouble of this recipe, though without preservation are limited as to the amount of time you have to do so. As with any herbs be sure to check with your doctor for any possible interactions with any medication you may be taking. Herb Wisdom has plenty more information on its medicinal uses than I have time to go into, so check them out if you want to know more!


The following recipe yields a strongly flavoured syrup or cordial which blends well with other light and sweet fruits like apple, pear and gooseberry. The flavour is perhaps an acquired taste to some, I would describe between a slightly herby lemonade with strong floral overtones, personally I don’t like it by itself but through experimentation have discovered it makes for an array of intriguing summer cocktails when blended! For instance, try it along with pear cider for an interesting sweet still shandy...


Other uses for this recipe is to drizzle the concentrated syrup on pancakes as an alternative to plain old sugar and lemon, as a dressing for a fruit salad with creamy yogurt or whatever else you think would suit it. It supposedly makes great ice lollies but we haven’t the freezer space to try it ourselves… let us know if you try it!


How to identify:

Elder is fairly widespread throughout England and Wales though not quite so much in the far North of Scotland. The large pointed leaves and fast growth of the Elder often stand out from its usual neighbours of Blackthorn and Hawthorn, more obvious of course when in flower or dripping with clusters of small dark berries. It is similar in appearance to another white flowered tree, the Rowan but with a more chaotic growing style and wider leaves. Another lookalike may be the Dogwood and other similar ornamental hedging shrubs with much smaller clusters of white flowers though they’re nothing in comparison (Dogwood leaves are easily identified by gently pulling a leaf apart to reveal strings in the leaf veins). One difference to note is that the Elder boasts such an impressive bunch of it’s tiny and delicate flowers, that each cluster droops almost upside down under the weight of them all!


Most certainly not to be confused with the white clustered flowers of plants like Hemlock and Hogweed that might grow underneath, ensure that you are still picking from the same tree you originally identified. As always, if you’re not completely sure of what you’re looking at – leave it alone!


How to prepare:

Gather the flowers when the weather is dry, the flavour is stronger somehow and the flowers handle better without bruising this way. Make sure you pick responsibly and take only what you need – Elderflowers are an important food source for bees and many insects, not forgetting the simple fact that less flowers means less juicy berries waiting for you later to protect you from winter flu!


Pick only the flowers or berries, the leaves and twigs of the plant are toxic containing cyanide!


Elder’s flowering period is a short one, and the process is quite intensive, so I find it best to make a fairly large batch at once, bottling to enjoy later in the year. If you notice blooms in your area don’t delay else the flowers will have quickly passed their best.

You can pick the flowers now for drying and using in a recipe or in tea later on in the season, just know that the scent of a bunch of drying Elderflower is a powerful pong indeed! I once attempted it in a wardrobe which had excellent air flow for drying herbs, the next day I was sniffing the furniture wondering if the neighbours cat had gotten inside and peed somewhere before realising my mistake. That batch was soon transplanted to the shed to dry!


I find the average batch produces approx 4 litres (2 x 1.5litre swing top cordial/wine bottles & the rest in smaller 500ml syrup bottles)



approx 40-50 blooms

5 lemons including their juice

2 kg sugar (can be slightly reduced or substituted with Xylitol or another natural sweetener – as with jams sugar is a preservative so if substituting do not store long term)

2 tsp Citric acid (optional)

3 litres hot water



Shaking the bugs out...Shaking the bugs out...1. Try your best whilst picking to evict any insects from the blooms - Elderflower blooms are often a busy place so give them a good but gentle shake before placing in your gathering container. I find that the further step of placing the blooms into a loose-weave sieve over a bucket and giving it a real good shake up, gets the vast majority of the remaining bugs out. The reality is this; you are in all likelihood going to boil some bugs during this recipe! Consider it bonus nutrition... If you don’t like that thought I suggest you never consume a cordial or squash again since it is nigh on impossible to remove every single insect before the hot water goes in, and I would dare say that unless some seriously heavy pesticides are involved there was a couple in the mix of every bottle on a supermarket shelf! ;)

2. Give the blooms a further quick rinse and place into your chosen brewing container (I use a large food safe bucket as it allows for easy stirring and has a good tight fitting lid).

3. Chop your lemons, skin and all, and add to the blooms.

4. Pour the hot water into the container, give it a quick stir and pop a lid on. Allow it to do its thing for at least 24 hours, giving the occasional stir. As I mentioned before, the blooms do give off quite a pong so perhaps don’t keep it in the house if you’re sensitive to it!

5. Strain the mixture through a couple of layers of scalded muslin cloth lining a sieve, and pour into a large clean saucepan. In the meantime sterilise your chosen bottles.

6. Bring the infusion to a gentle simmer and dissolve the sugar into the mixture, it seems an awful lot of sugar but remember that it is important for preserving the cordial and will be diluted before drinking. If anything, making high sugar recipes like cordials and jams yourself opens your eyes to how much sugar you may already be consuming without realising...

7. Add the citric acid if using.

8. If wanting a thicker syrup for pancakes etc increase the amount of sugar slightly and allow the simmer for longer until clearly reduced in volume. Remember that the liquid with always be thicker when cooled – you don’t want a syrup so thick it stays in the bottle!

9. Carefully pour the hot liquid into your sterilised bottles and seal immediately. As the liquid cools it will create a vacuum, helping to seal the bottles further against the preserves nemesis - airborne bacteria.


Tip: Personally I like to pour the drink cordial into my large bottles, then continue to reduce the remaining liquid in the pan until I’m happy with the consistency before pouring the thicker syrup into smaller bottles for drizzling purposes.


Dilute to taste with either still or fizzy water, or mix into diluted fruit juice for a bit of a twist – either way enjoy!



If using citric acid the cordial will keep well at room temperature for up to a year, providing it is kept away from sunlight and that the bottles were properly sterilised. If not using citric acid, use within a couple of months. Keep any opened bottles in the fridge and use within one month.


Have you tried Elderflower? Let us know what you think in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

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Sarah is an artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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