Nothing is quite as delicious on a hot summer’s day as a chilled glass of homemade elderflower cordial! Whether you combine it with sparkling water for an afternoon refresher, or add it to cocktails to toast to long summer evenings, it’s brilliantly simple to make, and can be frozen to last through to autumn and beyond. Read on for our top tips for identifying and gathering elderflowers, and for our cordial recipe!
How to identify elderflowers
Thankfully for foragers, elder is abundant in almost all parts of the UK, and can easily be found in our parks, hedgerows, and gardens. As with all foraging, it’s essential that before making your cordial you’re absolutely certain that you have identified the correct plant, and are careful not to mistake its white flowers for those of other, toxic plants, so remember:
- Elders always grow as a large shrub or small tree.
- Their leaves are made up of between five and seven feather-shaped leaflets, which have serrated edges, and grow in pairs opposite each other along the main leaf stem, with a single leaflet at their tip.
- Elder branches break easily: younger branches are green, while older branches turn greyish-brown, and have a deeply-grooved bark.
- In summer elder blossoms with flat sprays of small, usually creamish-white flowers (though you might also find varieties that are pink in shade!)
- Only the flower buds, flowers, and berries of elders are edible, and the berries must be cooked before eating.
Depending on where you live in the UK, you should be able to find elderflowers growing between mid-May and early July, and might find that flowers emerge on the northern-facing side of larger elders a little later than their counterparts on the sunnier side of the plant! Try to gather your flower heads on a sunny day, away from roads and traffic, and never after rain.
How to make elderflower cordial
- 2 ½kg white sugar, either granulated or caster
- 2 unwaxed lemons
- At least 20 fresh elderflower heads, stalks trimmed (I like to use lots more for a fuller flavour!)
- 85g citric acid (available from the chemist - and also useful for making bath bombs!)
1. Cut off the elderflower stalks and give the heads a gentle shake outside to release any little visitors or dirt.
2. Fill a large basin with cold water. Put all the elderflower heads in the water, and give everything a good swirl round.
3. Put the sugar and 1.5 litres of water into a large saucepan.
Heat gently, stirring occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved.
Peel the zest from the lemons using a potato peeler, then cut the lemons into slices.
4. Bring the syrup to the boil and then turn off the heat. Add the citric acid, the washed elderflower heads, and the lemons.
Give everything a good stir and leave for at least 24 hours to infuse.
5. Line a large bowl with a clean tea towel. Pour the cordial (including the elderflower heads and lemons) into the tea towel.
Gather up the tea towel and squeeze it hard to collect all the juice and flavour from the plants.
You might need to do this in a couple of batches. Discard the left-over bits.
6. Using a funnel, pour the cordial into clean bottles. The syrup will keep for several weeks in the fridge, or can be frozen for several months.
And enjoy! You can add your cordial to cocktails, pour it over ice cream, or mix it through a gooseberry fool...
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