Recipe: How to make elderflower cordial this summer

A pot of elderflower cordial being made

Just a few simple, cheap ingredients are needed to turn elderflowers into a delicious summer drink - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

At the height of the national lockdown last year, foraging became my monthly solace. Walking the fields, woodlands and hoof-marked byways near my house, taking in the sights, scents and sounds of nature at work was a tonic from the horrors of Covid-19. It’s amazing what a lush bank of greenery or the rhythmic buzz of a swarm of bees can do for the soul. 

The first sweep of foraging begins in late April and May, when boggy patches of bare earth straddling low lying trees, and flanking streams and babbling brooks burst forth with the spiky leaves and pale cream starry heads of wild garlic.  

Then come carpets of (inedible) bluebells. And now we’re in a flush of tree blossom. Look upwards on your walks and it’s highly likely you’ll come across elder trees. Currently the branches are laden with frothy plumes of lacy white flowers. Give them a sniff. The perfume is lightly honeyed and sweet (though some, including my children, say it smells a bit like cat wee!). 

There are quite a few uses for elderflower heads. Some restaurants carefully dip them in a tempura batter as a fragrant, crunchy accompaniment to ice cream, or maybe a panna cotta. 

You can infuse elderflower heads (washed) in water with ice and lemon (in a jug with a strainer) as a cooling summer drink. 

Or leave them to steep in cream or milk to add flavour to your desserts. 

But, by far and away the most popular application for the blooms is cordial. A bit of advice. You’ll need citric acid from your local pharmacy. At this time of year they often sell out, so buy a few boxes once we’re out of elderflower season, stowing them away for next year. 

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It’s citric that gives the finished viscous liquid its sharp, tongue-tingling finish. 

Ideally pick elderflowers away from the road, on a dry(ish) day. Picking during or just after heavy rain means that all-important pollen will have been washed out.  

Don’t go mad. Only pick what you need, reserving flowers for other like-minded foragers.  

Once you get home, leave them in a large bowl or bag for a short while so any creepy crawlies can drop off. And give them a light wash. 

Then you’re all set. I like to add a few strawberries or a stalk of summer rhubarb to give a pinkish hue sometimes, so you might like to do that too. 

Once ready, mix a splash in a glass with water or fizz for a delightful drink. The syrup is also wonderful drizzled over fresh berries. 

A bottle of homemade elderflower cordial

Drizzle elderflower cordial over fresh summer berries or mix with water or fizz for a refreshing drink - Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis

Elderflower cordial 

(Makes 2lts) 

Ingredients 

1kg bag caster sugar 

750ml water 

45g citric acid 

1 lemon, pared to remove rind (keep it) and sliced thinly 

Half a carrier bag’s worth of elderflower heads, stems and leaves removed 

Method 

Place the water and sugar in a large pan (I recommend a pasta or preserving pan), and warm on a low heat until the sugar is melted. 

Bring to the boil for five minutes. 

Add the rest of the ingredients and turn the heat off. Leave to infuse for 24 hours. 

Remove the elderflowers and lemon with a slotted spoon and discard. Strain through clean muslin into a bowl with a pouring lip. 

Then decant into one 2lt or two 1lt sterilised bottles. Keep in a cool place and once opened use within a couple of weeks.