Tis the season for elderflower! For us, the appearance of these pretty white flowers signifies the official start of summer. The flowers can be used to add flavour to gin, cakes, cocktails or ice cream but for us, the ultimate taste of summer is elderflower cordial mixed with sparkling water poured over ice. With elderflower about to burst into abundance throughout the UK countryside, we thought we’d share our favourite, thirst-quenching elderflower cordial recipe by River Cottage. Delicious, refreshing and so much more flavoursome than shop bought cordial.
The flowers are best gathered just as the many tiny buds are beginning to open, and some are still closed. Gather on a warm, dry day (never when wet), checking the perfume is fresh and pleasing. Trees do differ and you will soon get to know the good ones. Remember to leave some flowers for elderberry picking later in the year.
- About 25 elderflower heads
- 1.5 litres of still water
- Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
- 1kg sugar
- 1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)
Inspect the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest.
Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse.
Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid (if using).
Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.
Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.
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.
Cheers to summer!
Best days for picking elderflowers to make into cordial in May and June are fruit days as the flavour will be more vibrant, rich and full:
Friday 28th all day and Saturday 29th May until 3pm
Sunday 6th June and Monday 7th June all day
Tuesday 15th June – Thursday 17th June all day
There is a wealth of folklore around elder – some associate it with witches and fear it, while others value it as protective, and medicinal.
The Anglo-Saxons believed that the elder tree was sacred. This sacredness came from a spirit or goddess believed to be the Elder Mother who had the power to both protect and to cause harm. In particular, she would avenge any injury done to the tree if no one sought her permission first.
The elder is also steeped in Faery and Goddess-centred mythology; The best time to encounter faeries is under an elder on Midsummer’s Eve, when the Faery King and Queen and their train pass by, while wood spirits and elves make their home in her roots.
Like rowan, the elder was seen as being a protective tree. With a rowan at the front of the house, and an elder at the back door, people believed evil spirits were kept from entering the home.