DIY Food

How To Make Homemade Elderflower Cordial

June 24, 2014

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Emma Gardner from Poires au Chocolat distills the essence of British summer with her mum's recipe for elderflower cordial. 

Elderflower Cordial

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To me, elderflower cordial is the essence of early summer, distilled. Every year there's the patient wait until the elderflowers look just right, the trip spent snipping and stashing blooms in a bag, and then the careful process of making the cordial. 

More: Make your table match your drink with these flower arranging tips.

My mum's recipe is simple and elegant, and it results in a nearly magical flavor, especially when it's homemade. When she was little, my mum was told to only pick elderflowers on a sunny day; I'm pretty sure that's not necessary, but I follow the rule regardless.

Elderflower Cordial

It is important to pick your elderflowers away from the road so that the fumes from cars and trucks haven't settled on them; you can't wash the flowers, as they will lose their pollen. Choose flowers that are in full bloom: You want a big froth of creamy five-petalled flowers that haven't started to go brown. Snip the flowers off near the top of the stem -- you don't need any leaves. Their season usually runs from late May to June, with a bit of variation depending on climate (in the Swiss Alps, for example, the flowers bloom later than they do in the UK.) 

More: Looking for another way to eat your flora? Try arugula flowers in your next salad.

In addition to the flowers, you'll need a couple of other items to make the cordial. You can buy the food-grade citric acid online (in my mum's day, they'd stock it at the pharmacy, but no longer), and you can find a square of muslin for straining the cordial at your supermarket. To drink the cordial, I like to dilute it with cold sparkling water, though some people prefer to use still. Either way, you only need a splash of cordial in each glass -- the result is sweet but strong. 

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial

Makes around 1 1/2 liters

25 heads (each made up of several clusters of flowers on one stem) of elderflower 
1 lemon
1.2 kilograms (5 cups) white sugar
1 liter (4 cups) water
50 grams (1/4 cup) citric acid

Elderflower Cordial

Collect the elderflower heads. Shake them lightly to remove any bugs, then place them into a big mixing bowl. Peel the rind off the lemon in thick strips then cut it into quarters and add it all to the bowl.

Elderflower Cordial

In a big pan, combine the sugar and the water. Place the pan over a medium heat and stir the mixture occasionally until all of the crystals have dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the citric acid. Leave it to cool until it's lukewarm. 

Elderflower Cordial

When the syrup has cooled, pour it into the bowl. There should be enough liquid to cover the flowers and the lemon, though a few bits may bob to the top. Cover with cling film and leave at room temperature overnight. 

Elderflower Cordial

The next day, line a colander or deep sieve with muslin and set it into a big bowl or pan. Pour the contents of the elderflower bowl into the muslin, taking care that it doesn't overflow. 

Elderflower Cordial

Place a couple of clean glass cordial bottles in an oven set to 210° F (100° C) until they've been heated through. Let the bottles cool for a bit -- they can be warm, but not hot. Use a jug and a funnel to pour the cordial into the bottles. It will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Elderflower Cordial

If you want to freeze the cordial, wash a plastic bottle (do not heat it in the oven) and funnel the cordial into it. (I typically use two glass bottles and 1 plastic bottle when I make a batch of the cordial.) The cordial will keep in the freezer for a few months.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emma Gardner

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Maedl
  • placidplaid
  • zephyr050
  • thirschfeld
Emma Gardner. A baker, blogger & food history/literature geek.


Maedl June 26, 2014
I'd pay the bushes another visit to see if they have developed a scent. I usually smell elderflowers before I see them--that is how pronounced the scent is. You can also use other scent-rich flowers in place of elderflowers. If you have meadow sweet handy, that makes a lovely syrup as well.
placidplaid June 25, 2014
I'm sure they are elderflowers. I live in New England. There was another site that suggested that if they don't have a scent it's because the pollen has been blown off. That's why you harvest in the morning. The bush on my street has very few blooms, I am tempted to go back to the other bushes tomorrow to see if they have a scent in the morning. I did begin making the cordial with the blooms I collected this afternoon. Perhaps I can do a second steep.
Maedl June 25, 2014
If the flowers don’t smell, then you probably won’t get much taste from them. Are you sure they are elderflowers? Can you use the ones in your neighborhood? Are you in the east or midwest? There is another elderflower (Sambucus) species that grows in western US that isn’t as good for cooking as the S. nigra and canadensis.
placidplaid June 25, 2014
I found a bush just starting to bloom on my street. The blooms have a wonderful almond type scent. Then later today I saw a bunch of bushes growing by the side of the road and stopped to gather some. They have no scent whatsoever but look like the one I picked this morning. Should I chance it? Zephr050 doesn't think it will be good. I also found citric acid at Walmart in the canning section.
Maedl June 25, 2014
I have used S. canadensis for making elderflower pancakes and fritters, and it tastes good. I haven't used it for the elderflower cordial--or syrup, but if that were all I had, I'd give it a try. The cordial is a fine addition to a glass of Prosecco or can be added to other aperitifs. I make one with Lillet, Prosecco, elderflower syrup and mint leaves that goes down very easily.

As for picking on a sunny day, that is what the local lore advises in my area as well. I think what it means is don't gather the flowers after a night of rain because you will lose the pollen.

Check a good grocery store for citric acid. it is used for canning and preserving, and it is frequently in stock during the summer months.
zephyr050 June 24, 2014
It's important to note that the elderflowers that native to the U.S. (Sambucus canadensis) are NOT the same plants that are used for making cordial in the UK and Europe (Sambucus nigra). I love elderflower cordial and I've tried making it from S. canadensis and it isn't good at all. We can grow S. nigra in the U.S., but it is not likely to be the shrub we find by our roadsides -- it will almost always be a cultivated shrub in a garden.
thirschfeld June 24, 2014
The timing couldn't be more perfect. I have bunches and bunches off elderflower right now. I am so making this tomorrow.