Honey, elderflower, and lemon – just about all you need for elderflower lemonade! Elderflower is at its best around now, usually from the end of May and through June, depending on where you live. If you have a woodland nearby, or grow elder in your own garden, this is a good time to harvest.
I’ve shared a number of recipes using these pretty, delicious blossoms over the past few years – lemon elderflower popsicles, strawberry elderflower scone cake, and my favourite, a lemon elderflower cake. Of course, there’s always a traditional elderflower cordial, too. Lemon is a classic pairing here so an elderflower lemonade was the natural next step.
Sweetened with honey, it’s a delicate, refreshing drink, and a real nod to this time of year. It can’t be preserved, like cordial, but this fleeting nature makes it all the more special.
Ingredients and Method
You’ll need about a dozen heads of elderflower, honey you like the taste of (spring blossom honey is ideal!), a load of lemons, and water. I get big boxes of lemons from crowdfarming and love that. You use both the zest and the juice for a better lemon flavour.
Hot water is used for part of the recipe; honey, elderflower, and lemon zest are mixed with hot water and set aside to steep. This is what brings out the elderflower scent and makes it possible to use both the zest and juice of the lemons.
After steeping, you strain this syrup – it’s essentially a cheater’s elderflower cordial – and mix with cold water and lemon juice to make the lemonade. Chill before serving, or add a few ice cubes, and serve. If you want to add a lot of ice, reduce the water by about an eighth so it isn’t thinned out too much.
Here’s a handy article on how to identify elderflower from the Woodland Trust. I wasn’t familiar with it before moving to Germany – look for large flower heads, often buzzing with bees and other insects, they love it too! Elder trees can be quite large in the area I live in now, they’re more like large bushes than trees, because they were all planted relatively recently.
They’re abundant through northern Europe and in some areas of North America, and often easy to find in wooded areas and roadsides. As with any gathering, it’s best to avoid busy roads. Same goes for not over-harvesting. Leave some for the bees, leave some for the trees, and to form into berries, too. My general rule is maximum two flower-heads per elder.
And lastly, if you’re sure it’s elderflower, you should still be choosy about which flowers you harvest. Smell them first, and if you like the smell, you’ll probably like the taste, too. Some elderflower is a bit foot-y smelling and not very nice to consume.
As they’re often covered in insects, I give them a gentle shake when harvesting to try to rid the heads of any bugs that aren’t holding on too tightly. You’ll want to place them in a loose bag where the heads have plenty of space as they are quite delicate, and use them as soon as possible.
Look for heads where the tiny blossoms are fully opened. This makes the flowers much easier to remove from the stems, and means maximum flavour for culinary uses. It’s also more likely that insects have been able to reach them for pollination prior to harvest.
The flowers can be kept in a cloth bag in the refrigerator for a day or two if necessary, but like most wild foods, it’s best to process them the day of picking. It is a bit of work as you have to carefully pull the flowers off the stems (the stems, leaves, and everything but the flowers and berries are poisonous) so factor that in to the time needed here.
If the poison factor frightens you, note that elder has been considered a sacred plant for thousands of years and consumed for that long as well. Tiny bits of stem are fine – you’re straining them out anyway – but I want to make sure you’re well aware that not all of the plant is edible! Best to be cautious. If you are particularly nervous about this, or can’t get fresh elderflowers, you can use purchased dried, too.
It’s a four ingredient recipe, so you’re not going to get much here. For a vegan elderflower lemonade, use maple syrup instead of honey. As mentioned above, you can use dried elderflowers instead of fresh if you want to make this out of season, or can’t gather your own.
To make a sparkling lemonade, substitute sparkling water for the tap water (or filtered if you live somewhere with bad water). If you have elderflower cordial, you can also use that as a base for lemonade with additional lemon juice and honey.
More Floral Recipes
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- 15 heads of elderflowers
- 250 ml honey
- Zest of 4 lemons
- 2 litres water 8 cups water, divided
- 375 ml lemon juice, about 8 lemons
- Place the elderflowers (any stems removed), honey, and lemon zest into a heatproof container.15 heads of elderflowers, 250 ml honey, Zest of 4 lemons
- Heat 250 ml (1 cup) of water to just below boiling. Pour this over the honey elderflower mix and stir to combine. Set aside, covered with a cloth, to steep for at least 30 minutes, preferably a couple of hours.2 litres water
- Once the elderflower has steeped, sieve the honey mixture into a large pitcher or other container. Add the remaining water (1.75 litres / 7 cups) and the lemon juice, and stir to combine.375 ml lemon juice, about 8 lemons
- Serve the elderflower lemonade with lemon slices and additional blossoms to garnish. Extra lemonade can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
* For American cup measurements, please click the pink link text above the ingredient list that says ‘American’.
Nutrition is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate. If this information is important to you, please have it verified independently.