How to Make Sweet Elderflower Cordial with Wild Foraged Flowers
Easy to make elderflower cordial recipe using fresh elderflowers and lemon juice. Makes three bottles that you can use in refreshing summer drinks, or to make edible flower desserts and recipes.
This page may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Late May and June signals one major event in my foraging year — elderflowers. These creamy white umbels of sweet and fragrant flowers grow on elder trees and later in the year will transform into earthy elderberries. For now, though, the flowers are out and can be used to add flavor and aroma to both drinks and desserts. You don’t need many to make a big impact though, and just twenty of them can make this elderflower cordial recipe.
If you have never had elderflowers before, they’re intensely fragrant and pair well with sweet and citrusy flavors. They taste less like other edible flowers, such as rose or lavender, and more like tropical lychee, pear, and herbaceous undertones. They have a delicate and delicious aroma and are well-worth using in drinks, jam, and desserts.
Homemade Elderflower Cordial Recipe
One of the best ways to start off elderflower recipes is to make elderflower cordial. Cordials are a sweet thin syrup commonly diluted in water, juice, and champagne to make summery floral drinks. It can also be used to replace some of the water in recipes to add flavor to cakes, icings, puddings, and other desserts.
Traditional elderflower cordial uses just a few ingredients including fresh elderflowers, lemon juice, white granulated sugar, and water. You can also add a small amount of citric acid to the recipe, like I do, to help preserve the cordial for longer. It adds a citrusy flavor but more importantly, raises the acidity level so that bacteria find the cordial too inhospitable to live in. Gently mixed and heated together, and you get a pale yellow sugary syrup that tastes simply incredible. There’s nothing else like homemade elderflower cordial.
Foraging for Elderflowers
The first thing that you’ll need to do before you make elderflower cordial is to source elderflowers. They grow on elder trees Sambucus nigra, a type of shrubby hedgerow tree that commonly grows across Britain, Europe, parts of North America, and other temperate places in the world. The only other flower that you could get them confused with is rowan flowers, which also grow on early summer-flowering trees. The leaves of elder and rowan are very different though and rowan flowers do not have the beautiful fragrance that elderflowers do.
Pick flower heads on a bright, dry morning, after any dew has evaporated off. Gently place the flowers in a bowl or basket, and take them home to use or to dry that very same day. Do not wash elderflowers before using them, or you’ll remove the flavor. Fresh elderflowers are best for making homemade elderflower cordial, but you can also use dried elderflowers. They’re available to purchase, or you can dry elderflowers on a screen, rack, or a food dehydrator for future use.
Elderflower Cordial Recipe
- Large saucepan
- Glass bottles
- 20-30 heads fresh Elderflowers or 20 g / 0.7 oz dried elderflowers
- 1.58 quarts Water 1.5 liters / 50.56 fl oz.
- 5 cups White granulated sugar 1 kg
- 3 Unwaxed lemons zested and juiced
- 2 TBSP Citric acid 30 g
Infuse the Elderflowers
- Pick the elderflower heads and set them outside on a clean tea towel or paper towels for a couple of hours. This is to allow any insects hiding in the blossoms to have a chance to escape.
- Zest and juice the lemons. A lemon zester makes short work of it but you can use a small cheese grater too. Just ensure that you don't remove the white pith, or it can give a bitter flavor. Refrigerate the juice for the next day.
- Next, pull the white flowers off the green flower stalks/umbels and put them in a large bowl or tub with the lemon zest. You can use a fork to pull the flowers off but I just use my fingers. The thicker green stalks can make your cordial bitter so try to remove as many of them as possible.
- Boil the water, then pour over the flowers and zest and let it infuse overnight. You can leave the bowl at room temperature, but make sure to cover it with a kitchen towel. The scent of the elderflowers steeping in the water will be intoxicating!
Prepare the Bottles
- The next day, run the glass bottles you're using through the dishwasher to sterilize them. Alternatively, you can use a bottle sterilizing solution, as you would in cleaning winemaking equipment. If your bottles do not have plastic tops, you can also sterilize the glass bottles in the oven by washing them, and then placing them inside at 130°C /270°F for thirty minutes.
- Just before you begin making the cordial, warm the sterilized bottles if they're not warmed already. You can do this in the oven at the lowest setting.
Make Elderflower Cordial
- Juice the lemons into a bowl. Strain any seeds out.
- Strain the elderflower infusion through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and place the liquid in a large pan along with the juice from the lemons and the citric acid. Warm to a simmer.
- Next, add the sugar and stir until it's completely dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil before lowering the heat and allow to simmer for ten minutes.
- Using a funnel, pour the cordial into the bottles*, seal, and allow to cool. If you opt-out on the next step, the cordial has a shelf-life of six months.
- Water-bathing cordial will ensure that it won't spoil and extends the shelf-life to twelve months. To water bath, place the bottles that you've just filled and sealed in a tall pot of boiling water, submerging them completely. Leave to boil for thirty minutes before lifting the bottles out and allowing them to cool.
- Once cooled, elderflower cordial can be stored in a cupboard or used right away. Once a bottle is opened, keep it in the fridge and use it within a month.
- You can use elderflower cordial at a ratio of 1:4 (or your own preference) with champagne, prosecco, sparkling water, lemonade, or another drink or cocktail of your choice. A good splash in a glass will do then fill it up with another beverage of your choice. You can also use it to replace some of the water and/or sugar in cake and dessert recipes or drizzle it over lemon sorbet. Perfect for a hot summer day!
More Elderflower Recipes and Inspiration
Elderflowers only come out briefly, so if you have some to use, consider making some of these elderflower recipes. They’ll keep you in sweet and delicious desserts, ice cream, drinks, and cocktails for the rest of the year. You can even reduce and/or thicken elderflower cordial into elderflower syrup and use it to flavor liqueurs. That intense floral and citrus flavor is perfect for bringing a warm summer day into any day!
Elderflowers are also a skincare plant and can improve and brighten the complexion and reduce inflammation. That means that you can use elderflower infusions in handmade creams, lotions, toners, washes, facial mists, and handmade soap.
- Sweet and Summery Elderflower Champagne Recipe
- Elderflower and Lavender Soap Recipe
- Elderflower and Vanilla Jelly Recipe
- Belvoir Elderflower and Lemon Drizzle Cake Recipe
Have you ever made this with honey?
I haven’t but don’t see why you couldn’t :) I’d probably replace all of the sugar and some of the water with honey.
I left my flowers out, but it might have been too hot/dry and they were not easy to get off and turned brown as I was filling the bowl. It still smells and tastes pretty good, of course the liquid is not as pale as in your photos! Do you know why the flowers turn brown?
Hi Julie and it’s fine to use them when brown — as you’ve found out, only the color is different. I believe that they turn brown due to oxidation, so in a way similar to how apples turn brown when cut.
Hi there – I’m wondering what the purpose of the citric acid is?
It’s to help ensure that the cordial is shelf-safe :) It also adds citrusy flavor!
My mum used to do a fresh drink in the summer with the elderflowers. It’s a treat we make every summer in Romania.
3 l water
5-6 big flowers
2-3 big lemons cut in slices
300 g sugar
1 big transparent glass bol
Mix water with sugar, put the whole flowers (without the big green stems) and the sliced lemons in the pot and put it in a sunny place (covered with a plate) for 2-3 days. Mix once a day using a wooden spoon.
Taste the 3rd day. Transfer in bottles and refrigerate.
It’s so good! It tastes like summer.
When you say that it can be stored unopened for a year, where can you store it? Just in your cupboard?
But then once opened store it in the fridge?
Made my first batch of this Monday, made the mistake of already rinsing my elderflower however it did not mean this tasted any less flavoursome!! I also decided to add the zest and juice of and orange as well as the lemons. This recipe is delicious, so much I went on the hunt for more elderflower this evening and have my second batch currently on the cooker (didn’t rinse them this time just left them out for the bugs to disperse). This will definitely be a recipe I will use over and over so thank you very much!
Thanks so much, Amy, and so glad that you enjoyed the recipe! Elderflower cordial is SO YUM :) Enjoy
I’ve used this recipe twice. The first bottle I’m half way through and the second is still warm from the pot. Delicious, and so simple, thank you!
Glad you’re enjoying the recipe Claire :)
It’s pints. Thanks for letting me know.
This looks lovely! Can I use dried elderflower and if so at what quantity?
Yes you can :) When using dried material, use half the amount (in weight) of the fresh flowers or leaf.
I just made it, added extra lemon and it’s just beautiful. Great recipe!
Thanks Monika! Enjoy your homemade elderflower cordial :)
Personally I would stress that you should not rinse the flowers before use, they’ll lose their taste and fragrance , only, as you say,let them rest to debug them. Also it is a good idea to pick them early morning while the dew is still on them or after a slight rain shower .
Elderflower cordial is the best. Thanks for the recipe Tanya. It’s a good simple one.
I'm not aware of any Ederberry bushes here where I am in Australia, is there a recipe that I can make using dried flowers?
Thank you for the wonderful recipe! My mother used to make Elderflower Cordial years ago and it was my favourite summer drink! This brought back happy memories of my childhood :)
Sounds wonderful! I just took a foraging class and was wowed by the flavors, along with the thrill of hunting down indigenous plants during their fleeting moment of bloom! I'm so intrigued by the whole idea of it. Great post – thanks for sharing.
There's something inside of all of us that gets a thrill out of foraging and discovering the edible side of the natural world! I'm happy you liked the post :)
I do so love elderflower cordial. If I haven't left it too late, I might try and make some this week. It's a once a year opportunity after all! Thanks for the recipe Tanya, I especially like the addition of citrus.
You should have plenty of time CJ…Elderflowers should be out for the next couple of weeks or so.
Isn't that what the two old ladies served their guests in Arsenic and Old Lace, the play? It sounds delicious, but watch out for additives.
Sounds like some dangerous Elderflower Cordial!