Elderflower 1

Elderflower cordial

(dancing on the edges of things)

I remember the day I first fell in love with the elderflower: it was a hot Glaswegian summer day. I was sitting on my favourite grassy knoll, in the shade of a big craggy old hawthorn bush, with a bounty. All of my adventures involved a bounty of some kind, be it wood sorrel (no plant was safe), wild blackberries, or, in this case, chocolate chip cookies and soda. My soda of choice was usually sparkling apple cider, but, on that day, they were out of stock, and right next to that empty spot was sparkling elderflower.

It sounded old; like something my grandparents would have drunk years ago, before the war, on a sweltering hot August afternoon. Reasoning that Marks and Spencer never stock anything that doesn’t taste good, I bought it, placed it carefully in my backpack, then jumped on my bike.

Few things in life are as carefree as summer holidays when you’re young: two infinite-seeming months that stretch into the orange sunset, where the days last until 11pm (in Scotland at least) and the sound of sprinklers unleashed on front lawns ran into the late evening, with the squeals of delight carried on the smell of cut grass permeated the warm air that drifted in through the open windows. Between that yellow-orange glow and smell of hot grass, in the filing cabinet of my memories, on the other side of wild berries swollen, heavy, pregnant with purple juice, is the KCHHHHH sound of opening a bottle of elder fizz on a grassy knoll, with my bike, and an Agatha Christie book.

Elder flowers are fairy flowers. They dance on the edges of fields and woods and on the edges of worlds. Even their smell is somewhat lovely and somewhat pongy, at the edge of what’s normally considered ‘nice’. Glance through the shadows cast by those dancing umbels and, if you’re not really paying attention you can hear laughter and singing. True story. A day spent gathering elderflowers will cast you out of time somewhat. I like to think of this as a good thing. Not only that, but the tree in itself is a veritable pharmacy- the leaves and twigs make great blood moving salves, the flowers and berries are edible, and the berries are pretty much the best thing ever for flu season. So gather a ton of flowers (making sure you leave enough to turn into berries too!), and bring them home in a paper bag. Set aside some especially pretty umbels to dry for a flu-season tea, and then turn the rest into cordial. Because anything you need to do with elderflowers (except fritters) can be done with a cordial. Custards, drizzles, cocktails, meat glazes, and fizzes all stem from this little workhorse. Then make yourself some fizz, kick your feet up, watch the light change, and let yourself be transported back to the edge of a dream, where you found the flowers in the first place.

Elderflower cordial

2 cups elderflowers, removed from stems (roughly, don’t drive yourself crazy, just try and get most of them off) and de-bugged

6 cups sugar

5 cups water

Juice of 3 lemons

 

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and then remove from heat. Add the elderflowers and leave to cool. Heat up once more, adding the lemon juice, and allow to cool overnight, then strain out the flowers, squeezing to make sure you get all the syrup out. Pour into bottles and refrigerate. It’ll last months in the fridge.

 

Elderflower fizz

serves 2 gluttons, and 4 normal people

1/4 cup elderflower cordial

juice of 1 lemon

1 large bottle of sparkling water

 

Put all the ingredients in a decanter or big jar of some sort, add some ice, stir gently, and serve.

 

I’m submitting this post to the Wild Things roundup over at Hunger and Thirst for wild flower month!

 

18 thoughts on “Elderflower cordial

  1. Andrea

    I just found your blog and absolutely love it. You make things so magical. I am really interested in learning how to forage and hope to find an elderberry this year. I live in Pa. Thanks for the recipes!

    Reply
  2. Heidi (AlpineGypsy)

    Hello there,

    What a wonderful blog you have, and this recipe is just what I have been craving!

    Here in British Columbia, where I live, the plants are *just* waking up. Quite frankly, so am I! It was quite a winter of hibernation for me, but I’m so pleased to be welcoming the warm rays of the sun back so soon.

    Just made Cottonwood Honey, and Balm of Gilead oil last week & am looking forward to making this cordial once I find some lonely Elder trees to relieve of their bounty – sounds marvelous!

    Thanks, a new fan ♥ Heidi ♥

    Reply
  3. Firemouse

    It’s the European sambucus nigra, not the North American sambucus canadensis, that is used to make the elderflower cordial.

    Reply
    1. fairybekk Post author

      Hi Firemouse! Actually, you can use any species of elderflower (except, supposedly, sambucus rubra– I haven’t tried it)- I use sambucus mexicana, which is most abundant in my area, but I’ve used both s. canadensis and s. nigra. Medicinally they’re interchangeable, and the elderflowers all taste the same :).

      Reply
    2. Anstria

      Bummer – I am in Canda and have the one with the golden leaves – the flowers have lttle perfume.
      Is it possible to use them anyway for gooseberry jam and cordial?

      Reply
  4. Erin

    Wow, makes me wish that Spring would hurry up and that my elderberry plants would begin to bloom so that I can make some elderflower fizz! Lovely post!

    Reply
  5. Lindsay

    Thank you so much for your comment about S. canadensis!! After living near London for 10 years, I would love to make cordial again like I used to but S. nigra is a zone 4 and I live near Edmonton now (zone 2b). S. canadensis is a zone 3 so I might find a sheltered spot and take my chances with it. But no one I’ve asked or googled could tell me if S.canadensis flowers were ok, so it’s fantastic to hear you’ve tried it!

    Here’s the recipe given to me by a friend in West Sussex. It’s converted many people from their own recipes:
    24 flower heads, 1 lemon – sliced, 1 orange – sliced, 2.5lbs sugar (or 1 kg bag), 50g or 2oz of citric acid, 1L boiled water – cooled.
    Put all into a large bowl (note: you don’t have to remove each flower from the head stalks, just stick it in). Stir, cover, leave on your counter for 48hrs, stirring occasionally. You don’t have to boil or sterilise the flowers or whatever. It keeps for weeks in your fridge or I like to freeze some bottles to take out around Christmas. This is how all my friends in england have done it for generations and they are still alive!

    Reply

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