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Elder (Sambucus nigra) is one of our most familiar trees and few plants have featured more in British folklore and traditional medicine.

The creamy-coloured sprays of highly scented flowers have been made into teas and infusions, used to flavour cooked fruit, jams, jellies, ices and form the basis of elderflower fritters. But elderflowers are most valued for the refreshing, summery cordial they make.

The abundance of elderflower cordial recipes out there reflects its long heritage of use and popularity, but this one is my favourite. It’s fragrant and delicate and is super easy to make.

Step-by-step: how to make elderflower cordial

Ingredients

  • 1 litre (2 pints) elderflowers
  • Lemon zest
  • Granulated sugar
  • Water
  • Lemons

Method

  • Gather enough elderflower sprays to fill a 1 litre (2 pint) measure when lightly packed.
  • Shake the flowers to make sure there are no insects hiding inside, but don’t wash them as this can spoil the flavour.
  • Cover the elderflowers with water. Add lemon zest (as little or as much as you like). Simmer for 30 minutes. Top up the pan if necessary, to keep the liquid covering the flowers.
  • Strain the flower-infused liquid through muslin or tea towel, gently squeezing it to extract all the juice. Measure the amount of juice.
  • Add 350g (12 oz) granulated sugar, and the juice of half a lemon, to each 500ml (1 pint) of liquid. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a gentle simmer and skim off any scum. Let the cordial cool.
  • Pour the liquid through a funnel into clean, sterilised bottles, up to about 1cm below the top. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.
  • Once bottled, the cordial will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

How to serve elderflower cordial

This fantastic, aromatic cordial has a stunning, summery flavour.

Serve with sparkling water for a refreshing drink or add to sparkling wine or champagne for a delicious cocktail.

Add a splash or two, undiluted, to fruit salads or anything with gooseberries or dilute one part cordial to two parts water for fragrant ice lollies. You could even drizzle it over lemon sorbet.

Make elderflower cream by adding a few tablespoons of elderflower cordial and a sprinkling of icing sugar when whipping cream. This livens up any recipe using cream – especially trifles, pavlovas and Eton mess.

Top elderflower collecting tips

There is often spectacular flowering, but the elderflower season is generally short. Look out for them from late May to mid-July, depending on where you live in the UK.

Freshly picked flowers make the best cordial. The flowers quickly lose their heady scent within a few hours, so make sure you have time to make the cordial after picking.

Dry, newly opened flower heads have the best fragrance. Pick them from late morning on a dry day to make sure they are not soggy with dew, and don’t collect from roadsides in case they’re tainted with exhaust fumes.

When you’re collecting elderflowers, make sure you have permission from the landowner. See our guidelines for responsible foraging.

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