What could be more English than a glass of homemade elderflower cordial, drunk in an English garden? This delicious, floral drink is the perfect non-alcoholic choice for sunny days – you can even use pink elderflower for a delicate coloured drink. Making the cordial at home allows you to adjust the sugar to your taste. This elderflower cordial recipe uses Campden tablets to preserve some of the batch, so you can keep your cordial all year long.
The English Countryside in a Glass!
Elder grows all over the northern hemisphere and many countries use the berries but the flowers seem less popular. Elderflower cordial is a traditional favourite in the British Isles, however, and especially in England. So enjoy a little taste of an English summer, wherever you are!
I’ve been making this delicious elderflower cordial recipe for the past 20 years. Refreshing, summery and delicious, it’s a real grown up soft drink. The flavour is floral and delicate with a hint of citrus from the lemon. Drink it as elderflower presse, diluted with sparkling water on a hot afternoon or use the elderflower syrup in cocktails and all sorts of dessert recipes.
When you plan to make your elderflower cordial or syrup, save up some empty screw-top wine bottles, or small plastic bottles. I find a 500 ml water bottle works well. This recipe includes the option to use easily available Campden tablets. This will stabilise the cordial so that it will keep all year. I like to leave some bottles untreated to use straight away and preserve the rest to last through the year.
Where do I find Elderflower?
Elder trees are found in hedgerows all over the UK. The most common species found here, sambucus nigra, is also widespread in Europe and North America. The ripe berries are often used in country wines or steeped in alcohol to make liqueurs.
Typically, in the South of England, trees are in bloom mid may to mid June. Blooming time will vary according to location and the weather.
Don’t mistake the elder tree for cow parsley, a similar white flower. Cow parsley, also known as wild chervil, is a herbaceous perennial, rather than a tree, and the flowers are smaller and whiter than elderflower.
How to Make Elderflower Cordial – Recipe Step-by-Step
Step one – Pick your elderflowers. This recipe makes 2 litres of cordial, for which you need 20 heads of elderflower. Each head should be about the size of the palm of an adult hand. Total weight of all the flowers should be between 160 to 200 grams. Pick them over to make sure there are no insects hiding, and give them a rinse. Assemble the rest of the ingredients.
Fuss Free Tip
The flowers should be fragrant when picked; morning is best and you should pick them just before you are ready to make the cordial for the best flavour.
Pick from plants neither on public land nor near a busy road, and make sure you have the landowner’s permission – follow the countryside code!
Step two – Make a sugar syrup by mixing the water and sugar in a saucepan and heating until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the citric acid. Stir well to dissolve.
Step three – Pour the sugar syrup over the elderflower heads and sliced lemons. Push the elderflowers down into the liquid, making sure all the flowers are submerged.
Step four – Cover, and leave the flowers to steep in the liquid for at least 24 and up to 48 hours.
Step five – Sterilize glass bottles by placing them in the oven and switching it on, set to 150°C / 300°F / GM 2. Allow the oven to come to temperature and then switch off, and let the bottles cool.
Step six – If using Campden Tablets, crush the Campden tablet, either using the back of a spoon or a pestle and mortar. Dissolve the powder in 1/4 cup / 60 ml boiling water.
Add 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of the Campden tablet mixture to each 70 cl wine bottle. Obviously, you will need to adjust the quantity for different volumes of bottle.
Using Campden Tablets
The size of Campden tablets might vary. Instructions are for the tablets where one tablet treats one (British) gallon, which is just over 4 and a half litres. Check the instructions and use with care, as you don’t want a cordial that contains too many sulphites!
One tablet will typically dose six 70 cl (wine) bottles. The easiest way to add the tablet is to crush it and dissolve it in 60 ml (1/4 cup or four tablespoons) of water. Then add 10 ml (two teaspoons) of liquid to each bottle of cordial and shake.
You can crush the tablet using the back of a spoon, or if you have one, a small pestle and mortar. They are quite difficult to crush, so first cut them in half and then into quarters with a pill cutter if you have one.
Step seven – Strain the elderflower mixture through a jelly bag or use a muslin cloth in a sieve. You can also use a piece of kitchen paper, or even a coffee filter, but this will take quite some time.
Step eight – Fill the bottles with the elderflower cordial. Keep in the fridge for four weeks, or if using plastic bottles fill leaving a little space at the top, seal and freeze.
Where Can I Buy Citric Acid?
It is easy to confuse citric acid with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which can be used in the kitchen to help raise bread. However, this isn’t what you need for this recipe. Citric acid is available online, from health food shops, and from pharmacies. Be prepared to explain why you need it! Don’t buy anything sold as an ingredient for bath bombs, as it may not be edible.
Like Campden tablets, citric acid is used in home winemaking, so can be bought from the same suppliers.
How to make Elderflower Cordial without Citric Acid
If you can’t find citric acid, don’t worry! You can make this cordial without it by just adding more lemon juice. For 1.5 litres of water, add the juice of 2 or 3 lemons, according to taste. This does mean that the cordial will taste more lemony; if you prefer a stronger elderflower taste, then it’s worth hunting some out.
How to Preserve Elderflower Cordial
Elderflower cordial can either be preserved by using Campden tablets as detailed in the recipe above. This means that you can keep unopened bottles in a cool, dark cupboard, saving freezer space. However, if you don’t want to use the tablets or have difficulty in getting them, you can freeze your cordial. Bottle the cordial in plastic bottles that are almost, but not quite full and then freeze.
Once open, bottles of cordial should be kept in the fridge.
What are Campden Tablets?
Campden tablets are pills of potassium or sodium metabisulfite. Home brewers and winemakers use them to kill bacteria and stop fermentation. They can be bought online. Just search for “Campden tablets” or get them from any shop that stocks home brewing supplies.
They are cheap, costing a couple of pounds for fifty tablets. Unused tablets will keep for years – just remember which cupboard they are in!
Hints & Tips for Elderflower Cordial
Making elderflower cordial is quick, easy and considerably cheaper then buying from the store. It’s also a real joy going out to pick the flowers. If you try it, I predict it will rapidly become an annual ritual. Here are our tip tips for making elderflower cordial successfully. The timing for the second stage isn’t critical. You can leave the flowers to steep for between 24 and 48 hours.
- Strike while the iron is hot. Picking 20 large heads doesn’t take long, but the flowers are at peak ripeness for a brief period of time. When they look and smell good, pick and steep immediately. If you try and keep the flowers for any length of time between picking and starting the cordial, they’ll lose their fragrance and flavour.
- Select your elderflowers carefully. Don’t pick from public land, or by the side of a busy road, and always have permission from the land owner.
- If you are lucky you might find pink elderflowers (the blooms of the black elder). These will make a pretty blush pink elderflower cordial. Black elder trees are usually cultivars and the pink elderflower can vary in scent and flavour. In fact, some fancy varieties may have hints of cherry or marzipan that can make it into the cordial. You can buy elders from online garden suppliers, if you want to plan a few years ahead – try Cotswold Garden Flowers where Edmund Brown holds the national collection of sambucus!
How do I Serve Elderflower Cordial?
- The classic drink is a simple diluted cordial: about 1 part cordial to 10 parts water, with ice and a slice of lemon. For best results, use chilled cordial and water.
- Use sparkling rather than still water for an elderflower presse.
- Drizzle a little cordial as a syrup over ice cream.
- Add a drop to cream before whipping.
- Add a drop to a gin and tonic to give a summer twist.
- Mix with prosecco for a summer aperitif.
More Ways to Use Your Elderflower Cordial
You can probably tell that I love my elderflower cordial. I add it to all sorts of drinks and desserts. I love the reaction I get when I serve them to friends. The subtle flavour really makes a big impression. Here are a few suggestions:
- No Churn Elderflower and Lime Ice Cream A gorgeous refreshing summer dessert.
- Lime and Elderflower Possets So impressive and so simple!
- Cooling Cucumber, Elderflower and Mint Ice Pops This is the coolest thing you will taste all summer.
- Elderflower and Coconut Gin Martini Tastes as good as it sounds.
- 20 heads of elderflower (160-200g)
- 1 kg sugar
- 1.5 lt water
- 4 lemons (sliced, or 2 lemons and 2 oranges)
- 55 g citric acid (if used - see notes)
- Campden tablets
- Pick the elderflowers. Pick away from busy roads, and with the permission of the landowner. The best time to pick is early in the morning, when the flowers are at their most fragrant.
- Place the sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the citric acid and stir to dissolve this too.
- Pour the sugar syrup over the elderflower and sliced citrus fruit. Leave for between 24 and 48 hours.
- Strain through a layer of cheesecloth, muslin or kitchen paper in a sieve, or use a jelly bag.
- Sterilise your glass bottles. Place them in a cold oven and turn the temperature to 150°C / 300°F / GM 2. Then, after 15 minutes, turn the oven off and allow the bottles to cool.
- Fill the bottles with cordial.
To Preserve Your Cordial
- To preserve your elderflower cordial, add one Campden tablets per gallon of cordial. Dissolve one tablet in 60 ml (4 tablespoons) of boiling water. Add 2 teaspoons (10 ml) to each 70 cl wine bottle bottle of cordial. Then cap and shake.
- Alternatively, keep the cordial in plastic bottles filled nearly full, and freeze.
- This recipe is 5 Weight Watchers Smart Points per portion