Though elderflower apparently grows in Manitoba, I don’t remember ever having seen in there growing up. I think my aunt would’ve used it if it grew nearby – she picked wild saskatoons and other fruits and berries, but I’m not sure.
In any case, as far as I know, I was first really introduced to it about six years ago when we moved to Germany. Elderflowers and berries are hugely important in Germany and all across Europe, historically and in contemporary usage. They grow wild in parks, alongside streets, and in just about any wooded area.
I first made elderflower cordial with a friend four years ago, with a method similar to this one. It’s extraordinarily expensive to buy, considering how easy and cheap it is to make yourself, and can be a lovely gift (for you or to give away).
Elder is considered to be helpful against colds and a sore throat but that applies more to the berries than the flowers. You can find a recipe on OE for honey elderberry syrup that I use for sore throats in autumn and winter.
If, then, you know of elderflowers growing near where you live, it’s a good time to harvest generally from the end of May right through June. Choose flower heads with blossoms that are fully opened and that smell good to you.
You can use elderflower cordial as an easy base for elderflower lemonade, or top it off with some sparkling or still water for a simple, refreshing drink. It makes a lovely soak for cakes, and can be used in any complementary drinks or other recipes in place of simple syrup. These elderflower popsicles follow a very similar recipe as well.
You’ll need about 15 heads of elderflower, a couple of lemons (organic, unwaxed), honey, and water. Choose a honey you like the taste of as it will come through here.
This makes a little over a litre (4 cups) of cordial, but can be increased or decreased depending on how much you’d like to make. You’ll want hot, but not boiling water – if the water is too hot, it affects the delicate flavour of the elderflowers. Just barely simmering is perfect.
Some recipes will call for the lemons to be zested and then peeled for cordial, to avoid any of the pith coming into contact with the other ingredients and the possibility of added bitterness. I’ve never found it to make a difference in this recipe so I slice whole lemons and add them as is.
In the pictures below, you can see the mixture just after being mixed, and then after three days of steeping. The flowers will oxidize a bit during this time and brown, but they shouldn’t be black, and there definitely shouldn’t be anything resembling mould.
Choose a cloth that’s finely woven to keep any insects out, and don’t place the bowl in a hot, sunny place. There’s a slightly possibility that it’ll start to ferment slightly, which is fine! A touch of bubbling is okay, smelling off is not. Check it after the second day and judge if you’d like a stronger flavour – if so, then leave it until day three.
Sterilize your containers before pouring the strained cordial into them – this can be a run through the dishwasher, or cleaning with boiling water, or oven sterilization. This is a good idea as the syrup might be in the refrigerator for some time.
Preserving the Cordial
This recipe hasn’t been written for canning. Honey is temperamental for canning, and I’d generally only recommend it if you have a pressure canner and are very familiar with this type of preserving. If you want to keep your cordial for a longer period – it lasts about a month in the refrigerator – you can add citric acid, but I’d still say to go for a recipe that uses sugar if you want to jar it.
If you’d like to make this as a gift for later in the year, perhaps around Christmas, then your best bet is to make it now and freeze in freezer-safe containers until then. Thaw and pour it into attractive bottles or jars at that time, and gift with instructions to refrigerate.
Honey, Not Sugar
I don’t typically have white sugar in the house, apart from sometimes to use for fermenting, so it doesn’t make sense for me to use it here either. Honey tastes better, is local, and I feel better about using it than sugar though whether it’s actually healthier or not is debatable.
If you are very against honey, I don’t have a substitution for this recipe. I suggest finding a recipe for cordial made with sugar instead. Though there is usually a section on substitutions in the recipes on OE, it’s not appropriate for this cordial.
More Elderflower Recipes
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Honey Elderflower Cordial
- 15 heads elderflower about a cup of blossoms
- 2 unwaxed organic lemons sliced
- 500 ml honey
- 750 ml water
- Remove the blossoms from the elderflower heads, discarding as much stem as possible, and place them into a large bowl. Add the lemons and honey.15 heads elderflower, 2 unwaxed organic lemons, 500 ml honey
- Heat the water in a saucepan or kettle until just simmering, but not boiling. Pour the hot water over the elderflower mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir until the honey dissolves fully.750 ml water
- Place a finely woven cloth or tea towel over the bowl and set in a cool, dark place. Let it steep for 2-3 days, checking after the second day. If you’d like it to be stronger, leave until day three.
- Once the cordial is finished steeping, strain it through a fine-meshed sieve and pour into sterilized jars or bottles. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a month, or freeze for longer storage.
This post was first published in June 2020. It has been updated with improved information as of May 2022.