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Elderflower Cordial – making the perfect summer drink

Right now, I can’t think of a more quintessentially British summer drink than Elderflower cordial. The Elder (Sambucus nigra) is in full bloom in summer, so why not do a bit of easy foraging and make Elderflower cordial yourself? It’s swift and easy*. The result is brilliant refreshment when you don’t want / can’t drink alcohol. Alternatively, add Gin for a flavoursome and delicate alternative to G&T.

Here’s what to do.

First, track down your Elder. They’re dotted all over the British countryside, maybe as a standalone tree, part of a hedgerow, or as a bush in your garden. They’re easy to spot in summer, with sprays of creamy white fragrant flowers. They will develop into small black berries in the autumn (Elderberry wine?). However, it’s the flower heads that make the cordial. Avoid those plants near roads as you don’t want to drink exhaust pollutants! And if the Elder is on private land, best to ask permission first – after all, the owners might want to use the flowers or berries themselves. Choose a sunny day and pick those heads that look the freshest and leave plenty of them for others.

You only need 30 flower heads to make 1.7 litres of cordial, which will be diluted, so the foraging, picking and making are quick and easy!

Ingredients and method.

30 Elderflower heads

1.7 litres (3 pints in old money) of boiling water

900 g caster sugar (some recipes advocate using more sugar but that creates a gloopy syrup)

50 g citric acid

Two unwaxed oranges (sliced)

Three unwaxed lemons (sliced)

Gently rinse the elderflowers under the cold tap to remove any dirt or insects. Pour the boiling water over the caster sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir this well to ensure the caster sugar is dissolved, and leave it to cool.

Once cool, add the citric acid, the orange and lemon slices, and then all the Elderflower heads. Cover this mixture and steep it in a cool place for 24 hours, remembering to stir occasionally.

After steeping, strain the liquid through muslin. This removes the solids, leaving the finished Elderflower cordial.

The orange and lemon slices will freeze to use again. However, the Elderflower heads are now spent.

Transfer the cordial to pre-sterilised bottles. It should easily keep for six weeks in the fridge. Don’t consume it if it begins to ferment (bubbles and cloudy). It won’t ferment if you have sterilised the bottles properly! You could also try freezing it in an ice cube tray.

Time to drink!

For a simple, refreshing taste of summer that’s better than any can of fizzy pop, dilute the cordial with sparkling water to taste. The dilution is about 10:1, give or take, so as a rough guide 125 ml of sparkling water only needs 12.5 ml of cordial. If you’ve just made 1.7 litres, then you have enough for 13 – 14 drinks.

Don’t forget to add ice and a slice. Now find a sunny spot, put your feet up and enjoy!

Other uses.

Alternatively, add your favourite Gin for a brilliant (and low-cost) alternative to G&T – a wedge of lime rather than lemon adds a further twist. You could also substitute tonic for sparkling water if you prefer. Or tart up a boring glass of cheap fizz with it as well.

Drizzle over fruit salads and sorbets too.

*As with any foraging, please act sustainably and responsibly. Take care with plant identification, particularly if you suffer from allergic reactions. If in doubt, don’t do it.


Got Blackcurrants? It’ll soon be time to make Creme de Cassis.

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