Seasonal Recipe: Elderflower Cordial

Ever since I took Tea in the Garden with my SUP friends last year, I've been waiting to have a try at making elderflower cordial. It's deliciously airy, refreshing taste is just like drinking a glass of summer. This weekend's sunshine and plentiful hedgerow flowers meant it was the perfect time to start. However, I was lacking a key ingredient: some citric acid. A search around town yielded nothing. Brewing shops are quite some distance from here and an internet order might mean a delay until the flowers are past their best. Fortunately I found just what I needed in my trusty Jekka's Complete Herb Book: a slightly different recipe using ingredients I had already. It makes lashings of elderflower cordial at a fraction of shop prices.


4.5 litres water
700g sugar
Juice and thinly peeled rind of 1 lemon
30ml cider or wine vinegar
12 large elderflower heads

  1. Shake any bugs off the flowers
  2. Bring the water to the boil and pour into a sterilised container
  3. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved
  4. When cool, add the lemon juice, lemon rind, vinegar and elderflowers
  5. Cover with several layers of muslin and leave for 24 hours
  6. Filter through muslin into sterilised glass bottles
  7. Cap or stopper the bottles (these should also be sterilised by boiling in water for a few minutes) and leave for 2 weeks
  8. Store in a dark, cool place. Store in the fridge after opening
  9. Dilute to taste and serve chilled. Neat cordial makes a delicious topping for ice cream or a basis for summery gin cocktails
Hints and tips
  1. Give each flower a good sniff before picking - if it hardly smells or smells of cat pee don't pick. Flowers should have a light, lemony scent reminiscent of the final product
  2. Pick flowers away from roads and other sources of pollution as these will taint the cordial
  3. Elder trees are in flower from late spring until early summer. The golden elder, Sambucus nigra 'Aureum' tends to flower a little later than its common cousin, Sambucus nigra.
  4. If the flowers are beginning to turn into berries or have brown flowers don't pick them - these will result in a bitter tasting cordial
  5. Inspect both the tops and bottoms of flowers for insects - if I hadn't done so, I would have included lots of blackfly still clinging to a couple of stems! I merely snipped these away from the flowers
  6. Granulated sugar is ideal and the cheapest
  7. A potato peeler is ideal for producing the thin strips of lemon rind
  8. Zap the lemon on high in a microwave for about 20 seconds to obtain maximum juice
  9. If you don't have any muslin (like me), clean J Cloths boiled for a few minutes to sterilise them are a good substitute
  10. There's a slight risk that the yeast associated with the flower pollen may not have been killed whilst making the cordial, which then may start to ferment. There have been instances of bottles exploding if the cordial ferments strongly. If possible store bottles in a cardboard box or other container, so you don't end up in a sticky mess! However, if an alcoholic drink still appeals to you, then do have a look at the recipe for Elderflower Champagne - Zoe kindly gave it to me for my Open Garden fundraiser last year
Update: I've been having a think about this recipe overnight and I thought I'd pull out the reply I've just given to Modern Gardener's comment:
I'm not sure if the liquid's thick enough for cordial. Perhaps it's elderflower champagne instead as it's very similar to the recipe Zoe gave me last year. The cordial recipes using citric acid all seem to have less water and more sugar in them. Citric acid's pretty hard to come by, so if anyone out there has a recipe for cordial that doesn't use it, please do tell us about it.
Update 24/6 @10 am: I've found a local source for citric acid and I've just picked some more flowers to make the cordial. I'm using Cottage Smallholder's straightforward recipe. If you haven't come across this fantastic blog already, it's well worth a look :)


  1. We've been staring at the elderflowers in our garden and also keep saying we're going to make cordial, but also lacking the citric acid! Must remember to get some as the flower heads are starting to fade...

  2. Hi Modern Gardener and welcome!

    I've been having a think about this recipe overnight - I'm not sure if the liquid's thick enough for cordial. Perhaps it's elderflower champagne instead as it's very similar to the recipe Zoe gave me last year. The cordial recipes using citric acid all seem to have less water and more sugar in them.

    Citric acid's pretty hard to come by, so if anyone out there has a recipe for cordial that doesn't use it, please do tell us about it.

  3. Hi VP, I think you can get citric acid from a chemist, but apparently they won't sell it to anyone who looks slightly dodgy as it is used to cut cocaine. Not sure about the truth in this.

  4. Hi Martyn - yes, but a lot of them have a policy of not selling it at all because of that dodgy connection, or will only order it in specially which means a delay. Some Health Food shops sell it, but sadly not in the wilds of Chippenham :)

    I'm off to the brewing shop near Trowbridge later today (15 miles away!) to see if I can get some there and will try one of the recipes using citric acid if I'm successful as well as the recipe I've posted here.

  5. Result! The wilds of Corsham (a mere 5 miles away) DO sell it though. I've just been over there to see Tracey Smith at the Corsham Festival and the wonderful Green Ginger had some for a mere 85p :)

    So I'll be doing a comparison recipe soon...

  6. My parents have a gigantic Golden Elder right off their main deck and though they've made delicious jelly from the berries, I don't believe they've ever done anything with the abundant blooms. I'll suggest this!

  7. Hello! A friend just returned from a wedding in England and asked me what the white flowers that were ever where might be...Thank you for id-ing them for me/her! Especially love the comments today! gail

  8. Here's a comment via e-mail from my friend L in Corsham:

    Humph – just tried to post a comment and got bogged down in misremembered/incorrect passwords – so thought I’d do it the easy way! Just saw your elderflower post – that’s definitely not cordial! I’d like to try it when you’ve made it! Actually sounds a bit odd with vinegar in it, even if it is cider vinegar. Good luck…

  9. Nancy - there's lots you can do with the flowers - vinegar, cordial and champagne. I'm sure there's loads more if you search the internet!

    Gail - I'm glad you got the ID without needing to ask :)

    L - I do think it's elderflower champagne instead! I've just decanted it into bottles and they're now at a safe distance in a box in the garage just in case. I'll check in a couple of days to see if fermentation's started.

    Now to find some more elderflowers for the real thing...

  10. citric acid is lemon juice isn't it?

    The receipe sounds good. years ago during my wine making days I found that elderflower made the best tasting wine.

  11. Hi Joanne - yes lemons are one of the highest sources of citric acid. However, a substantial number of them would be needed to replace the citric acid in the recipe - I believe 1 lemon yields the equivalent of about 1 teaspoon of it. This would increase the costs quite a bit as acid is fairly cheap and I'm not sure if the sugar content would have to be increased to counteract the bitterness of the lemons. NB This recipe has a relatively low sugar content compared to the rest I've found. I think it could be reduced further, but it will affect the keeping properties of the cordial.

    I must try making some wine next year...

  12. Whether tis cordial or champagne VP it's still a most timely tip. An elderflower stares me in the face when I am at the kitchen sink but it's the thought of washing all the bugs off that's detering me from production. I am being lazy and buying the ready made stuff.

  13. Anna - if you leave the flowers for about an hour most of the bugs go off of their own accord. It's well worth doing yourself - much cheaper.

    The first lot's definitely fermenting... :)

  14. Thank you so much for linking to me.

    Hope that you enjoy the elderflower cordial recipe!

  15. Cottage Smallholder - only too glad to link to you and the cordial's utterly delicious. Everyone who's tried it thinks the same and I think I'll have a fight on my hands next year for the elderflowers around here!


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