Elderflower cordial is an easy to make, refreshing drink perfect for sunny days.

Foraging has become popular in recent years – and an elderflower cordial is one of the easiest things to make from the commonly found flowers

With many people taking time in lockdown to discover what’s available on their doorstep to forage, one of the easiest plants to spot is the elder tree – which produces fragrant white elderflowers in late spring and elderberries in the autumn.

As spring slowly turns to summer, the familiar fragrant elderflowers can be seen in hedgerows and gardens across the country. But what can these be used for?

One of the most common recipes is for elderflower cordial, which can be added to water for a refreshing drink or to gin for a summery G&T.

How to harvest elderflowers

You’ll need to take some scissors or secateurs on a walk and choose a sunny day so that the flowers are fully open.

Cut the flower heads at the stock, so that they stay in tact and keep them as upright as possible to ensure as much pollen stays on the flowers.

History of elderflower

Jim Riach, participant in The Scottish Wild Food Festival, has this to say about these blooms.

“At Trossachs Biking and Bushcraft we love it when the elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) are out along the edge of the cycle path or forest trails when out exploring on one of our bike safaris.

“We have a long association with Elder with cordial and elderberry wine having been recorded since the 18th century and both still popular today.

“Like rowan, elder has lots of folklore and was said to keep witches at bay, so often planted outside houses.

“When the elderflowers are heavy with pollen they are ideal to make a range of tasty recipes, elderflower cordial is loved by most, one of my favourites is elderflower champagne or you could try elderflower vinegar, sorbet, or fritters.

Jim’s recipe for elderflower cordial

For cordial select your elderflowers on a sunny dry day if possible, when the flowers are still young in full bloom and loaded with pollen.

Ingredients

For a simple cordial you will need:

2 heads of elderflowers

50g sugar

1 lemon

900ml water

Method

Into a heatproof jug zest the lemon, taking care not to include any pith.

Add the lemon juice, sugar and elderflowers and pour over 900ml boiling water.

Stir well and leave to get completely cold.

Strain into another jug and keep in the refrigerator.

Cordial with citric acid

If you want to keep your cordial for a bit longer you need to make a stronger sugar syrup and add some citric acid.

For this recipe you will need 2.5kg sugar, 2 unwaxed lemons, 20 or so fresh elderflower heads and 85g of citric acid.

Add the sugar and 1.5litres of water to a large pan, heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Give it a stir now and again, zest, juice and slice the lemons, once the syrup boils turn off the heat.

Add the flowers, lemon zest, juice and slices and the citric acid and stir well.

Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs.

Filter the cordial and add to sterilised bottles.

The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.

Or freeze it in ice cube trays, bag and defrost as needed.

To find out more about abundant wild edibles and tasty wildcrafted recipes follow Trossachs, Biking and Bushcraft on Facebook.

More recipes

You’ll need about 15-20 elderflower heads, water, sugar and lemons. Some recipes call for citric acid and others, the addition of honey for added sweetness.

Jamie Oliver has an easy to follow recipe, that uses freshly picked elderflowers and store cupboard ingredients.

Ingredients

15 heads of elderflower

500g caster sugar

4 tablespoons quality runny honey

2 unwaxed lemons

Method

Wash the elderflower well, picking off any bugs.

Place the sugar and honey in a large saucepan with 1 litre of water.

Gently bring to the boil, until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove from the heat.

Finely grate in the lemon zest and add the elderflower upside down, making sure the flowers are completely submerged.

Squeeze in the juice from one of the lemons, then slice the other and add it to the pan, too. Pop the lid on and leave to one side to infuse for 24 hours.

When you’re ready to strain your cordial, line a fine sieve with muslin over a large bowl (if you don’t have muslin, you can use good quality kitchen towel) and pour through the cordial.

Store in sterilised bottles or jars and drink diluted with water, soda or Prosecco.

BBC Good Food have the following recipe for an elderflower cordial – all you need is to go foraging for the flowers and ensure you have citric acid.

Ingredients

2½ kg white sugar, either granulated or caster

2 unwaxed lemons

20 fresh elderflower heads, stalks trimmed

85g citric acid (from chemists)

Method

Put the sugar and 1.5 litres/2¾ pints water into the largest saucepan you have.

Gently heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved.

Give it a stir every now and again.

Pare the zest from the lemons using a potato peeler, then slice the lemons into rounds.

Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan of syrup to the boil, then turn off the heat.

Fill a washing up bowl with cold water.

Give the flowers a gentle swish around to loosen any dirt or bugs.

Lift flowers out, gently shake and transfer to the syrup along with the lemons, zest and citric acid, then stir well.

Cover the pan and leave to infuse for 24 hrs.

Line a colander with a clean tea towel, then sit it over a large bowl or pan.

Ladle in the syrup – let it drip slowly through. Discard the bits left in the towel.

Use a funnel and a ladle to fill sterilised bottles (run glass bottles through the dishwasher, or wash well with soapy water.

Rinse, then leave to dry in a low oven.

The cordial is ready to drink straight away and will keep in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.

Or freeze it in plastic containers or ice cube trays and defrost as needed.

About The Author

Rosalind Erskine

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related.

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