Elderflower cordial

I love cooking at this time of year. Ingredients are quite literally falling out of the trees into my always-ready pan. Elderflower cordial, diluted with still or sparkling water, is the quintessential English summer drink. It’s also fantastic in many desserts with gooseberries; try adding some to the mixture next time you make gooseberry fool. It’s got savoury applications too, and is good in a chicken marinade.

I’ve recently discovered a very good Martini made with gin (Hendricks for preference), elderflower cordial, lemon zest and lots of ice. This recipe will make you plenty of cordial, so you’ll be able to experiment with it in cooking and cocktails all you like. It’s also joyously cheap, especially when compared with the cordial you buy in the supermarket.

Elder bushes are in flower in June, and you’ll see them all over the place, their flat, white flower heads on display. (You can also cook the flowers in fritters for a delicious dessert.) Pick, if at all possible, away from roads. Be careful that the flower heads you pick are fully open, but not starting to go brown; the plate-like head should not lose any flowers when shaken. Don’t take too many flowers from any one bush. You’ll want some in place to make elderberry and apple pie later in the year. Make the cordial as soon as you get home. The flowers lose their freshness quickly, even in the fridge, and start to smell like nothing so much as a horny tom cat. (Don’t let that put you off; the cordial itself tastes and smells ambrosial.)

To make around 2.5 litres of cordial, you’ll need:

2.5 kg sugar
35 elderflower heads (the plate-shaped mass of flowers)
2 litres water
3 lemons
100g citric acid

Put the sugar and water into a large pan, and slowly bring up to the boil, stirring now and then.

While the pan is coming up to temperature, remove the zest from the lemons and place it in a large bowl (big enough for all the ingredients) or a large pan. Slice each lemon into four and put the slices in the bowl with the zest and the elderflowers. Don’t wash the elderflowers, but do check there aren’t any little creatures living in among them.

When the sugar/water mixture is boiling, stir it to make sure all the sugar is dissolved, and take it off the heat. (It will be disgustingly hot. Be careful.) Use a ladle to pour the sugar syrup over the elderflowers and lemon. When all the syrup is in the bowl, stir in the citric acid and cover with a teatowel (or the lid if you are using a pan).

A note of warning – citric acid has, for some reason, been very hard to get hold of this year. Most chemists should carry it, and brewing supply shops and Indian supermarkets will also sell you packets. The chemists I spoke to this year said that the suppliers have had a problem, and this certainly seemed to be the case; I only found some in my fifth chemist. You need the citric acid as a preservative, so don’t try to make this without it. Tartaric acid (not cream of tartar) can be used instead. (**Update** When making my 2007 batch, I gave up on trolling around all the chemists in Cambridgeshire and ordered the citric acid online from Edict Chemicals, where it’s very inexpensive. Take a look – they’ve got some interesting food and household ingredients on offer.)

Leave the flowers to steep in the syrup overnight. Strain the resulting mixture through a square of muslin in a sieve the next day, and bottle with tight stoppers. This keeps well (especially in the fridge), but just to be sure, I like to freeze some for Christmas, when we all need to be reminded that there is a sun that’s not watery, and that the sky is sometimes blue. Drink deeply. It’s good stuff.

38 Replies to “Elderflower cordial”

  1. i am so happy to have found your blog, it looks good enough to eat! and you are thoughtful enough to include links to more fabulous food sites, well done. looking forward to having some more time to look at this, and other food sites. yum.

  2. Do try making a Margarita with elderflower cordial instead of Triple Sec – I am proud to say I invented this and it is called a Bunstead Special, after Bunstead Lane, in Hursley, Hampshire, where I used to live. Apart from this, Hursley’s only claim to fame is that it is the HQ of IBM Research UK. And the place where Richard Cromwell hid the Great Seal of England after the Civil War.

  3. Oh, I don’t know; according to my husband (ex of IBM), Hursley is also where the Mark IV Spitfire was designed. The Margarita sounds just *appallingly* good – it’s been added to the list of applications for my rapidly diminishing supply of cordial.

  4. Mmmm – cordial… *drools in an unladylike manner*

    I do like that first picture, too. Very elegant and suggestive of summery things.

  5. Citric acid has become increasingly difficult to find as many chemists have stopped stocking it. I was always being asked the reason for buying it and eventually challenged the pharmacist who revealed that it is used to cut in with drugs like cocaine and heroin so don’t be surprised if you get some funny glances when popping into Boots for some!

  6. I laid in a couple of year’s worth last year from Edict (who since seem to have gone bust) – sensible health food shops and decent Indian supermarkets are something rural Cambridgeshire significantly seems to lack.

  7. I made my second batch of this over the weekend – absolutely delicious. This time, though, we used two lemons and two oranges, and it really gave it a delicious extra something!

  8. You can save energy by only bringing about 600ml of the water to the boil, dissolving the sugar then adding the rest of the water cold. Some recipes recommend letting it cool first before adding the elderflower anyway.

    As an alternative to freezing bring the strained cordial back to the boil and pour into preheated jamjars and leave as little airspace as poss before screwing the lid on tight.

    Vitamin c powder is a more healthy alternative to acetic acid. (about £14 for 550g, Holland and Barrett, is the best deal I know for this) Add this just before drinking to avoid denaturing it if you reboil it.


  9. Oops! With regard to the comment I just made about using vitamin C powder (ascorbic acid) as an alternative to the acid, I meant to say as an alternative to citric acid, not acetic acid.

    Oh and I've just noticed the bit about the citric acid being necessary as a preservative, and I was suggesting leaving the acid out till drinking time. Well I must admit this year we obviously haven't stored any long enough to find out.

    Last year we had some in the fridge for ages (that batch was not so well sterilised as I'm doing it this year -hence the fridge). Given that you say acid is needed to preserve it I cant think of any way of using vitamin C without to some extent wasting it, unless the cordial is being made for immediate consumption. I do find myself wondering what the acid is preserving though, as the cordial is basically flavoured sugar syrup.

  10. Citric acid proved almost impossible to get hold of this year. Its like gold dust! Just in the process of making some elderflower cordial after eventually finding some.

  11. I finally managed to find citric acid at a home brew/health food shop – if you're in Dorset anywhere near Corfe/Wareham there is the most helpful couple running a shop in Broadstone with plenty in stock, as well as muslin bags…..

    I used a two lemons two limes and golden sugar – this was delightful! Made on a campfire and strained in a field, the best tasting cordial I've ever discovered! Thanks for the recipe, this blog is a very happy discovery!

    Has anyone ever combined elderflower with rose to make a cordial? Any idea of quantities or tops in general? I thought it could work a treat!

  12. So happy to discover this! I finally found citric acid at a home brew shop (Broadstone, Dorset) having received all the funny looks and disdainful pharmacists talking about "unsavoury purposes" – I really hope I don't resemble the local drug dealer that closely!!

    I used two lemons and two limes, and golden sugar – absolutely delicious, made on a campfire and strained in a field it's definitely the healthy (er) option over Golden Glory ale for Summer in a glass….

    Has anyone tried rose and elderflower? Any tips/ideas on quantities?

    Thanks again,


  13. Charlotte – I think the field/campfire thing is quite the most romantic image anybody's conjured up in the comments here in years!

    I've got a wild rose bush here which is very fragrant, but my Mum has a Damascene rose which might (I say might – the oils are very volatile) yield results a bit later in the year. Watch this space – I shall experiment.

  14. What about adding rose water to the elderflower cordial when cooled? I hope to make some tomorrow and will let you know how it tastes. Great idea to mix elderflower and rose.

    1. I like the idea! It’s also very good mixed with rhubarb cordial (a recipe for which I don’t think I’ve posted here – and I am reminded I have a big bag of rhubarb bits in the freezer). Let me know how it goes.

  15. heads up you guys citric acid is sold by Wilkinson…….. they do a range in home made beer and wine and sell yeast compound, citric acid, pectolase and many other requirements

  16. I am sure that when I made elder flower cordial in the past, I used to let soak for several days, stirring at intervals. Not just the overnight stint that you suggest. But somehow the recipe made much more than the 2.5 litres of yours. It was also very delicious (6 bottles, I think) Any comments?

  17. Hi Ken – my guess is that your old recipe was simply on a larger scale than this one; the sugar/acid/liquid ratio here isn’t something you can really work very far outside of. I’d be interested to hear how things go if you do decide to macerate over a few days; have you been able to dig your old recipe out? Long maceration is a bit more the norm for fermented drinks, but when you’re not fermenting, the cat-wee thing can get a bit overpowering.

  18. A quick question from an amateur about to make my first cordial .. do I pull the flowers off the head or put the whole plate head in stalks and all?

  19. Can drinking too much cause problems. I sometimes a little “runny” after two glasses. Beautiful stuff all the same. I am hoping to use the frozen lot for Christmas.

  20. Blimey, Dinah! That’s not a problem I’ve encountered (and as far as I know, it’s not a common side-effect) – perhaps your tum and elderflowers, or perhaps the acid, don’t get on? Does anybody else find they get the squits from elderflowers? Inquiring minds and all that…

  21. Just made some eilder flower fritters.
    costo Krusteeze pancake mix, dipped in flower heads and fried
    came out great give it a try
    now making cordial

  22. I LOVE this site. i have 2 patches of elderberries running amuck here and i adore making syrup of the berries. i saw elderflowers dried on sale at the market the other night and wondered why. I knew about fritters- the smell has held me off from trying it yet, but now that i know thats not part of its cooked flavor- look out! I also knew of it as a tea, but WOW, just WOW, I am happy now, my ‘Elda girls’ will be useful year round! Now where can i get a recipe for Elder flower pressé? I used to be able to find it here but no one carries it and its like bottled early morning summmer sunlight. That for the day time and cordial at night, Oh yes, happy times ahead!

  23. Hello ladies,

    Unfortunately I can’t find any elderflower in Dorset .
    Do you know any places?
    Many thanks!!
    Kind regards,

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