Elderflower Cordial is so easy and cheap to make at home. Refreshing, sweet and aromatic, the cordial tastes incredible as a soft drink, diluted in sparkling water.
Use it as a mixer for gin or vodka or add to prosecco for a lively and bright summer cocktail.
I love making cordial in the springtime and always have a stash of this along with my Lemon Cordial. The process of making Elderflower cordial - from the foraging of flowers to the steeping in syrupy water is a yearly tradition here.
One cordial-making session can produce enough for an entire year! The resulting drink tastes better than the fizzy versions you buy at the supermarket. You'll be amazed how cost-effective it is to make your own - it'll become your yearly ritual too!
This is a complete Elderflower guide including how to identify it, when to pick it and how to make the cordial. I'll cover the use of citric acid, Campden tablets, preserving, sterilising and bottling.
Amy's tip: Use the menu below to jump to the information you need. If you just want the recipe click the 'recipe' heading or scroll to the bottom of the page.
So, what is Elderflower, how can we identify it and when is the best time to pick it?
In the UK, the Elderflower season runs from May to June. The Elder tree (Sambucus Nigra) grows to around 15 metres in height and is found in hedgerows, woodland and wasteland.
You might even find some in your garden and if you do, count yourself lucky as it was thought to keep the devil away!
Elderflowers are characterised by their fragrant smell which is pleasant and very summery.
What does it look like?
The Elder tree is more like a large scruffy-looking bush than a tree. It has feather-shaped green leaves with toothed edges.
When in bloom, the flowers are a creamy white colour that appear in flat clusters. You'll probably notice the thin green stems teaming with tiny bugs called blackfly and often find thrips aka 'thunder flies' or 'thunder bugs'.
The bugs are easy to get rid of during the cordial making process and one of the reasons straining through muslin cloth is essential.
Don't confuse Elderflower with Cow Pasley, Hogweed or Hemlock. All of which have white flowers with a similar appearance to Elderflower.
How to identify Elderflower
- It grows from a bush-like tree and not from the ground.
- The flowers have a distinct musky, sweet and floral smell. By contrast, the twigs and leaves don't smell as pleasant.
- Elderflower should not smell musty, damp or like cat wee.
- The surrounding leaves have a serrated, toothed edge and are usually in clusters of 5.
Please don't forage or eat anything that you are unsure of.
When and where to pick Elderflower
The best time to pick Elderflower is when the flower buds are completely open. You will be able to smell their heady sweet scent which is immediately recognisable. If you can't place the smell - or it's unpleasant - it's probably not Elderflower.
Harvest the flowers on a warm, dry day with the intent of using them to make cordial straight away.
Elderflower next to the roadside should be avoided because of the pollution from traffic fumes.
Apparently, according to folklore, you should ask the Elder tree's permission before picking the Elderflowers but I'll leave that up to you!
To make 3 litres of cordial you will need 20 large heads of Elderflower about the size of your palm. If they are smaller than that then you will need 40-60 heads.
How to make Elderflower Cordial
Now you've identified and foraged for fresh Elderflower, it's time for the exciting bit.
The cordial making!
Aim to begin the process as soon as the Elderflower is picked so that it's at its best flavour-wise.
Step One: Add caster sugar and water to a large saucepan. Place it over a very low heat and allow the sugar to completely dissolve. Once dissolved bring it to a boil then take off the heat immediately.
Step Two: Run the sink full of cold water and dunk the Elderflower heads in, give them a swish and shake. This will rid the Elderflower of most insects, you can also pick them off with your fingers if you want to. Don't worry if there are still some bugs because they'll be caught in the muslin when you strain the syrup later.
Step Three: Take a large bowl or clean washing-up tub and carefully pour the hot sugar syrup into it. Add the citric acid, lemon slices and Elderflower heads. Give everything a good mix then cover with a clean tea towel and leave to steep and infuse for the next 24 hours.
Step Four: Place a colander over a large bowl and line it with a muslin cloth. Ladle the syrup into the bowl. When you've added all of the syrup you can squeeze out the muslin and discard the flowers and lemon slices.
Step Five: Set a funnel over sterilised bottles and ladle the syrup into the bottles.
The cordial is now ready to drink. An open bottle will keep for at least 6 weeks in the fridge. It can also be frozen in ice cube trays or bags for 12 months.
Citric acid is used in Elderflower cordial to add a sharp tang, it will also help to preserve the cordial.
I buy citric acid in bags from Amazon (see below for my list of recommended items). It's cheap to buy and as you only use it in small quantities will last for ages.
You can also buy citric acid from brewer's shops and will sometimes find it in the chemist.
Note: Citric acid is not the same as vitamin C tablets and the two aren't interchangeable.
Can I make Elderflower Cordial without citric acid?
It is possible to make Elderflower Cordial without citric acid but it won't taste the same and won't last as long.
Campden tablets are a sulphur-based compound sometimes added to Elderflower cordial to kill bacteria and inhibit the growth of wild yeast.
They can be bought from brewer's shops or places like Amazon.
I don't find them necessary and therefore have not included them in the recipe.
How to sterilise bottles
Sterlisling glass bottles removes bacteria, yeast and fungi and is important because it will help to preserve the cordial.
- Wash the bottles thoroughly in hot soapy water or run them through the dishwasher on a hot cycle.
- Fill the bottles with boiling water, leave for 5 minutes then pour the water out, add the cordial immediately and seal. The bottles should be filled while still hot.
- Alternatively, preheat the oven to 160ºC put the bottles and lids in (don't add any rubber seals) switch the oven off and leave the bottles in the oven until they are cool.
Here's what you'll need to make Elderflower cordial at home. The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you buy any of the items listed through the links it will not cost you any extra, however, I will earn a small commission.
- Large heavy-bottomed saucepan to boil the sugar and water.
- Large plastic bowl or washing up tub to soak the elderflowers and other ingredients.
- Large bowl to strain the syrup into.
- Muslin cloths: to strain the syrup through and catch any bugs. You can use a clean tea towel but muslin is much more effective and useful to have around.
- Citric acid: adds a sharp tang and acts as a preservative.
- 1-litre glass Kilner bottles: to keep the cordial in.
- Kilner funnel: very useful to prevent messy dripping liquids. This is my number one must-have item.
- Ice cube trays: not a must-have but brilliant for making giant spherical ice that you can fill with edible flowers if you're so inclined!
How to serve
The finished cordial tastes much better than anything you can buy like Bottlegreen or Belvoir. Mostly because homemade always tastes good and it's nice knowing you no longer need to fork out £3.50 for a bottle of diluted cordial!
The cordial tastes incredible diluted (about 2 tablespoons) in sparkling water with ice.
I made the spherical ice using moulds (listed above under recommended items heading) that I filled with filtered water and edible forget-me-nots from my garden .
Elderflower cordial makes a great summer cocktail and can be added to vodka, gin, prosecco or even champagne!
I hope this Elderflower guide was helpful and that you have many happy years ahead foraging and making your own cordial.
Please leave me a star rating below and review or comment.
- 1.5kg caster sugar
- 1.5 litres tap water
- 50g citric acid
- 2 lemons, thickly sliced
- 20 large heads of Elderflower (size of your palm)
- Put the caster sugar and water into a large saucepan set over a very low heat. Allow the sugar to completely dissolve stirring occasionally. When the sugar has dissolved turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling turn off the heat immediately.
- Run the sink full of cold water, dunk the elderflower heads in and give them a swish. Shake them to remove bugs (some bugs may remain but will be removed later).
- Pour the sugar syrup into a large bowl or clean washing up tub. Add the citric acid, lemon slices and elderflower heads. Give everything a stir then cover with a clean tea towel and leave to infuse for 24 hours.
- Place a colander over a large bowl and line in with a muslin cloth. Ladle the syrup into the bowl. When you've added all of the syrup you can squeeze out the muslin and discard the flower and lemon slices.
- Set a funnel over sterilised bottles and ladle the syrup into the bottles.
- The elderflower cordial is no ready to drink. Add 2 tablespoons of cordial to a glass and fill with sparking water or use as a mixer in a summer cocktail.
Please see the blog post above for all the information you need to forage elderflower and make cordial. I think I've covered everything! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 50 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 117Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 0gSugar: 30gProtein: 0g
Nutrition is an estimate only.