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Elderflower Cordial Recipe

Elder is an easily recognisable hedgerow shrub sporting great big, frothy bundles of flowers in June - I say it’s easy, there are some lookalikes to the untrained eye but (as with anything) once you know it, you know it!


It's a tree laden with as much folklore as it has practical uses (Trees for Life have some good info on the history if you’re into that sort of thing...). It has hollow branches (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 supposedly Fairies will come to your music… ;)

Much like the berries the bush produces later in the year, Elderflower has some powerful medicinal qualities; for those suffering hay-fever it helps to reduce inflammation and clear the sinuses, and also boasts antibacterial and antiviral qualities so perfect if your summer troubles are anything more than allergies. To access these qualities you need only make a tea instead of going to all the trouble of this recipe, though without preservation we're limited as to the short flowering season only to make use of it. 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 here!

 Elder flowering in a hedgerow amongst Blackthorn, Hawthorn, and Rose. Elder flowering in a hedgerow amongst Blackthorn, Hawthorn, and Rose.


The following recipe yields a strongly flavoured loose syrup, or cordial, which blends well with light flavoured fruits like apple, pear and gooseberry. The flavour of Elder is 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, plenty of tasters have approved of it other than myself so here we are! If nothing else, try it diluted (with either still or sparkling water) mixed with half a glass of pear cider for an interesting shandy...

Other uses is to drizzle the concentrate on pancakes as an alternative to sugar and lemon, or as a dressing for a refreshing fruit salad. It supposedly makes great ice lollies but we haven’t the freezer space to try it ourselves… let us know if you try it!

 Elder flowers have rounded petalsElder flowers have rounded petals

How to identify Elder:

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.

Not the plant you're looking for... Dogwood's petals are pointed. Not the plant you're looking for... Dogwood's petals are pointed. 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). 

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!


Gathering Elderflower:

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 attempted it indoors once, the next day I was sniffing the furniture wondering if the neighbours tom cat had gotten inside and marked 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)


Elderflower Cordial Recipe


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



1. Evicting any tenants from the blooms...1. Evicting any tenants from the blooms...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 very likely 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. Add hot water to the blooms and lemon slices...4. Add hot water to the blooms and lemon slices...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.

 Bottled Elderflower CordialBottled Elderflower Cordial

TIP: Personally I pour the drink cordial into my large bottles leaving some spare liquid, then continue boiling that to further reduce into a thicker syrup for drizzling purposes.


Dilute the bottled cordial to taste with either still or sparkling water, or mix into diluted fruit juice for a non alcoholic cocktail – whatever you do with it, 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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